Review: Faber-Castell Grip 2001 B

I’d heard good things about the Grip 2001, plus it is a neat looking pencil, so I picked one up at Artist and Craftsman for a cool 81 cents.

First, let’s talk about the looks of this pencil. It’s metallic silver gray with a black imprint and raised black dots along the triangular grip.  the silver gray paint has a few runs and imperfections, that are noticeable, particularly at the imprint end of the pencil. I didn’t look at a whole lot of these on the rack of open stock pencils, but I did notice some imperfections on the other pencils as well. The back end, where the ferrule would usually go is capped with a shiny cap of sorts. When I first pulled this pencil off the rack I thought the raised nubs along the grip were purely for looks, but they are functional and create a nice tactile feel. If you are a “worrier” or rub your pencil or pen when you are thinking this is a great tactile feel. The pencil itself is very light feeling. I didn’t think to weigh it but after using other pencils it feels very light. The rounded triangular shape is very comfortable to hold and use. It settles into my hand like it was designed for my grip. It’s a great feeling pencil.Grip 2001I picked out a B grade. They had a full range of grades at Artist and Craftsman but I decided that the best bet for my review purposes was to continue with HB or B. It’s also a good entry level for pencil drawing and from a B grade you can tell what the rest of the grades will act like. At first use I was not impressed. This B grade is much more like an HB or F than a B. It’s not possible to get a whole lot of tonal range with this pencil. I got no more dark out of this than I would with a standard HB or #2 pencil. It is very hard for a B grade pencil. The mark it makes is lighter than I’d expect of a B  pencil.  Again the darkness of the pencil is in line with an HB of even an F, not what I’d expect of a B pencil marketed towards artists.Grip 2001However, it is not scratchy, in fact it’s a nice smooth pencil. I didn’t notice any grit as I used it. It holds it’s point remarkably well for a B graded pencil, again, I’d mark this an HB rather than a B, but even when compared to an HB it really holds it’s point well. For sketching this isn’t a great pencil but for writing it’s great. I find myself reaching for it pretty often to use in my Field Notes.Grip 2001How does it sharpen? Well, okay. I haven’t tried it in my KUM long point sharpener but in my KUM ellipse and Staedtler pocket Jelly Bean* it does OK. The wood peels off well enough, but the lead does lean towards chipping and cracking off the core. The core is narrow but well centered so does sharpen to a good point, the sharpener must be sharp.  As I learned, a dull sharpened will just chip the lead off into blunt nasty points.Grip 2001While these pencils are directed at artists, I find it odd that they only offer  from grades 2H to 2B. Artist grades, for regular drawing generally go up to at least a 6B and down to a 2H in hardness. If they are directed at artists, why so little in variation? Rather, I think the market for these is the “gift to artists” and “people who appreciate a nice pencil” rather than professional artists. While up to 2B is adequate for sketching IF you can get a nice range of tone from the softest pencil, it’s far less useful if the pencils are hard and not able to give a nice darkness. Like the mixed Palomino set, these are for writing and doodling, not for serious sketching or drawing where you need deep dark areas.GRIP2001

Overall, if you are looking for a solid pencil for writing this is a great pencil, I just can’t suggest it for drawing. Perhaps a higher grade, maybe 2B or 4B would give a nice dark tone for sketching.

Most of the other reviews of this pencil are older and much more favorable than I’m being here. Of course the majority of the reviewers are not artists and use them solely for writing, and that is where these pencils truly excel. Treat yourself to a great pencil for writing but get yourself something else for drawing or sketching.

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Review: Koh-I-Noor Toison D’Or 1900 Pencil

The Koh-I-Nor Toison D’ Or pencil is sharp looking with shiny black and cream lacquer and a gold imprint of the name and degree indication. I have a thing for black pencils, probably because they were hard to find when I was a kid. The gold foil imprint is sharp and well centered on the barrel of the pencil.Koh-I-Norkoh-i-norI’m unsure of what kind of wood this pencil is made of, but it sharpens easily in my KUM ellipse sharpener.  The core is narrow on the HB and B  but it is appropriate for these grades. In use I found the “lead” to be a grade or two harder than other brand’s grade designations. I would grade the HB as an H or F in any other brand of pencils. The B would be an HB in other brands.Koh-I-Nor

The HB pencil was very hard and scratchy. In fact, there was a piece of grit that didn’t write when I turned the pencils to that part of the point. Quite annoying. After sharpening the pencil there was less grit but it was still very light and smooth but occasionally gritty.koh-i-nor

The B pencil was much smoother and the darkness and softness akin to an HB pencil. The core lacks the smoothness of say, a Palomino or even a Dixon Ticonderoga. If I were to use these pencils for writing, sketching or drawing I’d stick with this grade.  This pencil was quite nice and even after repeated sharpening I didn’t hit any large pieces of grit like the HB pencil.Koh-I-NorI found these to be a mixed bag in terms of niceness versus frustration. Large pieces of grit are something I don’t have a lot of tolerance for in my pencils. With a list price of $1.79/pencil I found the price to be a little high for the quality.  For general sketching pencils I find the Staedtler Rally or Norica to be a better HB pencil at a much better price. Still lower in  price the Palomino HB is a much better pencil. I know these are available all over the place as an art pencil and positioned as a value pencil. I can’t really recommend them as a good option for writing or sketching. Use them if you’ve got ‘em but I wouldn’t suggest them as a new purchase.Koh-I-Nor

Review: Fabriano EqoQua Notebooks

The pocket sized Fabriano EcoQua(EQ) notebooks have been around for awhile and I’ve just now gotten my hands on a 4-pack at my local AC Moore with a 505 off coupon. The regular price at AC Moore is $8.99 for 4 3.5×5.5 inch notebooks.ecoqua ecoqua

They feature 64 pages (or 32 sheets) of creamy off white paper. The paper is lightweight 85gsm paper.  The paper is amazing, smooth yet enough tooth that pencils perform well and smooth enough for fountain pens to glide over the surface. There was no feathering nor bleed through. It does take a bit for the pens to dry, but that should be expected with paper like this. Pencil smudginess was decent though not amazing.  The pages are thin enough that inks and pencils alike have a lot of show through of the previous page, while this wouldn’t stop me from sketching on both sides it might be enough to deter some users. The second half of the book is micro-perforated. I’ll discuss that later.ecoqua ecoqua The covers are bright cheery colors with a linen imprinted finish. The cover weight is slightly heavier than a Field Notes and about the same as a Word notebook. The corners are rounded, but just barely so. The book is held together with 2 silver staples, they seem robust enough. Each of my books at the spine feature a small tear. This can be caused by several things, first the blade on the shear could be dull, secondly the books weren’t clamped tight enough into the shear, thirdly the shear was over filled finally the shear was under filled. Most likely it was over filled and not clamped down properly. This happens pretty often when small pocket books are mass produced. It’s just something to make note of and to check for if you are neurotic about that sort of thing.ecoqua ecoqua

I really love the paper and the bright covers. However, the micro-perforated second half of the book is a deal breaker for me. I cannot stand to have my sketchbooks micro perforated. If I want to remove a page I have an exacto, a ruler, and a self-healing cutting mat. Or I can use my cutter bee micro perforation blade to add my own perforations. I wouldn’t mind if the last 4 or 5 pages were micro-perforated, but perforations just mean that in my use those pages will fall out. I joke that micro-perforation is Italian for “falls out with little effort.” If these weren’t micro-perforated they wold be right up there with my lovely BanditApple Carnet peewee sketchbooks. But with 1/2 of the sketchbook ready to fall out if I sneeze on them… Nope.ecoqua

I don’t know why it’s taken the big paper companies so long to get into the small pocket sketchbook game. Clearly it’s profitable and relatively easy to do. Canson delved into this territory with their pocket XL sketchbooks, which are really not that great but are wonderful for making a lot of dreadful sketches. I’m still surprised that with the success of Moleskine and Field Notes that all the big paper companies (hello, Strathmore, Borden & Riley, and Stillman & Birn) haven’t created a simple sketchbook like this. I’d buy a 3-pack of Stillman & Birn pocket sketchooks in no time.

Instead I’m forced to use notebooks with crappy paper for sketching (I still love you Field Notes) or ordering a sketchbook from overseas (I love you Bandit Apple Carnet.)

Bored and Sketching

My wife does Olympic weightlifting. It’s a terribly boring sport to watch until the person you are waiting to lift does their lift. Then it’s exciting for about 30 seconds. Then it’s boring again. There was a meet at the Bay State Games last weekend, and I went. I didn’t know it was going to be held in a hockey arena. It was cold cold cold. My toes were purple by the time we left. I did get to watch the judo matches which were also being held on the other side of the hockey arena. Those were pretty exciting, but impossible to sketch.

So I sketched the crowd and the lifters while they were still, which was not often. I took a handful of pencils with me and forgot to take a sharpener. Luckily, everything in my pencil case was sharp and ready to go. pick things up put them down pick things up put them down pick things up put them down pick things up put them down pick things up put them down

Review: Mitsu-Bishi Matured 9800 General Writing Pencil

Another JetPens purchase was a Mitsu-Bishi 9800 HB “general writing” pencil. At a rich price of 70 cents this was the least expensive pencil of my recent purchase. And at 70 cents it was the best value. from what I’ve read the core of this pencil is the same as the Hi- Uni. In use, this HB pencil proved to be just as smooth and dark, at a fraction of the price.MaturedMatured 9800 HBThe core is well centered in the wood, which you can view at either end, as the “ferrule” end is unfinished, leaving the wood and core visible. I cannot smell if it is cedar or not, but my allergies may be blocking the scent. The wood sharpens easily in my KUM Ellipse sharpener. The pencil boasts that it is “matured.” According to the info on JetPens that is in reference to the graphite core being matured. I assume this has to do with the process of creating the core, perhaps a drying process. Whatever the process it has lead to a strong and smooth core.MaturedMaturedThe graphite core in this pencil holds a point well and is nicely dark. It allows for a range of tone in it’s use, but doesn’t need to be sharpened every minute or two. It’s perfect for general note taking or sketching. Even though it’s an HB it does give a nice enough range of tone. For more finished work a few more grades of pencil would be needed to give those deep dark areas a good drawing needs.MaturedThese are available from 2H to 2B. It’s a good range for sketching but for deeper darks you’ll need a 4B or 6B or softer from another brand. The HB is perfectly suited for writing as well. It’s a nice dark pencil.MB 9800 HB

It’s a great pencil at a great price, 70 cents is not a bad price for any art pencil, and when you start to get into “higher’ end pencils, finding a nice one under $1 each is a good deal. It’s not the best looking of my recent purchases, but it’ s a darn nice pencil.

Review Redux: Staedtler Wopex NEON!

Thanks to Johnny Gamber of Pencil Revolution I got the heads up on the Erasable Podcast facebook group that Staples had the Wopex pencils in neon colors. I had to get a few packs. I ordered them and had them delivered to the store, I had to head to that mall anyway for another errand so the trip wouldn’t take me out of my way. WopexAnyway, Staples ships them to store (and to your house) in an unpadded plastic bag. The packaging of these Wopex is a loose plastic bag with a card insert. Not very sturdy and it allows the pencils to roll around and bang around. One of my packaged had broken tips, but nothing I’d return them for, others have not been so lucky. My advice is to have them shipped to store. The body of many of the pencils was also dirty from the broken tips. This cleaned off pretty easily.WopexWhen they say these pencils are neon colored, they are right, it’s like someone poured a bottle of highlighter ink over the body of the pencil. Intense. The colors are also fantastic. They all remind me of highlighter packaged I picked up in my undergrad. the only difference is that the green and purple pencils will get used. The colors are spectacular. Like the “regular” US version of Wopex, the ferrule and eraser are great. Likewise, the pencil sharpens and writes like a regular Wopex.WopexThe big difference between these and the regular green Wopex is the feel of the outer coating, it’s grippy, slightly rubbery in a different way. I quite like it. It also lacks the black printing for individual sales. So you get a nice silver imprint on one side and nothing on the reverse. WopexAnyway, these are just as nice as the typical US green Wopex, just in bright neon colors!*Wopex

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Review: Rhodia Pencil

My high school’s arch rival’s school colors were orange and black. I later taught at the rival high school and on spirit day I wore my letter jacket… from my old school. Good fun. If that school could have a pencil mascot it would be the Rhodia pencil.* This triangular pencil boasts a snazzy bright, nearly fluorescent, orange body with a sharply painted black ferrule. It’s fitted well to the pencil. The eraser, also black, is round, and is secured to the ferrule with 6 divots pressed into the ferrule. It’s overkill and finishes the  otherwise beautiful pencil off roughly. But it can’t all be perfect.Rhodia

Inside the pencil is wood that is dyed black. From what I can find, it is not made of cedar. According to PencilRevolution, it’s linden wood. Whatever it is made of, it sharpens with ease and quickly in my KUM Ellipse sharpener.

The core is dark enough . I favor darker cores (leads) as my use is primarily drawing and sketching. I prefer a dark core for it’s range of darkness and lightness. I can get light shades from a dark core, but not dark shades from a light core. So darker is better in my book. Additionally, a nice dark core allows for easier writing. Anyway, the core is dark enough, and hard enough that it holds the point well enough. I didn’t find myself sharpening my pencil after every word or minute of drawing. The core is scratchy. It doesn’t glide over the paper like a Palomino. It gives a lot of feedback sort of like writing on rough paper but finer. Some people might like this but I am not a huge fan of the feeling.RhodiaIn fact the grittiness of the pencil makes it well suited for rougher papers, like that which is in my Staples 100% Recycled School Year Planner.  It also performed well in a Staples Composition Notebook

With both the included eraser and a stick eraser the pencil erased cleanly from paper. Leaving behind a slight trace of the word removed. The included eraser is gritty but not gritty enough to damage paper with general erasing, though, I suspect repeated erasures would leave a hole in more delicate papers.RhodiaThe triangular shape of the pencil was comfortable to hold and doesn’t roll off my table or desk.Rhodia

This is a  very good looking pencil that is gritty in performance. If you favor smooth pencils like the Palomino Blackwing series, you might not like this pencil much. But, it is a good pencil to try out. It’s available from Jetpens as a single only (great for an add-on item to get your order to $25 for free shipping.) but is available in other places by the dozen or at Bob Slate in Cambridge, MA.

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Shelterwood Stress Test Part 4

It’s been well over a month since I last wrote about my Shelterwood. All along it’s been residing in my back pocket. I’ve switched out from jeans to shorts, and I’m now working in my garden more and not riding the train.

The Shelterwood has survived: a sweltering hot face melting trip on the MBTA Green and Red lines to South Station, a walk in 60% humidity to the bus terminal and a 5 hour bus ride to Bangor, Maine, a 2 hour car ride up to Machias, Maine. It’s also survived my gardening. During time in the garden dirty gloves get shoved in my back pocket, spools of twine get shoved in there, knives are slid in and out of the pocket, and generally anything in my back right pocket gets abused. While this Shelterwood did survive it is much worse in wear than it has been before.shelterwood4

The cracks along the front  and back are larger and the chips and flaking around these cracks and creases have increased. The splintering on the spine and at the edges is increased. The corners are showing wear. The front cover is set in a permanent curl that is the shape of my right cheek. (You needed to know that.)shelterwood4

With all of that new damage, one thing has remained stable, the staples and paper are not loose. Not a single page has become detached or damaged. Other than some indigo transfer from my jeans on the corners, the paper is fine.shelterwood4

Now it would not be fair, just or whatever else if I didn’t mention something interesting that happened during my trip to Maine. While there I gave my Dad his father’s day gift: a vintage John Deere bullet pencil and a pack of Shelterwood. He ripped them open, remarked on the wood covering and really dug them. I took a look at his pack and was pretty dismayed to notice that one of the books was splintering and wood peeling off the cover already. My Dad didn’t care, he was going to use these the way they were intended, in fact he grabbed the damaged one the next day, shoved it into his front t-shirt pocket along with a bunch of farm stuff and a pencil, and went to work on the farm. In a few days it’ll be covered in dirt, grease, fertilizer, and other farm grime; the way these beauties were meant to be used.shelterwood4 shelterwood4 shelterwood4


I’ve been trying really hard to not turn this blog into a straight up review blog. I need to share a few of my opinions on other “things.” Right? Yeah. Sadly, I’ve been less inspired to write than I have been in the past. Maybe it’s the 20 page papers I’ve been writing in grad school or the loss of our dog, but writing isn’t somethign I’m doing. I’m thinking about posts and ideas, even writing them in my Field Notes as I consider them, but they aren’t making the leap from the analog to digital world. I’ve always gone with the roll of my moods with this blog. I’m working on a few good posts about some ideas I’ve got, I’ve got  pencil reviews queued up for months and I’m adding a few paper reviews as well as other assorted stuff.

Now that I’ve transitioned from Typepad my other stuff blog is no longer around, so I might need to figure out a new location for that info. Or maybe I’ll roll my garden and dog stuff into this blog. Speaking of which, we decided to adopt another dog. Wickett our previous dog missed Ruby a  lot, so we decided to get him a buddy. We found a lovely mixed Chuhuahua Italian Grayhound mutt who has a wonderful personality and is gentle, lively, and smart. Within 5 minutes of meeting us he was sitting in our laps.

As for my garden? I got started late, but it is starting to finally come together and look great.


Cost of Entry

If I were new to the pen, pencil, and paper addiction and reading the top blogs right now I’d be convinced that entering into this addiction might be very very expensive. As much as I love to read about pricey pens, I know that many are out of my  reach. It seems to be a rare occurrence for an affordable pen to be flogged. A notable exception is the Pilot Metropolitan, a pen that I like very much but wasn’t overly enamored with, but still recommend for people looking for a starter pen.

Another thing that makes pencil-dom more affordable is that pencils and paper pair up more easily. I have a stack of journals and notebooks I’ve put aside because they didn’t work well with my fountain pens. Many of these are doing great with my pencils but were horrible with fountain pens. Take for instance the Martha Stewart and Avery pocket notebooks. God awful with even a dry writing fountain pen but great with a pencil. In fact with a pencil they shine. the paper doesn’t chew up the pencil, but is toothy enough to get a lot of graphite on the page without crazy smudging. I still wouldn’t recommend it as a primary pocket notebook because it’s got those nasty perforated pages, but for quick notes or short letters, it’s great.

Every time I pick up a pencil it writes. Occasionally a point will break off and I’ll have to sharpen it, but generally speaking, I get graphite on the page. That isn’t always the case with a fountain pen. Sometimes the ink will need coaxing out of the nib, sometimes it needs water to be added, or I nee dot refill it , or flush it, or something. If I’ve used a pen consistently it will write without issue, but man if you let that sucker sit for a month you are in for some work.

Of course there are exceptions to that rule. I’ve got 2 Platinum Preppy pens sitting on my desk. I haven’t touched either one in over a month. One is loaded with red ink and another with black. Both of them wrote without a skip or issue. My TWSBI 540 or Lamy Safari can’t say the same thing.

One of the reasons I’ve been reviewing pencils this summer is that for the most part, pencils are affordable. even the most expensive pencil I’ve reviewed/ purchased was $2.50. Compared to my most expensive pen at $75 that’s a bargain. Getting into pencils can be done with just a few dollars. A decent writing experience can be found for $2.50 for a dozen pencils (USA Gold Naturals) and an exceptional experience can be had for $20 a dozen (Palomino Blackwings, pick any one of the 3). I’m not suggesting that pencils are better than pens, simply that they have a lower expense for greatness.

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