The most expensive writing utensil I’ve ever purchase was a Japanese import, the Sailor Brush-pen which, to my great sadness, didn’t come with a big-eyed cartoony Sailor Moon printed on the side. Think of it as a cross between a fountain pen and a traditional paintbrush. I got it on a whim, splurging all of $20 to get something that you just can’t find on this continent. Well, outside of ebay anyway.
So when I was gifted a pencil that fetches up to $50 (more commonly around $25) I couldn’t wait to sharpen it and see if it’s utility matched its mystique.
I do a fair amount of sketching, usually relying upon a frankenstein-esque mechanical pencil made of various bits of office-supply store bargain bin finds. The idea of using something that has to be sharpened seemed almost juvenile compared to the sleek stainless steel of my custom job. But there is something to be said about the value of impermanence, some great joy we derive from not only using something but using it up entirely. Like a vintage bottle of wine of a fine cigar (I’m using my imagination here because I don’t smoke or drink but both of those seemed like the kind of analogy that is just too good to pass up even if I have no clue what I’m talking about) part of the joy of having it is seeing it dwindle away until it’s gone.
The Blackwing 602 pencil could be compared to a decadent dessert, the kind you get on your wedding anniversary or after graduation or after you’ve signed your first movie deal. It’s dark, sumptuous and aromatic and the lead drifts effortlessly across the page leaving thick, smooth lines like chocolate drizzles. It’s fairly smudge-resistant which is a good thing for I have a nasty habit of rubbing the meaty part of my hand across the page as I draw or write.
It holds a point well and I haven’t had it snap under the weight of my sometime-heavy writing hand. The lead seems strong even 10 years after the pencil was discontinued. I don’t know where it spent the intervening decade before it found it’s way to my toy-ladened desk but the thought of it snuggled in a box of yellow-number 2′s and dried up Bic pens only adds to the mystery of this little gem.
I let Lincoln use it one afternoon and he drew fantastic portraits of both me and Tara. I don’t think he got caught up in the same swooning madness I did, but his drawings were fantastic. To him it was just another pencil and it’s nowhere near as cool as the fat purply thing we bought him at Michaels that draws in various shades of blue, green and red.
He is only four, there is still plenty of time for him to become needlessly obsessed about trivial things like old pencils and sketchbooks and classic science fiction with needle-nosed rockets and fish-bowl space helmets. As for me, I wish I could find a box of these things at a price that wouldn’t make me blush. I’m not sure if it’s me or if it really could be the best pencil ever made. Provenance has always gotten the best of me.
Whatever the case may be, I’ve found myself hopelessly addicted to sharpening my Blackwing. Part of me wants to save the curly shavings that I have strewn across the house, bundle them up until the time comes when someone figures out how to resurrect a dead pencil from it’s shriveled husk like a reanimated Ted Williams.
Today, Lincoln and I spent a good two hours sitting on the Erie Canal drawing the boats that passed us by. He used my sharpener to whittle away his multi-colored Michael’s special again and again. For a time, he didn’t want to draw he just wanted to watch the pencil shavings curl out of the sharpener like neon locks of hair, only to see them drift off in the wind.