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?

Story Supply Co.: the TOMS of the stationery world

Have I mentioned lately how much I love the Erasable community? Well, a lot, I’m sure. But this is something special. One of our group members, Vito Grippi, recently launched a (successful!) Kickstarter campaign for his new company, Story Supply Co.

In a nutshell, they source and give away “story supply kits,” for kids to learn the art of creative writing, storytelling and journaling. They’re partnering with 826, a series of fantastic arts nonprofits that help kids with many of the same goals.

Here’s the video from Vito’s Kickstarter campaign:

Did you notice the cameos from a Mitsubishi Hi Uni and a couple Palomino Blackwings? I sure did.

This is the kind of thing I love — admittedly a pocket notebook and a pencil aren’t the most original offerings ever, but they’re tools for creation! It’s not about creating specialized notebooks with one purpose and one layout. It’s about making a good quality notebook, a good quality writing utensil, for a great cause — helping give kids the same opportunity.

I also love that they’re partnering with 826. I have a couple posters from 826LA, and I’m not too far from the original, 826 Valencia, which is in the Mission district of San Francisco.

Full disclosure: I pledged already, and Vito sent me a pack of notebooks and a pencil early for review purposes. So while I haven’t really paid for them, I am already a backer of this campaign.

I’m a bit late to this review (Johnny talked about it over on the venerable Pencil Revolution, and Gary Varner’s very active new upstart paper blog Papernery has a great review,) but I will mention a few things.

The Notebook

I’m definitely loving the simple, navy blue cover with the Story Supply Co. logo on the front. It’s clean, and the navy-over-cream cover stock seems thick and rugged. The cover has a bit of tooth, as I noticed that there’s a subtle fiber interwoven in the paper, sort of like a dollar bill.

pencil-and-notebook

I’ll mention that the cover itself is pretty bad at closing completely once opened, and when it’s open, it wants to fold up pretty bad. It’s not dissimilar from Scout Books in that regard, though I know for sure that this is not a Scout Books product.

The inside is a creamy, thick graph paper. According to Gary, it’s a luxurious 70# weight, which is more than enough for the darkest of pencils, and perfect for all but perhaps the thirstiest of fountain pens.

IMG_4165

The 5 millimeter grid is a great size, though it’s laid out strangely on the page. It doesn’t quite meet the top of the paper, though there isn’t enough space for a non-gridded headline, and there’s a slightly thicker line running a quarter of the way in from the outside of the page, and a quarter of the way up. See?

grid-paper

Maybe that was intentional? I have no idea.

Still, though. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a damn fine notebook, especially considering it was their first run. As the company matures, I’m sure it’ll get better and better.

The Pencil

pencil-sharpened

Now, this is an interesting one. Vito was kind enough to include one of their later offerings, a round, natural-finish pencil! It bears the name, tagline, and some other information about the company, and on top of a golden ferrule, it has a navy blue eraser that matches the silkscreen on the barrel! Swoon.

While it physically resembles the Field Notes pencil, I’m convinced it’s better quality. The wood isn’t as splintery when I sharpened it (with my KUM Masterpiece!) and while the pencil itself isn’t as fragrant as the Field Notes pencil, the shavings are more so.

shavings-comparison

I’m not sure why that is, but I’m guessing that there’s an ever-so-thin layer of clear lacquer or sealant over the Story Supply Co. pencil. It’s thin enough to leave you feeling like you’re gripping a natural-finish pencil, but it’s not splintery at all, like I find the Field Notes pencil to be.

(It’s worth noting that this is a Musgrave-sourced pencil, so there’s a good chance it’s basswood, which seems to be confirmed when the shavings are next to the more pink Field Notes pencil. I also see a definite woodgrain, which makes it seem like the Story Supply Co. pencil isn’t processed wood.)

They leave very similar marks, but the Story Supply Co. pencil is noticeably smoother to write with than the scratchy Field Notes pencil.

point-comparison

In fact, the only things I think the Field Notes pencil has over this one is a) the typography is better (because, duh, Aaron Draplin) and the ferrule is more unique. Though maybe not as effective — a lot of people have told me the eraser comes out easily.

Story Supply Co.’s ferrule isn’t particularly special but it seems to do it’s job, which is what it’s all about, right?

The Kickstarter

The Story Supply Co. Kickstarter campaign successfully reached its $5,000 goal four days after launching, which is impressive and commendable. At the time of this writing, it’s at $7,167, which seems like it’s still got a lot of momentum in it.

For five dollars, you’ll get a sticker and a pencil, which is a pretty fantastic deal. For just double that, you can get a pack of notebooks in plain, ruled, or graph, and donate a kit to “a kid with a story to tell.”

I can’t wait to see Vito’s stretch goals!

This is the way to do it, folks. I’m loving Vito’s vision for the company, and his Kickstarter prowess.

Check out more about Story Supply Co. at their website, or go straight to their Kickstarter page.

Blackwing launches a pencil subscription service

It’s pretty fortiutious that I even saw this in a timely manner — I’m traveling — but, I ran across something pretty cool:

Volumes: a limited edition pencil series celebrating the iconic stories that define a creative culture

Though a bit overstated, once you dig into the meat of the page, you can see what they’re saying: They’re launching a quarterly subscription service!

Much like Field Notes, you get four editions a year for $100 (plus $12 for shipping). Each shipment includes a dozen pencils in fancy gift boxes, plus a pencil sealed for archival purposes, (which is a nice touch for us hoarders, er, collectors). And, to further appease collectors, each pencil will be numbered

In talking with a couple people on Twitter about this, the Pencils.com folks have a lot to do if they want to be profitable. They need to reinvent a unique, appealing, quality pencil every three months, and they need to meet the significant minimums manufactures are sure to require from them.

If anyone can do that, though, it’s Charles Berolzheimer and his gang over in Stockton.

And it’s good to see a Friend-of-Erasable, Wood & Graphite‘s own TJ Cosgove, get some work out of it! He made the video to accompany the announcement blog post:

It seems to me that the target demographic for a pencil subscription service is much smaller and more niche than the Field Notes crowd; and generally, pencil users are a bit more thrifty, too. $100 for 48 pencils is not a cheap price, even if it is for limited edition, fancy pencils.

Still, though — I’m excited about it, and I plan on subscribing soon. I look forward to seeing the makers of two of my top five favorite pencils do something like this. It should keep them creative, innovative and hopefully nimble, as they’ll quickly learn if the edition they release is a hit or not.

For those who think the subscription is a bit steep — fear not! It looks like they’ll be offering packs of the limited edition pencils a la carte, though probably in limited quantities. As it is, if you buy at least four dozen Blackwings a year, you’re probably just about paying this amount already.

Finally, it’s nice to see that a portion of the subscription payment is going torward music education for children! Charles is an advocate for the Arts and, through the Blackwing brand, has supported musicians and artists over the years.