A Different Kind Of Rabbit Hole

(Daniel Lemay is an analog tool enthusiast and enjoys pondering over many things. You can find him on Twitter at @dslemay and his blog at Circumspect Reverie.)

The smooth tip gliding across the page codifying ideas as they synchronize between mind and cellulose. The smell of cedar wafting up to my nose as the graphite provides just the right feedback; now wait a second, what is with all this pencil talk? This is The Pen Addict after all.

How it all Started

For the longest time I resisted pencils for a variety of reasons. They seemed much more impractical than pens, requiring sharpening, and then there was the whole issue of being able to erase them. I abandoned them as quickly as I could in school, reserving them only for those dreaded Scantron tests. I even did my math work in pen, rebel that I was. Mechanical pencils never stuck either; I didn't want to continuously advance lead, have it break, and repeat. These all seemed like unnecessary points of frustration and friction.

I previously shared how I got into quality writing instruments here. The curiosity about quality pencils began during my 2.5 month binge through the entire Pen Addict podcast back catalog and the seemingly out of place episode I'm Attached to Pencils with Andy Welfle from The Erasable Podcast. It's a good thing the show notes clarified "No we haven't gone off our rocker, we just want to learn," because they had me worried for a minute. Of course it proved to be the spark for this addict's mind to wonder what he was missing. Shortly thereafter I went to a local bookstore and glossed over the selection of Blackwing pencils at once mesmerized and also intimidated by the unknown. Eventually I determined the $25 cost of entry too steep for what appeared to be a fleeting curiosity at the time. After all, I was in the midst of my highest ink acquisition period. I loved color and why would I want to trade that for being constricted to a monochromatic world?

About six months passed before pencils re-entered the forefront of my mind. July 2015 came and brought with it the "Portland pen show." It's not really much of a show and sports maybe fifteen vendors, and almost exclusively vintage. I did find a beautiful blue clouds Waterman with stub nib that I couldn't leave without. To my surprise at purchase it came with the matching mechanical pencil. "Ok, I suppose I will give it a try since I am getting it any way," I thought to myself. I used it a couple times but found the experience unsatisfying and unlike the exterior, lackluster. Once again, pencils failed to stick for me.

Another five months went by before pencils again attempted to gain some traction. This past December I inquired with the Slack group and Caroline Weaver at CW Pencil Enterprise for recommendations on introductory pencils and sharpeners. Around that time I also began writing out the drafts of my initial blog posts in their entirety longhand. Disappointed by the low quality paper and feathering in the notebook I had just bought for the purpose, I decided that there was no better time to try them out. I quickly determined that this was my ideal tool for long form writing.

The Draw of Pencils

There are so many draws to using quality pencils, even for a person primarily using fountain pens. Similar to pens, there is a big divide between crappy and good ones. The first major draw is the intoxicating smell of the wood. It adds another dimension to the writing experience and is much more pleasant than the chemical smell of some inks. I'll admit that sometimes I will smell the pencil while formulating my next thoughts. Secondly, the build quality and aesthetic variance is plentiful. Pencils range from natural finish to lacquered beauties, to different styles of ferrule (what attaches the eraser to the pencil) or no ferrule at all. There is so much room for artistry, even though it isn't maki-e or urushi lacquered; then again a dozen of really nice pencils might set me back $25-30 not $1,500. I also love the sound of the slight audio feedback reinforcing each fluid line. Maybe it's influenced by my love of dip nibs. Don't get me wrong, I love my smooth fountain pen nibs too. However, that is just a small part of the available writing experiences and isn't always the unicorn it is made out to be. Lastly, I love the permanence of pencils and wish I had not succumbed to misinformation for so long. Like many people, I believed that pencils erasability equated to not being a lasting medium, However, unless it is erased pencil is a lasting medium. It is not as susceptible to humidity or UV light and won't run across the page at the slightest sign of moisture as some fountain pen inks do.

So that's how I finally became a pencil nerd on top of my love for fountain pens. They have expanded in use beyond blog writing. I find myself reaching for them consistently for my primary tool of the day. I love the process of sharpening them into a fresh point while collecting my thoughts. I love experimenting with different graphite grades and point lengths. I still use fountain pens primarily, but rapidly cannot imagine my writing life without pencils.

Posted on March 18, 2016 and filed under Pencil Reviews.