Reflection: Not Just Any Pencil Will Do

On the Erasable podcast group awhile ago the question was posed, “When did you first notice that there were differences among pencils?” Since I’ve had far too much caffeine than is good for me* and I can’t sleep I’m going to answer this question with 2 answers.USA BondedBack here I told you about my Grandparents traveling to far away place in the US and coming back with unusual things. One of these trips went south, where my Grandparents toured a pencil making facility, what one I don’t know, but in my head I’m sure it must’ve been Musgrave.** Mostly I believe this because they went to Tennessee. This was back in the earlier to mid-eighties. With 5 grandchildren my Grandmother took it upon herself to bring back a bag of pencils. Not just ANY pencils, but misprints. My grandmother’s thriftiness is well known, and for her misprints or not, these were a good deal.

In this bag there were pencils with erasers and without. There were marbled pencils, pencils with flat paint, and shiny paint. I suspect that she purchased a gross pf pencils. It is likely that she got them for very little money, on account of her thriftiness. In this mixed bag of pencils were a few with no paint or finish at all- round wooden pencil naked and showing off their gorgeous cedar glory. My cousin chose the marbled and the “cool” pencils. When it was my turn I picked  the naked pencils and one of the few marbled my cousin turned down. Eraserless and smelling strongly of cedar I remember these pencils being a sharp contrast to the pencils that I’d gotten for school that year- they smelled good, and unlike the crappy extruded pencils they didn’t bend, the marks were darker and smooth.

After this, not any pencil would do.

There were quite a few pencils left over in the bag and my Grandmother would put a few more into her pen and pencil cup every now and then. I remember once that she was babysitting my brothers and I and we had to sit at the kitchen table to do our homework. She passed us the pencil cup we carefully chose our pencils and started to do homework. I remember putting the pencil I was using back because it was too scratchy. Then picking another with the same issue, then another. Finally, my grandmother said, “Leslie, what is the problem!?! Pick a pencil, any pencil will do! Do your homework!”

Of course there was no lip to be had so I picked a slightly less inferior pencil and did my homework. I remembered to always bring my own pencil after that.

Story will continue tomorrow

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Review: Stabilo GREENgraph HB

Another recent purchase via the Stabilo GreenGraph is yet another good looking pencil. We can talk about my love of olive drab green and how it might skew my review of this pencil’s good looks. Or not.

This pencil features a flat olive green paint and cream colored pin stripes and imprint. The pairing of colors is very nice, and as I’ve stated previously easy on the eyes. The reverse side has a bar code  printed in white. It’s not obtrusive. The ferrule is brass colored and tightly fixed to the body of the pencil. It holds a super firm white eraser. The flat paint of this pencil feels strange at first but through use it isn’t slippery even when moist. (I tested this out by picking up my iced coffee, getting my hand wet with condensation then continuing my writing.) greengraphgreengraphThe wood is soft and fragrant but I don’t think it’s cedar. The pencil is FSC certified. The average sized core is well centered. It sharpens with ease in any of my sharpeners. It holds a point nicely.  In terms of darkness Iid rate this more as a B or 2B grade than HB. greengraphIn use this pencil is very dark, smooth with feedback from the graphite. Some pencils, like the Staedtler Rally and this are smooth but have what I call feedback in the graphite. this means that rather than feeling like skating across paper like a Blackwing it’s more like driving a dirt bike through sand.  The feeling isn’t drag per se but more subtle. With a fountain pen this would be called feedback. This is a pencil that if you  like feedback from your pen and paper combination you’ll get it. This is a pencil for people who don’t like the feeling of the Blackwings.

I digress, the pencil is nicely dark both in writing and in sketching. It layers up to dark nicely it is hard enough that lighter shades are possible as well. It was really fantastic for sketching. I also really enjoyed it while writing. I used it for a brainstorming session for internship group art therapy ideas and really enjoyed the writing experience.  I also used it while reading a textbook for underlining the pulpy paperback. It worked well. greengraphThe super firm white eraser worked really well. It is one of the best erasers I’ve gotten on a pencil in a long time. I was able to use it while sketching and for cleaning the written word off composition book paper. Though I’ve used it repeatedly the ferrule and eraser are still fixed firmly to the pencil. greengraphIn terms of value, this pencil when purchased in a 3-pack via is around $1 per pencil. When purchased in a 12-pack the value is better at 83 cents per pencil. This puts them into the affordable but not cheap category for me. I like them enough that I wish I’d bought he 12-pack rather than the 2-pack. is the only place to get the at a reasonable price.  I cannot find them on ebay and the price on Amazon was about $30 for 12!!!


Review: Field Notes Unexposed

The new Field Notes edition, Unexposed, has been exposed. Like Shelterwood before,  this edition elicits both love AND hate from fans. The edition arrives within a black envelope so that you cannot see what covers you are getting. The editions are packaged somewhat randomly, so you have no guarantee of getting all 6 colors in your packages. To me this is a very interesting way of randomizing the packages. This has also led to frustration among collectors and subscribers. In some cases people have only received 3 of the 6 colors and are trading with other collectors and fans to get all 6 colors.unexposedI was one of the fortunate people who received all 6 colors in my subscription package. But I liked them so much I traded off my sealed Arts and Sciences edition to get another 3-pack. I received 3 more of my favorite colors and another black envelope.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty of this, the review. The colors are neon, eye searing neon with a near opposite color logo. I love these colors. They go very well with my Ticonderoga Neon pencils or Neon Wopexen. They bring me back to back-to-school shopping in 1989 or 1990 where neon ruled the world in pencils and pens. My love of these colors is pure thrown back, sort of like my total enjoyment of the new Trapper KeeperunexposedThe covers and interior feature the same soft touch printing as the Drink Local series, Which up until these was my favorite edition. The soft touch just feels really neat. When thinking I can rub the covers between my thumb and fore finger. The texture is just fantastic. unexposedI read more than one complaint about these colors being “not professional.” I use my FN as catch alls and journal, and now during my internship and a place to take quick client notes. Are they professional enough for me to take into staff meetings? I don’t know, but I’m also secure enough that if someone were to comment on the color to be able to say, “I know! Isn’t it AWESOME!?!”unexposedInside is what FN calls “reticle graph.” Before I had received my books I had to look this up. Instead of dots for dot graph they have replaced them with little plus signs (+). One could think of these like sights  or unfinished graph. They are printed in light gray. I wasn’t sure if I’d like these, but so far I really really like them. I might even prefer them to regular graph. I do like dot graph a little more but these are fun.  The paper itself is regular FN paper. It’s not fountain pen friendly but great with pencils, gel ink, and roller ball pens.unexposed unexposedAnother complaint I’ve read about is that people really really hate the near color opposite* printing on the inside color. It really does make the interior stuff hard to read. I find it impossible to look at and read the interior of the green covered notebook. The neon green on neon orange is impossible for my eyes to makes sense of. If I squint I can read it but it’s hard. I don’t mind since all of the FN stuff stays the same from book to book. I know where to write my name. I also found that once I wrote my info  into the various sections in black ink it broke up the field of neon and I was much more able to read the neon-on-neon printing.unexposedThe envelopes that houses the notebooks as they are shipped to you are a flat black. As soon as you remove the shrink wrap the envelope starts to show finger prints. The envelopes aren’t super sturdy but they are neat and a great way to store 3 FN in a bag or backpack.unexposedOverall, this is a great edition from Field Notes. Great colors, great “soft-touch” covers, awesome reticle graph grid inside, and your typical fun FN uses inside. This will be one of the few that I stock up on and keep a few extras in my stationary boxes.unexposed Continue reading

Review: Musgrave Test Scoring 100

Another recent purchase from was a 12-pack of the infamously smooth and dark Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencil.  This made in the USA pencil has been suggested to me as a “dirt cheap” alternative to Palomino Blackwings.  They do not disappoint.TS100Where some pencils arrive in a nice box or blister pack the Musgrave Test Scoring 100 (TS100) arrives in a plastic bag. One side of the bag is clear the other white. Each end of the package is heat sealed. It is one of the most no frills packages I’ve received. It’s not attractive and it doesn’t protect the pencils. That’s okay because the places where the TS100 are sold typically put them in cardboard boxes with plenty of padding. Mine arrived in perfect shape.

I find these to be a very good looking pencil. The silver paint is evenly and smoothly applied. the ferrule is bright silver aluminum and fixed securely to the pencil. It holds a pretty crappy pink eraser. While the eraser is not the best it does the job of cleaning graphite from a page. This pencil would look significantly better with a white eraser. The imprint is on one side and is black. The imprint is good enough but isn’t perfectly crisp.TS100

The core is well centered and the pencil sharpens easily in any sharpener I tried.TS100The pencil performs wonderfully. The graphite core is thick. It’s dark with little pressure while writing and sketching. It’s possible to get a great deal of dark and light shades. Subsequent layers of graphite create even darker areas. This is a fantastic pencil for sketching. It’s ability to lay down deep darks with so little pressure makes it a great option for a single pencil to carry. It is harder to get light areas. I’d rate this a 3 or 4B when compared to other art pencils. It is similar in darkness to the Palomino Blackwing.TS100As for writing, this pencil is effortless. It glides across all the types of paper I tested and leaves a deep dark line. It is one of the more effortless pencils I’ve written with. Because this is a super smooth soft pencil, point retention is not the best. Again, I’d compare the point retention and writing to the Palomino Blackwing.

In terms of looking for a single pencil to carry for sketching or writing, this pencil is a fantastic value. Coming in at 27 cents per pencil these are a great value for any use. Also, how often are neat silver colored pencils found?

The only negative things I can say about this pencil is that the eraser is terrible and that the corners of thesides are very sharp. But these are not all that noticeable. The eraser issue is solved by using a stick or block eraser. The edge issue seems to be eased by rotating the pencil.

You Might Notice

So the last 2 reviews on here were missing ther images. that was purely my fault. I shot photos, loaded them to my computer and then… Well forgot about them. Yup. So I’ll get photos onto those images… Sometime in the next day or so.

This school year has me fried. I’m getting accustomed to head in to my internship 2 days a week and into class 2 other days and then getting my schoolwork done in the rest. I don’t get out of class until 930pm on Wednesday nights and I can only catch the 1040pm train home. I don’t get home most nights until 1130pm. Of course I’ve had a heaping wallop of coffee so I can’t sleep. As I write this it is 140am. Yikes.

However, I’ve got one class that is blowing my mind. The whole premis of the class is about storytelling, and how to use storytelling as a medium to help the client to heal. It’s an amazing concept backed up by plenty of research. Which I won’t borre you with here, but to say that telling our individual stories is enormously important to our mental health.

Tonight (or this morning) I go out on a limb and ask you to explore your stories in your art journals. How can you explore that story?  When you are finished do you explore your story? Collage, writing, painting, drawing? Patterns? Doodles? By slinging garbage onto the page and seeing what sticks? Torturing the page into submission*? Whatever you need to do to explore your story in your art journal do it.

This is a pencil, I share it for shits and giggles and so that wordpress won’t share the big W on facebook.pencils, because

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Review: Trapper Keeper Stitched

Back in the mid-80s Mead’s Trapper Keeper went insane with school kids. I was no exception. I had one of the “fashion” versions with a geometric pattern that reminded me of a prism. I think I had an earlier version with kittens, but I’m not sure. I know that the velcro soon failed on me and the plastic sliding “trapper” 3-ring binder soon gave up on me and I switched to a heavy duty canvas 3-inch 3-ring binder with a clipboard in the front. At some point in high school I switched over to a zippered 5-star binder to hold all my junk. Why? It was black.

Anyway, here I am twenty some odd years later in graduate school after a 15 year hiatus from school and needing something to keep my printed articles, notebooks, syllabi, and class handouts in one place. Up until today I’ve been using a half inch 3-ring binder to corral the syllabi into one place, a poly envelope to keep the print outs together, and pockets in my notebooks to keep class hand outs in the notebooks. It was less a system and more of a stop gap measure to keep my stuff somewhat together, or not lost. The binder wouldn’t fit into the poly pocket and the button that help the pocket closed soon popped off as I slid it in and out of my back pack. Honestly, at one point I was looking for something a little better than my plastic 3-ring binder and more like my old canvas binder but a little like a Trapper Keeper. Decently sized 3-ring binders are crazy expensive at Staples and generally fall apart after some hard use.

I read this review that Trapper Keeper was back. Mead was introducing the TK after a hiatus. Currently they seem to only have the standard colors with a dotted fade printed on them and the stitched version available in 5 colors.trapper

The stitched version is a plastic covered with fabric, the edges are covered the whole thing is stitched up. The TK is held closed with a sturdy snap. The front features a clear pocket that you can slip paper into and customize the cover with your own art. The pocket will only hold a few sheets of paper, so it really is made to only hold a decorative sheet. It does not arrive with anything in the pocket but a label.trapper

The interior 3-ring binder is shiny chrome plated steel and very sturdy. The regular “fade” version arrives empty, while the stitched version arrives with 5 plastic dividers. Each a different color. These dividers are regular 3-hole punched and do not feature the slotting of the “Trapper Snapper” system.trapper

Inside the binder are 2 stretchy fabric pockets that will accommodate a composition notebook or a stack of paper.  The corners of the pockets are not reinforced, so this is where the TK will fail. It’s likely I won’t keep anything in these pockets but a few odd handouts from my classes that will eventually be punched and put into the binder.trapper

The back cover no longer sports the clip that turned the back of your Trapper into a clip board. I’m seriously missing this as it was something I used ALL THE TIME in my original Trapper until I graduated to a real clip board. IF I can give Mead any feedback  it’s to bring back the clip in the back. I’m not sure this particular TK is stiff enough to use as a clipboard, but it would do in a pinch. Though there is no clip they have kept the pen loop, though in this version it is made of elastic instead of plastic. it’s too loose for a pencil, but would hold a bullet pencil nicely.trapper

I picked out the green Trapper and mine is a nice shade of olive. the contrasting gray is really nice. I assumed it was black from the photos on Amazon but it’s not. The interior of the Trapper is black.  The logo and other accents are all white.

The stitched Customizable Trapper Keeper is not a light weight item, I was surprised once it was loaded up how heavy it is. But the majority of weight comes from all the paper I loaded into it. It’s much more compact than my previous pocket, mini binder, and assorted hodge podge of junk.

The velcro closures are gone. Good riddance, mine always tore off the flap leaving me with a trapper, but not keeper. In the velcro’s place is  a sturdy steel snap.  Unlike the adjustable nature of the velcro the snap has but one position. It can’t be tightened around your goods. This makes the TK kind of loose and sloppy. Understandably adding additional snaps or buttons would add a lot of cost and still not make the cover tighter on all loads, I just wish there was a way to adjust it.trapper trapper

Along with my Trapper Keeper I also ordered a Trapper Folder with customizable cover. Basically it’s a plastic (poly) folder with 2 interior pockets and a clear pocket on the front cover.  These hold a surprising number of printed off articles with ease. Right now I’ve got about 100 pages of articles shoved in there and the thing looks great. Ultimately I’d like to order one of these poly folders for each  of my 3 classes so that the load is spread out. These folders do not feature the Trapper Snapper easy removal tool. To get these babies out you have to open the 3-ring binder.

The plastic dividers are plain with no printed graphics. There are tabs spaced out along the edges. There are 5 colors, coordinating with the available TK colors. Most of the colors are semi translucent.  The plastic is pretty flexible but stiff enough that you can use the dividers to move through the binder easily.


  • Old skool appeal
  • fabric! So sturdy
  • steel 3-ring
  • plastic dividers
  • pen loop
  • Lot’s of room to expand
  • lot’s of accessories that match


  • no clip board clip in the back
  • snap closure is not adjustable
  • customizable cover is cheezy
  • pockets on inside cover aren’t reinforced
  • plain covers only

Overall, I really like the new Trapper Keeper. I wish it had a few of the old amenities (clip, bring it back) but overall it’s a very nice binder that will hold all of my stuff and help to keep me organized.

Review: Calepino Notebook

Calepino notebooks are the french equivalent of Field Notes. Their limited editions pair with a designer to create their covers, pencils, and matching pens. They have 4 ruling options- lines, grid, dot grid, and plain. Their regular editions feature a color that denotes the kind of grid inside, red, green blue and silver. The typical cover features bands of color with the name of the company and notebook’s info.calepino calepino calepino

I lucked out and snagged a Vetted X Calepino notebook via a swap a few weeks ago. This featured a white cover with some printing on it in black. Inside it was loaded up with white dot grid paper.  The inside of the cover was printed with the usual “fill in your important info” style lines and such. Of course it was in French but my rudimentary High School French tells me that it is pretty much like Word or Field Notes style info. the inside back cover relays info about Calepino and the history of the company as well as a ruler.calepino calepino

The cover is tough cardstock and survive my uses, which you can see via the picture means that it’s used as a coaster for my coffee cup in the AM. I found the cover to be very absorbent. the area for info took pencil and BIC clic roller ball well. It also survived, though the white looked very dirty at the end of my week’s of use. This is the danger with white notebooks. Filth.

The dot grid was done with a nice gray ink. It was good to know where I was writing but sinks into the background after words are added. Perfect in my book. the paper itself is thick and crinkly, it feels nice, smooth but not glassy enough texture you can see it but isn’t overwhelming. The paper took fountain pens reasonably well with some show through but nothing bad.calepino

This paper worked wonders with pencils, but not good soft dark pencils like my Palmino Pearl. Oh no using a Pearl on this paper was like writing with soft cheese on a cheese grater. Rather this paper was a dream with harder pencils like my General’s Semi-Hex which I generally refer to as the “general’s Semi-Yuck” due to it’s gritty scratchy performance*. Writing with a Neon Ticonderoga was heavenly. Lumgraph HB? Let us not go there. The Caran d’Ache Grafwood B performed like a B should instead of an H. This paper took all the good points of writing with a B or Palomino and threw them out the window, allowing  me, NO BEGGING me to use my less expensive pencils to fill it’s pages. This notebook was cheap pencil HEAVEN. I’m sad it’s gone, where will I use my crappy General’s Semi-Hex?calepino calepino

From what I understand of the website and what is printed in the book, this paper is exactly the same as their regular dot grid paper, so you can get the regular edition, with more printing on the cover, to fill in with your not-so-nice pencils. **

The price of these is the same as Field Notes, Calepino offers a exchange rate (or thereabouts) discount for non- EU buyers. Which is pretty awesome. These little notebooks are definitely on my radar for yet another notebook to buy and keep in my rotation.

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Suggested Readings

Generally speaking, I really hate it when someone tells me, “I think you should read this book. I read it and loved it.” I don’t know why I hate that. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time as a scifi nerd in high school. When my professor said to me, “I think you should read some of Brene Brown’s work. I think you’d benefit.” I smiled and didn’t read it. After all I had the perfect excuse for NOT reading it, as a busy grad student, when am I supposed to find the time to read anything other than what I am assigned to read?

This summer I had no classes. I caught up on some of the readings I had skipped and not read. Finally around August I was done with the reading I wanted to do for pleasure and the stuff I hadn’t read for school. I remembered my professor’s suggestion, Brene Brown. You know her, the Oprah art journaling woman? Yeah her.  Anyway, I searched for her books on my local library’s website and found they had a bunch of her books as eBooks. I requested them and then… waited. With one I just got it and the other I’m the 11th person who has requested it.

I’m reading Daring Greatly and so far I’m really enjoying  the books and she makes some really fantastic points. I’m also looking at it as a source for art journaling and art therapy. In the few chapters I’ve read she asks some questions of the reader that I think would make excellent prompts for art journaling that would not be too deep for journalers to use on their own. Which is a failing I’ve found in many books dedicated to art journaling. The authors ask the reader/journaler to go too deep without the help of a therapist.

Perhaps what my professor was suggesting wasn’t just that I read about vulnerability but also how one can write a fantastic prompt that is not harmful to the user. Maybe she thought I”d simply enjoy these books. Either way I’m getting a lot out of the first book. Enough that I’m continuing to read it though I don’t really have the time.

For those interested, I’m Reading “Daring Greatly.”

Review: Tombow 8900 HB

The Tombow 8900 pencil is in a word, delightful. That would be my short review.

I especially love olive drab shades of green and this pencil is a great shade of olive drab.  The paint  on all of the 12 pencils I purchased have a perfect finish. It’s dressed up with a gold foil imprint on one side. Two of the other sides are printed in white. It lacks ferrule or eraser. The end is unfinished. tombow 8900 tombow 8900 tombow 8900I believe the wood is cedar. The core is average in size and well centered. The pencils sharpen well with all of my sharpeners. It especially seems to do well with any long point sharpener. tombow 8900The core is very smooth and very dark. I’d rate it as a 2B or 3B in terms of darkness and softness.  During sketching I was able to get a great variety of shades from the pencil. Additional layers of graphite give a lot of nice darkness. With this pencil you can do a quick rough sketch and get a lot of dark areas. It’s a little harder to get lighter areas than it is with a regular HB pencil.tombow 8900At about $5 with free shipping for 12 these aren’t a bad deal via Amazon. At about 42 cents per pencil they are a great no-frill alternative to other dark and soft pencils like the Palomino Blackwing or Pearl.

Shelterwood Stress Test Part 5

I’ve been planning to revisit my Shelterwood stress test for a few weeks now. I’m still carting it around in my back pocket daily. It is worse for the wear but still perfectly serviceable and rugged.shelterwood5The covers of the Shelterwood are noticeably cracked, creased, and chipped. This is due to the fact that in the summer I spend a lot of time in my garden. Knives and scissors go in and out of the back pocket that houses the shelterwood. There is also addition… sweat due to the heat and humidity. I don’t know if this affected the veneer or not. The glue protects the interior from moisture. Which I think has preserved the inner pages. I think it also has kept the staples from pulling through. shelterwood5I’ve only made my way through about half this Shelterwood. I’ll keep carting it around until it’s full. I honestly don’t believe it will fall apart.

shelterwood5 shelterwood5

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