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A few weeks ago, I found myself once again browsing the shelves at Paper-Ya. It’s a fairly common occurrence that I have written about previously. On this trip, I noticed that they are selling the Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil. For those of you not familiar with this iconic writing implement, it is a pencil that was created over 80 years ago by the Eberhard Faber company. It was taken up by copywriters, playwrights, screenwriters, and other creative types as the go-to instrument for getting what’s in your brain down on paper. It was so popular, in fact, that since the last batch came off the assembly line in 1998, there is a collector’s market for the things. Reportedly, a half-gross fetches up to $2000 a box. More important than the iconic design is how its fans describe the experience of writing with one. Described as “supple, bold and creamy smooth”, the pencil became an extension of the writer’s hand. Famed animator Chuck Jones is said to have used them exclusively (The Hollywood Reporter). It is fun to imagine that Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote were created with this particular pencil. In an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the original, the new Palomino brand of Blackwing was released when the original trademark lapsed. While I was tempted to buy a box, it would have been an impulse buy, one I thought I’d save for another day.

We’ve got an attraction to how our tools feel as we use them. If the feel of the implement is part of the user experience, then the act of putting ideas down is part of the process. Have you ever picked up a ballpoint pen and felt it scratch its way across the paper? Ick. Here exists my affection for fountain pens. My current favourite puts lines down on paper smoothly and evenly. The weight feels just right in my hand, and the black line comes forth without skipping, skidding or blotting. Even the small details of a fountain pen are important. When you uncap the pen, the ‘lid’ goes on top of the barrel—it is weighted perfectly that way. I admit that when writing large amounts of text, I often take to the keyboard, as I am much faster at typing. But I still prefer to take notes using ink on paper. This ‘brain work’ comes forth through the hand. I keep a bound notebook handy that contains all kinds of notes, sketches, and miscellaneous ramblings.

For my computer, I have used a Wacom stylus and tablet for years. For many design tasks, the ability to work with a pen is important. But recently, I’ve been tempted to investigate the new pressure-sensitive styli that are available for the iPad. But for as much as I can research the technical specifications, what is hard to get a sense of is the feel of the stylus on the screen. Will it ‘feel right’? Or will it just end up in the drawer? I’m not sure yet if I will try one, but if I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

– Ken

Ps. On a personal note, I would also say that while I like using a fountain pen because of how it writes, it has often become a topic of interest when I pull it out at meetings. Sure, maybe I’m that odd guy with the old-fashioned pen, but at a recent conference, it became quite the conversation starter. And isn’t that just what life is about?

Information about the original Blackwing 602 gathered from this article on the Hollywood Reporter: