Plumbago, issue 3 is almost here!

This is something I’m very excited about, folks.

A year ago when we started Plumbago Magazine, as a paper companion to The Erasable Podcast, we just wanted to get some of our friends to submit drawings, or written words, or something that we could photocopy together into a few pieces of paper, folded and stapled.

Then, last summer, Issue 2 came out, and we suddenly had 36 pages full of writing, illustrations, comics and more about pencils. We made 300 copies, which seemed like a lot, but — wow! — that quickly sold out. (You can still buy a PDF copy of that issue, though.

Plumbago Magazine, Issue 3

For Issue 3, due out in January, I really wanted a whole issue dedicated to poetry and fiction. About pencils. I figured it would be slim pickings compared to Issue 2. But was I wrong!

Folks, we have almost 70 pages filled with a dozen short stories, many poems, illustrations, comics, paintings, graphite art, and more!

And yes. Everything’s about pencils. (Or, at least, pencils play a part in the story.)

And we’re making many more copies, so I hope we can keep them in stock for a while.

Here’s just a quick list of some of the content within:

We’re trying to sell a bunch of copies, yes, but only because — okay, mostly me — am really excited to see this come to fruition. It’s been a labor of love for the last two or three months, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

(And any revenue above and beyond printing, assembly and mailing costs will be donated to Heart to Heart International, a nonprofit providing medical relief to the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Because we don’t make enough to pay contributors, I don’t want to make a profit myself.)

I’m afraid these won’t be available for Christmas, but my goal is to get orders out the first or second week of January. They’re being printed at a print shop, but the folding, stapling, trimming, and corner-rounding will be done right here in my one-bedroom apartment (Katie is thrilled, let me tell you).

So place your order today. This is your chance to see the creativity and passion that runs through the internet pencil community.

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Paper Tasting: Packs of unique Japanese paper celebrating color and texture

Edit 10/04/17: The Paper Tasting packs are now live and available on the Yamamoto Paper Etsy shop! It looks like they’re selling for just over $11 each. Check them out here.


A few weeks ago, I went to the San Francisco International Pen Show. Graphite representation was pretty low, but I was excited to hang out with some stationery blogger friends, like Ana Reinert from the Well Appointed Desk, and Brad Dowdy from The Pen Addict. In fact, I worked a shift at his Nock Co. booth, peddling fine nylon pen and notebook holders.

I also met a really interesting guy — Taizo Yamamoto. He was visiting the US, and is sort of a Japanese counterpart to me and other US stationery bloggers — he has a podcast about stationery (called Hoji-raji, literally translating into to dig up, as in digging up interesting and backgrounds of stationery industry people), focussed on paper. (It’s all in Japanese, so I’m sad I can’t listen to it). Our mutual friend, Bruce Eimon from Think on Paper Co., introduced us (you may remember Bruce from my post about the Mitsubishi Uni Palette).

Taizo and Bruce collaborate on a really cool product called Paper Tasting, which is really what I’m here to talk about.

Taiko Yamamoto's Paper Tasting packs

What is Paper Tasting?

paper-tasting-3

Paper Tasting pack “Yellow, vol. 1”

Well, it’s a sampler of different kinds of papers, organized in an expertly and tightly curated selection. It includes three samples of paper arranged in a theme — generally by color.

There seem to be, generally, three kinds of paper included in these packs:

  • A small pad of thick, plush, extravagant paper
  • A medium-sized pad of a more conventional, but still gorgeous, paper
  • A larger pad of a thinner, vellum paper

But what is Paper Tasting, really?

To me, each pack seems like a celebration of the visual and tactile capabilities of paper. Bruce and I have a sort of ongoing conversation about the Japanese philosophy around paper — they place a much higher regard on texture and thickness than US companies often do, which focuses more on ruling and economy.

In fact, check out this brilliant taxonomy of paper that’s included in each Paper Tasting pack — they have 64 varieties of paper organized neatly for easy reference:

Paper Tasting's Taxonomy and Classification of Japanese Paper

Paper Tasting’s Taxonomy and Classification of Japanese Paper

It took me some time to feel comfortable writing on this paper, because it looked and felt so precious — and because it feels like a limited resource. (Some of this paper just isn’t made anymore. The speckled “Paradise” paper from the “Blue, vol. 1” pack, for example, was discontinued earlier this year, which is a tragedy.)

Paper Tasting pack

Paper Tasting pack “Blue, vol. 1”

What do I do with these Paper Tasting packs?

If you’re like me, they’re perfect for just looking at and playing with. There are so many more unique colors and textures in these packs than I’m used to seeing in one place.

And if you want to tear them off, fold them up and try out different pencils, pens, markets and other utensils on them — go for it!

Yellow Kaguya paper, embossed to look like the surface of the moon. From the Paper Tasting pack “Yellow, vol. 1”

I was lucky enough to get to try these packs out before their launch — according to the website, they’ll available for sale starting October 1. I’m not sure of the price, or how often they’ll be releasing new packs, but be sure to follow them closely.

And if you can get your hands on the Blue, vol. 1 and the Yellow, vol. 1 packs — do.

Find more information about Paper Tasting packs here, and check back in October for information on how to buy them. And thank you, Bruce and Taizo, for the preview!

Plumbago Magazine, Issue 2 is for sale as a pre-order!

I’m really excited for the second issue of Plumbago, my zine project. If you’ll remember, the first issue came out late last year. It was a bit rushed, since I was trying to produce an issue in time for a Zine Fest at the Facebook Analog Lab.

Turns out, I made far too few copies, and because it was assembled entirely using the photocopier, several features in it were pretty heavily distorted.

This time around, I wanted to produce a higher-quality issue, to see how that felt.

Well, it feels pretty great! Weighing in at 36 pages full of photos, comics, illustrations, and written features, I present Issue #2!

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This isn’t a real image of the magazine, so the cover could look totally different than this. Just saying.

This time, I need to spend a bit more money on producing the issue, so I opened it up for pre-orders to fund the initial print run. Please help out by placing a pre-order!

Just a few features you’ll find in this issue:

  • “What I’ve Learned from Field Notes”: A piece by urban sketcher Tina Koyama
  • “Rabbinic Musings in Graphite”: about how pencils aid in the intense study environs of rabbi school by Mordechai Lightstone
  • “How to Keep Score at a Baseball Game Using a Pencil”: A piece by Gregory Dresser
  • “Are You Too Obsessed with Stationery?:” A quiz to help you measure your sickness
  • A comic by the Mad Penciler
  • An editorial by Dr. J. Frank, encouraging you to lovingly destroy your pencils
  • And lots, lots more.

This issue will be $10 each, but during the pre-order period, it’s $8. Head over to the Plumbago page on Erasable.us to order a copy now!

Neat & Super Dark: An overview of the colorful uniqueness of Indian pencils

One of the great ironies of wooden pencil merchandising is that for a product that’s a symbol — perhaps the symbol — of globalized industry, we see so few of the on the shelves in the United States. There are Ticonderoga pencils, of course, and Write Dudes. If it’s a fancy store, there are some Japanese and German brands, and of course there are bottom-shelf no-branded pencils. I barely even notice those anymore.

But what about Indian pencils?

This post is not a review of any specific pencil made in India. For that, you should check out in-depth reviews by my friends Mike at Lead Fast and Dee at The Weekly Pencil. You could even listen to the a recent episode of The Erasable Podcast where Mike talks about them.

What I do want to do here is celebrate Indian pencils, and give you a few resources if you want to explore them on your own.

What’s so great about Indian pencils?

As Mike said on Episode 75 when asked this same question, they’re one of the best quality pencils for the price. And the way they use color and typography make it, aesthetically, much more interesting than the vast majority of the pencils you can buy around here. As iconic and trusted as the yellow pencil is in the US, it gets a little boring after a while.

And for less than two dollars for a 10-pack, most pencil models are super cheap. Even if you spend that same amount shipping it over here.

In a nutshell, they’re a breath of fresh air in a market where attractive pencils are usually extremely expensive (Blackwing and Tombow, for example) and inexpensive pencils are terrible performers and, well, just boring.

CW Pencils

My very favorite pencil shop in the world  is Caroline Weaver’s shop, CW Pencil Enterprise. She has one of the best selections of wooden pencils in the US, with exclusive stocks of Viking pencils, Hindustan, and a few other brands. It was from her I learned about the Nataraj Pop, which I’ve written about here before, and a few others like the Apsara Joi.

She introduced me, and a lot of my pencil-centric friends, to Indian brands like Nataraj and Apsara, both made by Hindustan Pencils, and the standard of what I think associate with Indian pencils.

The Curios

A few months ago, I got a message on Facebook from Suraj Singh, a pencil fan from Faridabad, India. He runs a small online stationery business, The Curios. Suraj is a member of our Erasable Pencil Community Facebook group, and wanted to know if the group would have any interest in buying Indian-brand pencils from him. Of course we would!

He sent me a price sheet, and I realized there were brands I never heard of! Pencils with names like “Camlin Flora Chhota Bheem,” “Navneet Stallion Full Black” and “Rorito Trizy” stuck out to me. I wanted one of everything.

Luckily, Suraj has a plan for that. He offers a sampler pack of either one or two pencils of every variety he offers, and for really cheap. I bought the 2-pack sampler which includes 110 or more pencils, for only $14.50!

My sampler pack from The Curios came like a brick wrapped up in a manila envelope, and didn't look anything at all like drugs.

(Shipping was almost twice that amount, though, but still a good deal considering it came more than 7500 miles to get to me.)

The full selection of what came in my package from The Curios India. All this for only $14.50! I ordered the 10-pack of Apsara Pop pencils separately.

The full selection of what came in my package from The Curios India. All this for only $14.50! I ordered the 10-pack of Apsara Pop pencils separately.

As soon as I opened the box, I was in love. Aesthetically, they came in varied, bright colors with contrasting end caps. Bold, foil-pressed typography with fun descriptive words (like “Learn with fun” on the Eco-buddy and “Neat & Dark” on the Rorito Quicky). There was a high percentage of triangular pencils, which Ive always been into. It’s just an explosion of color and fun, which I don’t see a lot of around.

The colors, the designs, the typography, and the words on these assorted Indian pencils are unique and just so delightful to me.

The colors, the designs, the typography, and the words on these assorted Indian pencils are unique and just so delightful to me.

Sure, the high-end pencils that go around our community are beautiful — the newest Blackwing Volumes edition celebrating Lake Tahoe is an example of the aesthetic beauty that special, high-end pencils can bring — but these Indian pencils are something else. They’re maybe not as polished and “special” in their design. Their bright colors are commonplace, which really appeals to me.

How do they write?

Generally, they write well. As I mentioned, I don’t want this to be a review post. Some are dark and buttery, like the aforementioned Rorito Quicky or the Flair Dotcom D100 (which looks a lot like the Faber Castell Grip 2001), and some are light and scratchy like Victory HB (Not to be confused with the Victory HD, with “unbreakable graphite.”)

Without stereotyping too much, I would say Indian pencil that advertise as being “extra dark” write a bit lighter than Japanese pencils of the same. They aren’t quite as exacting in their core grading (one pencil has “HB+” written on the barrel — what does that even mean?), but at a fraction of the price, I don’t expect them to be.

How do I get some of these pencils?

If you want a box of assorted Indian pencils, reach out to Suraj. The easiest way is probably through his Facebook Page, though if you dont use that platform, you can email him, too, at thecuriosindia@gmail.com. If you’re in the US, just remember that shipping will likely cost more than the product itself, and still take a couple of weeks to arrive. That’s pretty standard and expected.

He also sells those pencils by boxes of 10, if you know what make and model you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for one or two pencils of more limited availability, perhaps to add to a larger order of other pencil ephemera, head over to CW Pencils. They have a smaller selection, but some of the best, like the fabulously hand-marbled Nataraj Marble Pencil or the Apsara Absolute Extra Strong.

There are lots of assorted sellers on Amazon, but at this point, I don’t know enough about them to recommend them. They seem to offer pretty good prices, often with shipping built into the cost, but often, they seem to be much slower in shipping than the two sellers I mention above. Buy from there at your own risk.

And meanwhile, check out a few of these reviews of Indian pencils on other fine pencil blogs:

Introducing Plumbago Magazine: an analog companion to a digital publication about analog tools

Recently, I got the chance to explore a medium I’ve been interested in for a while — zines! The Facebook Analog Lab held a Zinefest last week, raising money for the Oakland Fire Department Relief Fund, helping those affected by the Ghostship warehouse fire.

I’ve been meaning to try to put together a zine for years — ever since my friends Alex Brown and Danee Pye made them for various creative projects. This gave me the perfect chance!

And I knew I wanted it to be about pencils and analog tools of creation. Although it’s a fantastic irony that it’s an analog throwback from blogs and podcasts and whatnot about analog tool, it’s with an authentic love and passion that this came about.

So here it is —the inaugural issue of Plumbago Magazine!

Why “Plumbago”?

As I mention in the introduction:

In the late 1500s, residents of Cumbria, England stumbled across a massive tree that was overturned during a storm. The roots brought up soil with it, and beneath it, there was a strange, dark mineral. It felt a lot like a mineral they used at the time — *plumbago*, or dark lead. The used this new mineral to mark their flocks of sheep to identify them in the field.

Zines are a delightful anachronism, though maybe not totally useless. It’s a messy, raw, tactile, finite way to communicate, and in that mess, there’s also a richness to what it’s communicating. Much like pencils.

A short history and exploration of Eberhard Faber's Mongol pencils, by Caitlin Elgin of CW Pencils.
This issue is 22 pages full of amazing contributors — if you’re dialed into the pencil and stationery community, you might already be familiar with some of them:

I tried to make this thing as authentically ziney as possible — no digital copy of the whole publication exists. This was put together with tape, staples and lots of photocopying.

Head over to the Plumbago page on the Erasable Podcast site for more information and to buy your own copy!

Get out of my head! Heather Rivard from the Art Supply Posse Podcast on school supply shopping

“School supply shopping was an emotional experience for me. School supplies represent the part of life that made sense to me, like doing homework and what I was told. School clothes shopping represented the things that didn’t make sense, like social hierarchy and how to fit in and how to feel like an acceptable human being. School supplies! That is a source of so much warmth and comfort and excitement.”

That’s what Heather Rivard, co-host of the Art Supply Posse Podcast, said as to why she loved school supply shopping when she was a kid. She verbalized perfectly how I feel about it. I think the biggest difference is that I wore a uniform at Catholic school, so mostly it was “dress-down day” that caused my anxiety. Sometimes, I remember, I wore my uniform anyway and just said that I forgot to wear street clothes.

At the risk of psychoanalyzing myself, this could very well be the reason I fell in love with stationery in the first place. My post about Yikes! pencils is by far the most popular post on this blog, so I know we’re not alone.

I love Art Supply Posse! Heather, and my friend and long-time stationery blogger Ana Reinert from The Well-Appointed Desk, host it together, and although they go WAY deeper into art supplies than I can follow, they’re such interesting people. And it’s nice to see a niche of the stationery world get a well-deserved podcast.

Two stationery products that bring me joy

If you’ve ever seen photos from my home office, you will probably know that I’m a pretty cluttered person. I just like acquiring physical objects, and I form emotional attachments to them pretty easily. That may be a reason why I like writing about stationery — it gives me an excuse to amass more stationery.

I blame it on my mother, although that’s probably unfair.

1468451123.jpegThere’s a great book that’s gained popularity in the last year or two, called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It’s a bit painful to read, mostly because it usually tells me things I don’t want to hear about consuming, mindfulness and time-management . One chapter that really stood out to me, though, is when Kondo lays out criteria of what possessions you should keep, and which you should get rid of — often, she says, we look at it wrong:

Focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness. Why? Because we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.

She continues writing to say that when deciding what to keep, you should hold it in your hand (if that’s possible), reflect on it, and if it sparks joy in your mind, keep it. It happens with more rarity than you might think.

(If you’re interested in learning more about this book, listen to this episode of Covered, a podcast by my friend Harry Marks. He discusses books, and reviewed this one in particular.)

All this is to say that while I do love pencils, notebooks, index cards and yes, even pens, not all of them bring me joy.

There are a few lately that do, however.

Nataraj Pop Pencil

Nataraj Pop pencil

I picked up a couple of these beauties last November when I went to CW Pencils. I didn’t expect much of them — I’ve heard of Nataraj before, but I’ve never really used their products.

Nataraj pencils are made by the Hindustan Pencils company, founded in 1958, they’re the largest pencil manufacturer in India. Hindustan also makes Apsara, another fantastic brand rare in the US.

Closeup of Nataraj Pop pencil writing in a Write Notepads Kindred Spirit Edition pocket notebook

They originally attracted me for their “extra dark” graphite — 2B, in fact, which I prefer over the regular HB (or #2 in America-talk). They write dark and smooth, and seem to retain a point a bit longer than other 2Bs, which I appreciate.

After a while, though, I realized I liked it more for aesthetic reasons. Each side of the hex alternates in a bright, candy color, and the capped end is dipped in an accent color. My favorite scheme, for example, has yellow and blue-grey sides, and a bright, green-apple-green cap. It matches my Baron Fig Three-Legged Juggler Confidante perfectly.

Write Notepads Kindred Spirit Edition Notebooks

Write Notepads Co. Kindred Spirit edition notepad with a Nataraj Pop pencil

Although I don’t think I’ve written about them here, which is a shame, I’m a huge fan of Write Notepads & Co, a Baltimore-based notepad company. Johnny Gamber, my friend and colleague from Pencil Revolution, and also a Baltimorean, gets to hang out at the WNP shop on the regs and I’m completely jealous.

Chris Rothe, the guy who runs WNP, recently started a pocket notebook membership service. Unlike the subscription service that Field Notes COLORS or Blackwing Volumes runs, his is a membership subscription that not only gets you those quarterly runs, but also makes extras available to you for purchase.

The second-ever edition, “Kindred Spirit” is magnificent, and definitely brings joy for me. It’s a bit wider and bit thicker than a Field Note cahier, and its perfect-bound spine looks more rugged, though I suspect it takes longer to break it in than a saddle-stitched binding like Field Notes.

The package is mind-blowingly gorgeous — while other pocket notebook page are bound austerely in a belly band, these three-packs come in a little box with an ornate illustrated pressed into it.

Once I’m past the box, I really love the cover — Chris used French Paper’s Dur-O-Tone Butcher Orange, pretty famous among paper nuts for being the first of Field Note’s COLORS edition.

(As perhaps a nod or a tribute to Field Notes, Chris threw in 25 Butcher Blue-covered notebooks, used for the second FN edition, and just as rare and coveted.)

Lining of the Write Notepads & Co Kindred Spirit pocket notebook, seen here with a Nataraj Pop pencil.

What’s particularly joyful to me, though, are the insides. The pages are lined with a bright orange ink, that looks like it matches the cover, and there’s a couple of vertical lines a centimeter or two in from the left, making it perfect for to-do lists, and is unobtrusive if you want to ignore it.

What are the similarities here?

Well, for one thing, they’re both bright and colorful in a pretty unique way, and they’re both pretty simple in execution. Neither are top-shelf, yet are far from the bottom. They’re a joy to hold, to behold and to use.

That’s an interesting thing to think about — I never realized that these commonalities are something I’ve found particularly joyful. But it makes sense. I’m also a huge fan of the Three-Legged Juggler Baron Fig Confidante, European Bic Crystals that are orangish instead of clear and I keep buying those damn Staedtler Wopex pencils in bright colors, even though I’m not a huge fan of how it performs.

What kind of stationery brings you joy? Are there any common traits that run among them?