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From Ballpoint Back To…pencil?!

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I’ve been using a pencil lately. I haven’t used pencil for years.

A few times a year I move from fountain pens to rollerballs, then to ballpoints, and then back again. I was happily using yellow Caran d’Ache 849 with a Fisher Space Pen cartridge, and it was working fine for me.

Then I ran across D. Price’s book “How to make a journal of your life“, which one of my daughters had left lying around. It got me thinking about drawing, as it always does. Sketches really make a journal more interesting, but I tend not to make them very much and I’d like to change that. Sketching got me thinking about pencils but I’d decided I’d just sketch using the pen, which is Price’s style anyway.

Then I saw Colin Purrington’s post on lab notebooks and got a little obsessed with ink permanence. So I ordered some pens from JetPens, and I browsed some pencils on their site while I was there.

Then there’s penciltalk.org. I think that’s the real culprit. I’d seen it and other sites on woodcase pencils before, but this time the bug bit as I read some posts and did more searches. The discovery of the Blackwing lead to more reading, and next thing I know I’d dug out a box of pre-Papermate USA Mirado Black Warriors I bought years ago for shop use and ordered a box of the Palomino Blackwings. I think it was a post I saw somewhere saying that if the average person tried a ‘real’ pencil – Palomino, Hi-Uni, or Tombow – in comparison to the typical cheapie, they’d be struck with what a difference there was. Then I had to try pencils.

So I’ve been using pencil to keep notes and do my usual project planning for the last day or so. It’s been an interesting change because it brought back a lot of memories from my early school years, starting with the smell of a freshly sharpened pencil. The need to sharpen, thinking to myself “Hmmm…this is getting kinda dull…do I want to get up and sharpen it?” and writing gently with a freshly sharpened point to avoid breaking it all take me back to elementary school.

The Palominos haven’t arrived yet, so I can’t speak to the claims of a good pencil being as effortless as a fountain pen, but I did have some pretty darn soft drawing pencils on hand (up to 9B) to try and there might be something to the claim. Mostly I’ve been using the Black Warrior, a Quill rebranding of a Ticonderoga, and a Staedtler Lumograph 100 HB. I don’t seem to be getting the kind of jet-black lines I see on some websites. So far the differences between those I’ve tried have been fairly subtle.

Pencil writing is a lot lower contrast than ink, but this is offset somewhat by its expressiveness. People talk about how expressive ink can be with shading and flexible nibs, but pencil has got a lot of range, between tip size and writing pressure. It took a little while to remember that I could erase mistakes, and I still tend to find myself crossing them out before erasing them.

It’s getting easier to see why so many folks are into pencils. There’s a lot of them to try, and they’re not expensive. Some are sufficiently hard to find that it’s challenging, and there’s enough accessories to keep one busy for a long time.

This phase may not be around for very long, but it will be pleasant while it lasts.

2 comments… add one
  • Annie December 16, 2015, 12:24 pm

    I’ve been enjoying your posts. I was a die-hard pen user but the ink tends to soak into the paper and make my old journal entries difficult to read. In contrast, I’ve gotten stories and drawings I made 30+ years ago as a kid that are still very readable. After discovering just how hard my older journals were to read in just a few years I switched to pencil. So far no regrets.

    • Steve Duncan December 16, 2015, 12:30 pm

      Hi Annie! Thanks for the kind words. Yes, pencil is more stable, and ink can be a bit unpredictable. Is there a favorite pencil you like to use?

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