One of the advantages to working for a large company with offices in multiple cities is that one has an easy way to communicate with people in those cities, and an automatic ice breaker with them.
There’s a wonderful piece of travel journalism on FREITAG Grand Tour — a blog run by the Swiss bag manufacturer FREITAG. They sent a reporter to Stein, Germany, to tour the Faber-Castell campus and talk with Count Anton Wolfgang Graf von Faber-Castell. Don’t worry, this is in English:
The count pushed his chair back slightly. We were sitting on wooden chairs with peanut-brown cushions decorated with the outline of flowers.
“We have a minister in Stein who one day decided that henceforth, he should type his sermons on the computer to keep up with the times. Previously he had always written his sermons out by hand. Do you know what happened?”
“When he reached the pulpit, he realized he couldn’t remember anything at all. He had to read out his sermon line by line, something he had never had to do before.”
I love this description of the Count, his generations-old company, and his bemused, poetical waxings about pencils. In my head, his voice sounds like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, but with a German accent.
And he’s very dignified and aristocratically handsome — exactly what I’d imagine the head of this company would be like:
Go check it out. It’s a great read.
Prologue: Apparently Johnny Gamber and I are on a similar review circuit — he just posted a review yesterday! Be sure to check it out at Pencil Revolution for much better pictures.
Disclaimer: I received this product free of charge from Gallery Leather for review purposes.
There was a period of four or five years back in my pre-iPhone, post-collegiate days where I religiously used a weekly planner. In fact, I had a yearly ritual to usher in the new calendar year: After the first week of January, I’d go into Barnes & Noble or Borders, walk straight over the journal aisle, and page through the weekly planners.
It was an intensive process, and I had a whole list of requirements. In fact, back in 2007, I wrote it all out on 43 Folders:
- Needs to be in the 5.5” x 8.5” range – slightly bigger or smaller is all right.
- The week has to fit onto one page or one spread.
- There cannot be markers on the day for hours. My day doesn’t start at 8 and end at 5, so don’t fence me in!
- It has to have simple styling – one simple color or design. None of this “180 Great Views of Ireland’s Splendor” kinda stuff.
- I need a bookmark or tabs to indicate where I am in the book, so I can easily turn to the right page.
- No spiral-binding. Yes, I know that makes it lay flat easier, but I’m left handed. That binding hurts. Plus, I like to feel like what I’m writing in is a book.
And, almost every year, the winner of my exhaustive search was Gallery Leather.
That’s why I was so excited when I got an email from a representative from Gallery Leather asking me if I’d be interested in reviewing one of their products. I almost asked for a planner for old times sake, but I realized I couldn’t utilize it properly — I work at a job where we must use our electronic calendars, so I’ve sadly given up on my analog workflow.
After poring through their product lineup, I set my eye on the gorgeous Oporto Journal line. The design is a bit more modern than the classic (though not stodgy) Gallery Leather styling, as you’d see in their desk journal or travel journal range. The edges are a bit more flush, the leather is bonded to the substrate, and the pages aren’t gold-edged.
In the grand tradition of Brad Dowdy when presented with a color conundrum, I chose an orange one.
Ah, it feel like I remember my planners to feel: Solid yet flexible in a way only leather can replicate, smooth and cool. I really like the A5 format for journals (imagine an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper, folded lengthwise, and turned on its side). It fits really well in my hand and leaves plenty of room for writing without getting bulky. It’s perfect for writing in your lap or on a desk.
All of the ways I listed above where it differs from the traditional Gallery Leather I think work, really, really well to give it a refreshed, modern, more minimalist feel.
Except in one area: where the leather meets the substrate.
In the classic Gallery journals (and planners), the leather is folded neatly around the corners and sort of tucked around the back of the substrate, and under the paper liner. It gives the feeling of a neatly folded bed. With the Oporto, the leather is sheared off on the rounded corners, and the substrate/paper liner is glued to the back of it, about a quarter of an inch in. It’s a little hard to explain, so here’s a picture:
It feels a little bit weaker, and with time, I imagine the leather bending inward, wrinkling a little bit. I know that is essential to the modern styling, but it feels a little… unfinished.
The paper is, with my other books from Gallery Leather, top notch. It’s much whiter than the creamy manilla pages of their classic journals, but not a jarring bright white. It’s definitely duller than, say, a Rhodia notepad white.
It performed just as I expected, which is to say superbly. I tested a page out with a pencil, my trusty Peebs 602. It took the graphite really well, with nary a smear after laying down the mark. For as smooth as it seemed, there must have been some kind of tooth to the fiber.
To be fair to my inky friends, I also used a green gel pen that I found on my desk, and a gorgeous Kaweco AL Sport with a medium nib, laying down green ink from a cartridge I loaded into it.
The page was plenty thirsty, and barely smudged when I passed my finger over marks that have been created just a second or two before. Looking over on the other side of the page, I could see that there was just barely a bleed-through with the fountain pen, and absolutely nothing showing for the pencil or the gel pen:
Finally, holistically, the journal fared really well. I carried it around in my messenger bag for three weeks or so. While there aren’t really any loose sharp objects jostling around with it, my laptop charing cable, other books and notebooks, and some paper was in there with it. To this day, the journal looks brand new.
This journal is a treat to use. Gallery Leather flies under the radar a lot of times, with their understated marketing (the opposite, perhaps, of Moleskine) and their lack of gimmicky features (cough cough Baron Fig cough cough) You’ll see them for sale at Barnes & Noble, or right at their very own website.
The Oporto journal is very reasonably priced, in my opinion, at $20. As of June 26, it looks like they have a full stock of all colors except for black, which will be available again on July 25.
Check out some more pictures I took of this book.
Tim, Johnny and I have been having a blast with the Erasable podcast so far. An absolute blast. Perhaps my favorite episode so far is the one that just came out today, Episode 6: The Brotherhood of the Traveling Sharpener.
Whenever we’ve asked Twitter for ideas on what our followers would like us to talk about, almost everyone wants to know about sharpeners. Trouble is, we’re just an hour(-ish) long podcast, and there are so many sharpeners out there!
We decided to just go through some questions people have asked, and then list our favorites and explain them, like the Classroom Friendly Sharpener and the much-debated KUM Long Point Sharpener. Invariably, the conversation came around to David Rees and his artisanal pencil sharpening, and, of course, his book.
Rees talks a lot about one of my sharpener obsessions; the El Casco, which I’ve blogged about before. It’s quite expensive, and Johnny proposed we all three pitch in to buy one and then share custody (like the pants from the movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Hence the episode title).
Go take a listen — if you have any interest in pencils sharpeners at all (and why would you be here if you didn’t?), you’ll love it.
My friend Tony Headrick is a super talented designer. His studio, Neno Design, has won design awards and he’s created some of the coolest logos and websites around Fort Wayne (including my blog’s logo!).
We decided we wanted to work on something together. Trouble is, I’m not a designer, and he’s not a writer. Luckily, we figured it out.
Presenting: the Woodclinched Pencil Vector Pack!
It contains 14 pencils from my collection, some vintage, and some new. I tried to include a variety — including an old bullet pencil and a fancy antique mechanical pencil — in addition to straight-up wood cased pencils.
Roughly, here’s what real-life pencils the designs were inspired by, from left to right:
- Faber Castell Grip 2001
- Yikes! triangular color pencil
- Field Notes pencil
- Goldfish Special Drawing 5002
- iTO Premium
- Golden Bear
- Eagle Flash 66
- Orange Palomino (the old-style — the announcement of the redesign was announced while Tony was designing!)
- Antique brass mechanical pencil
- Eberhard Faber Blackwing
- Antique bullet pencil
- Yikes! Gripz
- Blue eraser-tipped Palomino
- Draplin Design Company carpenter pencil
It was fun hearing Tony talk about creating these:
To me, pencils are one of the most accessible and basic art tools. Working with Andy Welfle, a professional pencil collector, made the experience so worthwhile. Andy provided some of his favorite pencils, the history behind the design and it was a real privilege to be trusted with such unique, vintage and storied pencils. It was a real challenge to try and keep the design minimal. The colors, materials and textures were what really stood out.
He did an amazing job, too. As someone who doesn’t normally spend a good portion of his day thinking about wooden pencils, he caught a lot of detail: how a hex pencil differs from a round pencil where the tip meets the paint; how the shape and tip of a carpenter pencil differs from, say, a regular round pencil; the shine pattern on a ferrule or a tipped end. From a design perspective, I love how he managed to keep the design pretty flat and basic, but was able to incorporate a lot of detail, still, like the woodgrain and that shine on the barrel.
What is a “Vector Pack”?
What does one do with a vector pack, all you non-designers may want to know? If you’re a designer, or find yourself in a situation where you may want to use a pencil like this in a design, then this might appeal to you. Rather than a raster like a JPEG or a PNG, a vector file allows you to scale an image up or down infinitely, keeping its shape and integrity all the while. Plus, you can easily change color, add text, or otherwise manipulate your image to fit the needs of your project.
This pack exists in a few different forms:
Free Vector Pack
Check out Tony’s Dribbble page for a sampler of six pencil vectors. Some of my favorites aren’t in this package, but if you want those, check out the…
Full Vector Pack
This includes all 14 pencils and is for sale for $5 on the Creative Market!
This is coming soon. I’ll definitely have more information when we get this up and going. We’re going to submit it to The Cotton Bureau to crowd fund the printing of these t-shirts.
For reasons I can’t explain, I usually only talk about half of my pencil collection on here. I talk about new products, mostly — pencils available to most everyone that is for sale now.
But I also have a lot of advertising and souvenir pencils. Probably ten cigar boxes worth. They’re not particularly known for being good quality pencils, but they appeal to me in their uniqueness. Many of them are decades old; and I can only imagine that there are not many left in the world.
One subset of that collection are several agricultural bullet pencils. A good friend of mine gave them to me a few years ago after her grandmother died and my friend was in charge of cleaning out her farmhouse in Illinois. There was a drawer full of these old pencils — given to her by salesmen from seed supplier, feed yards, stockyards, and more.
I treasure them, though I never use them, mostly because they’re so old. The erasers have petrified and often, the pencil barrel has run down to no more than a nub . And I don’t have dozens and dozens like Aaron Draplin, perhaps known best among this community as the designer of Field Notes. Pencil Revolution interviewed Draplin back in 2011 about this very subject. Draplin loves these little guys. And for good reason:
First off, it’s the compact quality. I love having a tight little drawing tool in the front pocket at all times, and I’m here to tell ya, these little sonofabitches have saved my butt many a time…on airplanes, in meetings, in a pinch, wherever. I always keep one in the front, left pocket of my 501s.
What I love about them the most, is how banal they were back in the day. Simple, cheap advertising tools given away at local businesses. Feed-n-seed joints, car lots, insurance agents, what have you. Just crappy little promo items that packed a real wallop. I’ve got a couple old salesman sample sets. Old and beat up, and a look into what it was like to have a guy sit down and say, “Here’s what we can do for your company.” So good.
They are indeed so good. One of my few issues with wooden pencils is that when they’re new, they don’t fit easily into a pocket — they’re too long! If I need to easily carry around a pencil in a shirt pocket or pants pocket, and I don’t have a pencil halfway through its life, I’ll turn to the Zebra #2 mechanical or even — gasp — a Fisher bullet pen (though I can’t find mine as of late! I think it fell into the depths of the couch).
From a utilitarian perspective, bullet pencils are great. They’re really no more than 4 or 5 inches long when sheathed, but they extend out to full pencil length when in writing mode.
The trouble is, I don’t think you can get them anymore. (Pencil Talk doesn’t think so. Neither does Field Notes.) A friend of mine who owns a company that makes promotional products says that she was looking for those a couple of years ago, and came up dry.
JetPens.com has something similar, the Midori Brass Bullet Pencil, but to me, it doesn’t count. It’s $21, and made of brass. This isn’t the vintage, plastic cheapie thing that is given away free. (On the other hand, though, the description says that the brass develops a patina after multiple uses, which is pretty cool. And you can buy replacement pencils and erasers to go with it)
If the promotional bullet pencil is just a relic of the past, so be it. While they’re far from the main course of my pencil collection, they’re a delicious, delightful appetizer. Whenever I see one, I’m thrilled to run across it. And if they are becoming more and more rare, I have all the more reason to treasure the few that I have.
Today, 153 years ago, Hymen Lipman was awarded a patent for an eraser tipped pencil. So that means today is National Pencil Day! We have some trivia over at the Pencils.com blog.