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  • A Fleeting Ripple

particulars: blackwing  natural pencil

Late evenings before an exam week are quiet in a university town, even on Fridays. The sky is dark, the edges of light pollution fading into the distance, where greenhouses illuminate the night sky. Only a single desk lamp is on, the darkness covers the apartment like a heavy blanket. It keeps the distractions dull, only the notebooks and papers are in focus. Desk has coffee stains from early mornings and tea stains from late nights, the browns bleeding into the cheap wood grain finish. Recorded lectures speak through speakers, the computer buried in more papers and delicately balanced pens. Only one pencil is sitting on top, ready for scribbling on some printer paper.



My stationery obsession was started by mechanical pencils, and spurred on by wooden pencils. I had never liked them very much until I started art classes and discovered art stores that would import the prettiest pencils. They were all covered in shiny lacquer, smelling like a fresh cut wood. Drawing with them became a special treat, and the ritual of sharpening a welcome break between long sessions.


I owned many pencils, most of them used to a stub. A whole box of them, in fact, as a source of pride and a thanks for their service. Some people would also carve out the wood exterior to put the lead into a holder and use that.


In my mind, wooden pencils were mostly for drawing and mechanical pencils for writing. It always feels like the tip wears down too quick and I am left with an imprecise, blunt writing instrument that doesn’t do what I need it to do.


That was all my experience when I stumbled upon Blackwing pencils. It was a little after fountain pens had become a hobby, and my view on the whole of stationery was changing. They were a little foreign, curious with their rectangular ferrules and hard to find in Europe. Perhaps the giants of this continent like Faber Castell, Staedtler and Lyra were too prominent in the pencil market. Somewhat cheaper too. I finally found the elusive Blackwing pencils in a stationery store in Antwerp, and bought two singles: Pearl and Natural.


They were much more expensive than what I’m used to paying for pencils, so I thought well, I’ll just use them for writing. They sat in my drawer for a while before I mustered up the courage.


One morning, I thought I need a little more motivation to read all the papers I was supposed to, so I broke out my trusty, tiny M+R brass sharpener. After quite a few turns -crack crack crack- the tip emerged. The shaved wood smelled wonderful, I guess a high quality pencil from California Incense Cedar really does make a difference. The shiny graphite glided over the page with that little noisy feedback and a delightfully dark line.


It was love at first write.


That evening, I had some friends over and one of them saw the pencil on top of the paper stack on my couch. She gasped and said, “That is so beautiful!”


It indeed is.


Tree’s lines are still visible through the transparent lacquer, the golden stamp only becomes visible when it catches the light, the rectangular ferrule crowning the pencil in gold. The grey eraser gives a little grounding colour, bringing the pencil together. It’s not the best eraser, but it is the best looking one at the back of that pencil.


My only problem is that this pencil is a bit too long. It doesn’t really fit into my pencil pouch, so it has become a permanent resident on my desk. I can’t wait for the day that it’ll be short enough to be tucked next to my other pencils… Though that day might be further away than I’d like to admit.


The lead grade seems to be the hardest one in Blackwing’s lineup, about an HB (according to JetPens). I’m surprised by this, usually pencils go harder, at least up to 2H, or their harder comes with a much fainter line and a firmer graphite. For example, the H of Faber Castell 9000 is a painfully faint graphite, whereas Conte a Paris’s B core is super soft and dark that it’s softer than some of my 2B pencils. It’s hard to compare different brands’ lead grades, they’re quite inconsistent.


I digress.


I usually prefer B core pencils, and this Blackwing fits that profile perfectly, since its core is on the darker side, even though it doesn’t wear down that quickly. In the writing sample, I only sharpened the pencil at the beginning of paragraphs, and my writing is quite small. The “Pearl” one is apparently about a 2B, so I’m excited to try that as well.


So far, I’m extremely satisfied with my first Blackwing pencil. Usually a telling sign of how much I like a pen(cil) is how much I reach for it over the miriad of other pens and pencils on my desk or in my bag. This pencil managed to move my Sailor Pro Gear Realo from its position as my margin scribbling and underlining pen. That’s a huge praise coming from a fountain pen person.


At the same time, it made me a bit more curious about pencils from overseas. I’m looking to find some Mustgrave and Mitsubishi pencils next. Unfortunately the former is somewhat hard to locate within Europe.



Thank you for reading!


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