Have you ever wondered what all the different pencil types - HB, 6H, F, represent? Or what all the fuss is about Blackwing pencils? Today's the day you're going to find out.
For several decades now, pencils consist of a few elements: the wooden barrel, the graphite core, and often a ferrule and eraser. The ferrule is the metal ring that holds the eraser intact. The graphite core is often called a lead, but lead has not been used as a core for centuries. Graphite is a crystalline form of carbon, harmless if consumed, and mixed with clay to create the central stem.
Here's a little lesser known fact about pencils: works written or drawn in pencil tend to last better over time than ones produced in ink. Pencil markings are water resistant and hold up well to light.
As for types of graphite cores, the variations are due to the proportion of clay and graphite. The more clay, the harder the pencil. There is no common standard among pencil manufacturers regarding how to grade pencils. However, many of us have seen commonly used European designations, which use the letters H, B & F, and are interpreted to mean hardness, blackness, and fineness, respectively.
The range is typically from 9B, which is extremely soft and very black through to 9H, which is extremely hard and light grey. Standard writing pencils are usually graded HB, which falls between these two. The softer pencils along the B range are popular with artists for sketches. The hardest H pencils are used for special purposes such as cartography, and various printing techniques.
Blackwing was created in the 1930s, and Chuck Jones, the creator of Looney Tunes, produced his work using Blackwing pencils exclusively. Many other artists were loyal users, including John Steinbeck. The company went through several corporate changes over the years and the pencils were discontinued in 1998. This created a run on the remaining inventory, sending their prices up to $40 a pencil. Then in 2010, the brand was resurrected by a California company, Cal Cedar.
The pencils are created using cedar barrels, which smell great when you sharpen them. The quality of craftsmanship and materials is very high. No broken 'leads' or dry pink erasers that make things worse when you use them here - these pencils are second-to-none and the erasers are terrific.
The brand issues limited edition boxes of 12 in unique colours and graphite core combinations. Each edition has its own number and backstory. The standard, permanent Blackwing pencils are also sold individually, so you can give different types a try and determine your favourite. Be forewarned, once you use these, you'll have a new experience of using pencils. They really do make the ordinary extraordinary and make you appreciate such a seemingly simple thing.
As the fragrance of blooming lilacs, lily of the valley and peonies draw you into the garden or park, it's a great time to sit with your pencils and sketchbook. Inspiration abounds! Or maybe you'd prefer to write in your journal. In which case, you'll likely use a pen. Have you ever wondered why there are different kinds of pens and what their special features are? We'll fill you in over the next few weeks, starting with the ballpoint pen to kick off the month of June!