Let’s bring women and people of color to the Blackwing Volumes editions

Last week, I traveled to beautiful Vancouver for the Design & Content Conference. In addition to enjoying the city immensely (and visiting an incredible stationery store: Paper-Ya), it was one of the best conferences I’ve attended.

In an industry where workers look mostly like me (white, male), the speakers and subject matter during the conference was strikingly diverse. We had all-women discussion panels, and at least half (and maybe more) of the speakers were people of color.

We talked a lot about diversity and inclusiveness, too. Several panels were about designing software and web interfaces for diversity, crisis and stress-cases, and I came out of it amped to make sure the stuff I work on works for everyone; not just for those I’m most familiar with.

It made me think about the communities I’m a part of, and where I exert the most influence. It occurred to me that it might not so much be the tech community, but that the stationery community (while smaller, perhaps) is a place where my words and thoughts may have the most impact.

Because of that, I was energized to read a fantastic observation made by a Melissa Chapin, an artist and active member of the Erasable community on Facebook , about something that I’m embarrassed I’ve never noticed: that all five of the Blackwing Volumes editions are tributes to white men.

We have the 725, modeled after Bob Dylan’s guitar; the 211, a tribute to John Muir; the 1138, a movie reference to a George Lucas film; the 24 for John Steinbeck; and most recently, the beautiful be-Yankeed Volume 56 for Joe DiMaggio.

These are all fantastic tributes, and I love the story behind them. But they represent just one demographic of those who made history. What about a pencil that Blackwing fans who are women, or people of color?

I’d love to challenge and encourage Blackwing to consider that for their next edition, or better yet — next several editions.

Here are a few ideas that I’ve been thinking about that would be absolutely amazing:

  • backwing-tributesVolume 11.8: The Grace Hopper Science Edition — named for the distance, in inches, that light travels in a nanosecond. Admiral Hopper was known for using lengths of wire this long as visual aids in her talks about satellite communication technology.
  • Volume 1940: The Hattie McDaniel Film Edition — named for the year this actress became the first woman of color to win an Oscar, for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. It would be another 62 years before it would happen again, in 2002 for Halle Berry.
  • Volume 45: The Jesse Owens Sports Edition — This African-American Olympic runner broke three world records and tied a fourth, all in 45 seconds.
  • Volume 70: The Ibrahim Ferrer Music Edition — This amazing Cuban singer gained renown later in life after he joined the Buena Vista Social Club at the age of 70.
  • Volume 35: The Frida Kahlo Art Edition — This is the number of surgeries she suffered through in her life, after polio and a bus accident. The constant pain she felt informed her iconic art work.
  • Volume 135: The Ralph Ellison Literature Edition — This is named for the street he moved to in Harlem in 1936, where began his career as a novelist.
  • And finally, how about Volume 11: The Harvey Milk Politics Edition — The first openly gay publicly elected official served 11 months in office before he was gunned down in the streets of San Francisco for his pride and bravery. (OMG, a rainbow Blackwing?!)

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m finger-pointing or declaring Blackwing to be racist or sexist. They’re creative professionals who build amazing products I use everyday. And, like me, they are inspired by heroes to whom they feel a connection. It’s pretty natural to find connections most strongly with those like yourself, and because society more loudly applauds white men for their skill and accomplishments, it’s not surprising that the five editions so far represent creative inspiration from this group.

In researching these icons of history and literature, and discovering the numbers that run through their lives, I was inspired by how vast a field of candidates could be for a Blackwing tribute. Others in the group suggested editions named for Amelia Earhart, Toni Morrison, Susan Kare, and more.

What great women and people of color inspire you? Where would you find the number for their edition? I would love to hear it, and I’m sure Blackwing would as well (though I hope and suspect they have some great ideas of their own).

Thank you, readers, for letting me opine, and Blackwing: thanks for being good sports and stepping up to inspire all of your customers, not just those who look like me.

23 thoughts on “Let’s bring women and people of color to the Blackwing Volumes editions

  1. Pingback: Diversity? Schmercity | Comfortable Shoes Studio

  2. I’d add Mary Cassatt (1844 – her birth year) or Gabriele Münter (1877 her birth year or the 1911 for when she helped found Der Blaue Reiter art group with Kandinsky and Franz Marc) for potential women artists. Both were brilliant in their work in male dominated spheres of the art world in the early 1900’s.

  3. Great idea Andy! I’m not a diehard pencil guy but the Blackwings is the only real stationery nerd collection I have subscribed too and you are so on the money. Let’s hope they listen!

  4. I add a “Jazz” edition. I would number it 526, the birthday of Miles Davis, who is often referred to as “The Picasso of Jazz”, and is, perhaps, one of the most influential artists of modern-day jazz. Davis’s music also inspired Jimi Hendrix, and Davis later worked with such artists as Michael Jackson and Prince. The pencil should include as many “pops” of color as possible, and topped with a sky blue eraser.

  5. How about a JK Rowling Blackwing numbered 9 3/4. Red with gold trim. While she may not be in the history books yet, she has made a monumental influence on cultures across the world.

    • Oh, hellllllls yes. That even would have the cool vintage flavor of the faction pencils we just talked about on Erasable last week. I’d stock up on those. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Let’s bring women and people of color to the the Blackwing Volumes editions | Woodclinched | The Cramped


    I would hardly say Bob Dylan, John Muir, George Lucas, John Steinbeck and Joe DiMaggio were all from the same demographic, assuming a broader sense of the word. All of those men came from diverse ethnic backgrounds and were born under varied socio-economic conditions. Unless of course, you and Melissa Chapin are choosing to make an argument that the Blackwing Editions line has been color/gender biased. Heaven forbid people enjoy a line of PENCILS for their aesthetic quality without turning them into a representation of the color/gender bias prevalent in the world today. I hope Palomino does include women and people of color in their next few editions. Then you can move on in blissful ignorance feeling that you did your part in the struggle for gender/race equality until someone points out that there hasn’t been a gay pencil. There are a number of homosexual people who have done great things. Why aren’t we honoring them? Just not white male homosexuals though, okay? Let’s get a good black, female homosexual to be represented, maybe a rainbow pencil with a black eraser and a classy gold ferrule? Oh, and then we’re going to need a handicapped pencil. There are people with disabilities that deserve representation amongst the Blackwing Editions line. I really won’t stand for it if Palomino hasn’t considered people with disabilities in this line! Maybe a Helen Keller pencil with braille on it? It can have 9H lead so you can’t really see anything it writes and eraser with a bell on it so you’ll know where to look if you drop it.

    I hope (although I highly doubt), through my exaggeration, you (and Melissa Chapman) realize the ridiculousness of your comment.

    • Oh yeah, you’re totally right, Samuel. That would be AWFUL, if people with disabilities had representation. So glad you’re here to advocate for the poor, underserved fully-abled people. They sure don’t get enough representation in the world.

      Tay L

  8. And the unpleasant odor of “What you enjoy is problematic because it doesn’t address all demographics” begins to waft into what was a perfectly fun and innocent enjoyment of pencilry. Send Palomino your list, by all means, but let’s not make this a crusade to Ensure Fairness.
    I’m gay, and I like pencils, and the two have precisely nothing to do with each other, despite what Freud might have thought. Stick to pencil geekery, please.

    • Well, see, normally I would agree with you. The regular lineup? It’s about a product heritage and quality performance, and should be judged on its own merits. about quality pencils. But for the Volumes editions, everything centers around the story. The materials, the performance, the aesthetics, the marketing — everything is about the tribute to someone who “defines a creative culture.” Are white men the sole contributors to the culture Blackwing wants to celebrate?

      Again, this is all implicit and not a battle cry for Blackwing to be tarred and feathered. I have so much respect for the guys there and what they’ve done. This is just a call to be proactive and intentional about their decisions with Volumes moving forward. The crusaders seem to be the white dudes whose importance in the world are threatened by a pencil paying tribute to someone who who may not be from their canon of creative inspiration and want to maintain the status quo (See our friend “P” above, and a few choice guys in the Erasable group).

      • You have no idea what race or gender I am so how about not pre-suppossing based on my comment? That implication only further proves your own prejudices. Is it not possible for a person of color male or female to have my viewpoint? Surely, I MUST be a white male to feel this way. Except wait, that’s exactly what you did regarding Palomino’s current lineup. You took your own inferences and put them out there in an effort to imply that once again, the contributions of people other than white males were being ignored. How about putting your tiny cape away and letting people who enjoy stationery do so without polluting the practice with your mis-informed and myopic view of a marketing strategy?

        Calling me a douchebag only speaks further to your ignorance and childish attempt at defending an argument that has no logical validity (not to mention showing an extreme want of creativity).

    • Andy made constructive and concrete suggestions on how to improve a product. Anyone making it into any kind of “crusade” is reading into this something Andy didn’t say. I believe that Andy was clear that this is not some moral/political/PC activism.

      • It is PC activism. Framing it as something else is not just disingenuous, it’s blatantly untrue.

        Along with being untrue, it’s irresponsible. The first pencil pays homage to a music festival, not any one individual specifically. I recall Joan Baez was at the Newport Folk Festival, as well as Maybelle Carter and Annie Walters. But pointing that out doesn’t help your argument so lets conveniently sweep that fact under the rug.

        I have no idea where George Lucas is even coming from because he had nothing to do with the 1138 edition because “A Trip to the Moon” was directed by Georges Méliès. The pencil doesn’t pay service to him but to the film.

        So already two of the 5 are not race or gender specific. The simple fact is:

        1. Anyone advocating this point is creating an issue where there is none and bringing their own baggage to what should otherwise be an enjoyable product for people who are interested in this sort of thing.


        2. Jumping on the PC activist bandwagon because they’re unable to think and reason for themselves.

        Not to mention undermining your own argument by placing the race/gender of non-white males as the defining characteristic of those very people you are erroneously advocating for.

        To your point about the comment being constructive, had you thought long enough you could’ve made your suggestions WITHOUT implying that the current lineup has been implemented to the exclusion of non-white males either directly or indirectly. Not only have you alienated part of your audience by politicizing a subject matter that people most likely turn to when they want to get away from the saturation of this same topic in the media, you’ve proven yourselves to be rather shallow.

  9. I don’t see questioning the motivation(s) of a blogger and accusing him of things and then not explaining them (moving on from calling us “irresponsible” to cite incorrect Volumes information — it’s a guitar, Dylan’s guitar) as “informing” anyone.

  10. There is plenty of information to be found in my comments along with explanations of all the points I’ve made. The pencil pays homage to the festival. It’s clearly explained on the site.

    My email is submitted with my comments. Ask your witless friend who called me a douchebag for it. I’d be more than happy to continue the conversation with you offline as I’m sure the readership here has grown tired of the discussion.

  11. No, you never explained how we’re irresponsible. It’s disappointing that you’d accuse bloggers of that, not explain it, and then resort to calling Andy witless. Maybe you’d spend your time better trolling someone else’s blog then.

    I certainly know Andy better than you do. And he’s far from witless.

  12. It shouldn’t be disappointing because I did explain it. Perhaps you’ve read my comments in the same misdirected reactionary manner that fueled your original posts/comments on the topic.

    “all five of the Blackwing Volumes editions are tributes to white men.” – Untrue

    “We have the 725, modeled after Bob Dylan’s guitar,…” – The actual physical pencil is modeled after a guitar. The inspiration for the pencil is a tribute to the ENTIRE festival. Per their site “The Blackwing 725 pays tribute to Newport as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1965 festival and its impact on music and culture.”

    “the 1138, a movie reference to a George Lucas film” – Incorrect and poorly researched. It pays tribute to a film directed by Georges Méliès. Again, tribute is paid to THE FILM, not the man.

    “they represent just one demographic of those who made history.” – Untrue, they actually represent many different demographics. You happen to be the ones focusing specifically on the race and gender demographic.

    All of the above speak to your irresponsibility. You aren’t stating facts, you’re stating your opinions as if they were facts. And even when you try to state a fact, it’s wrong and incorrectly researched.

    I’m not trolling anyone. Don’t hide behind the “troll” comment just because someone disagrees with you and calls you out on it. I didn’t “resort” to calling him witless. I called him witless in response to being called a douchebag. If that is the best you can do to defend your point, toss invective around for lack of being able to make an argument, and then do so in such an unoriginal and unimaginative way then he is witless.

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