West and Grand

The Artisan Pencil - Blackwing

The Artisan Pencil - Blackwing

This is a guest post from Blackwing. Their mission is to empower creativity by making great products, supporting deserving artists, and helping fund programs that have a sustainable, positive impact on arts and music education in schools.

The tools we use matter. They’re the link between our ideas and the things we create; the bridge from the transcendent realm of forms and the material world. A good tool can make the creative process easier, act as an extension of ourselves, and inspire us to create. The wrong tool can make creating a chore, and leave its negative impact on the finished product. 

A pencil is one of the simplest tools there is, but the possibilities are endless with a well-made pencil. Like all well made goods, the details matter when crafting a pencil of a superior nature, and it all starts with sourcing the best materials. For the uninitiated, the two most important components of a pencil are its wood and its graphite. You might be inclined to think the graphite is at the heart of a good pencil, but a pencil’s true merit is measured by the wood that holds it together. 

Blackwing pencils start with Genuine Incense-cedar from the forests of northern California and southern Oregon. Incense-cedar is a soft wood with a smooth, straight grain, a trait that has benefits in both the manufacturing process and the creative process. These properties allow the wood to be woodworked into the familiar pencil shape without splintering or splitting, leaving a smooth surface for our layered lacquer finish (more on that later). They also allow Incense-cedar pencils to sharpen evenly and easily, leaving you a smooth, splinter-free point to work with. 

The second half of the pencil equation is the graphite the wood casing surrounds. Blackwing pencils are filled with a special blend of graphite, wax and clay, and each of these materials play a vital role in the pencil’s performance. The graphite is the pigment you see left behind on the page, the wax gives Blackwings their exceptionally smooth performance, and the clay strengthens the pencil so it doesn’t snap under pressure. 

With these two essential materials selected, how they are combined to form a finished pencil becomes the next challenge. Our pencils are crafted by artisan pencil makers who specialize in the various steps of the manufacturing process: our graphite maker specializes in mixing, cutting and drying the graphite, our woodworker specializes in cutting, gluing and shaping the pencil sticks, and our finisher specializes in sealing, painting and stamping the pencils to give them their signature look. Each step of the process is executed with slow precision, building upon the step that came before it and resulting in a pencil that is deliberately crafted rather than mass produced.

Cutting any corners disrupts the harmony of this process. If we sacrifice the quality of our wood, we sacrifice the quality of the pencil’s lacquer finish (a smooth finish requires a smooth surface). If we sacrifice the quality of our graphite, we sacrifice the structural integrity of the pencil (weak graphite can break inside the pencil itself). I could go on, but I think you get the point.

The bottom line is, not all pencils are created equal. We care about our work, but we also care about yours, and we’ve crafted a pencil to prove it.

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