Would you pay $40 for a pencil? Just one pencil? If you are an artist or a writer with a soft spot for the Blackwing — the legendary 1930s era pencil preferred by everyone from John Steinbeck to Chuck Jones— then I suppose you might. The original Blackwing pencils went out of production in 1998 and by 2001, artists were jonsing for the authentic Blackwing experience to the point where unsharpened ones that had been hoarded by collectors were commanding $40 each on eBay. That’s a pretty steep appreciation for something that once cost fifty cents. When demand for a classic product is that obvious, it’s not going to stay dead for long. The Blackwing pencil is no exception, with the brand being brought back to life by Palomino.
That’s right, you can once again buy Blackwings, the pencils that Chuck Jones used to draw Bugs Bunny and other classic Looney Tunes characters. But instead of forking over $40 a pop on eBay, you can pick up a 12-pack on Amazon for $22.95, a considerably more affordable price.
What makes Palomino’s Blackwing pencils so desirable? There’s a lot of marketing terminology thrown around to describe them, including:
• A soft and smooth graphite core
• Unique ferrule with ability to extend and replace the eraser
• Pencils made of genuine incense cedar
• Iconic shape
I’m not an artist and my handwriting has deteriorated to levels that would horrify my primary school teachers. So what I get out of the descriptions is that the Blackwing looks cool, smells good and writes nicely. Fortunately, my mother-in-law is an artist, so when Palomino sent samples of the Blackwing and Blackwing 602 (a firmer pencil aimed at writers who — unlike me — are not surgically attached to a keyboard), I knew where to turn for testing.
Jade put both pencils (and accompanying sharpener) through their paces and came away impressed by the experience. So much so that she’s been inspired to continue exploring drawing with pencils even further, despite decades of using watercolors as her primary artistic medium. Among Jade’s thoughts on the Blackwings:
- She liked the feeling and heft of the pencils, which she found felt solid without feeling heavy
- Smearing of the artwork was reported as being minimal, although the softer Blackwing was good for deliberate smudging
- Both the Blackwing and 602 drew “lovely dark lines,” but she did find it took more effort to lighten them for contrast
- Having the detachable and replaceable eraser was a bonus, although to completely erase pencil marks she preferred to use an art eraser
- She liked the fact that the two pencils were colored differently (the Blackwing is black while the 602 has a gray body), making it quick and easy to switch between the two without having to check labels
In summary, she says: “I really enjoyed working with these pencils. They are a pleasure to use and it would be hard to go back to the pencils I was using before.” She was also a fan of the dual sharpener, which could be used to get a “fabulous point on the lead.” As a sample, Jade whipped up this sketch of my family using the Blackwing 602.
If drawing is your thing, or if you’re a writer who likes to jot notes, it sounds as though the Palomino Blackwing and Blackwing 602 pencils would make a great choice. For the rest of us, they certainly come with considerable geek cred and who knows, maybe some of that creativity might rub off.
Starting on June 25th, the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity will be hosting the Blackwing Experience in Orange County, California. If you happen to be in the area, activities include a Creativity Camp for kids (8-13) on June 27th. London, Ontario (Canada)-based Jade Blaney’s artwork can be viewed and purchased at Artisticnuances. I don’t think she’s big on zombies (although you can always ask), but if you’re looking for a unique family portrait, an original painting or a print, check out her website.