Many think fountain pens to be magical artifacts – wield them and your penmanship transforms from chicken-scratch to calligraphy. Well, it doesn’t quite happen that way.
Practice (or rather perfect practice) is what makes things happen. You need to put in the time and resources, which means costs. Ink and paper quickly add up as you try to revive the Palmer script from your student days. If you find that your Starbucks budget is being cramped by your Rhodia and Iroshizuku bills, you might want to try pencils as a cure to your ills.
Pencil strokes show line variation depending on pressure applied. Like a nib, a pencil point will tell you when you are bearing down too hard and when you need to turn things up a notch. Graphite does not feather so even on the cheapest fodder, you won’t be shoveling uphill.
Not convinced? My pen friend Fozzy is a professional calligrapher and in the classes she teaches, her students use a No. 2 pencil to learn all about grip and writing pressure. In fact, it was in her class that I had this light bulb moment.
The bigger challenge is finding a pencil that feels more like a pen. I find lightweight pencils tiring to use and the thinner ones cause me to grip the barrel too tightly. Luckily, there are some options available for not much money.
The Parker IM has a chunky shape that feels good to most. Lacquer over brass construction gives it enough weight to make its fine lead glide on paper. As a bonus, the 0.5mm refill size has the most hardness grades to choose from.
The Parker Insignia Cisele is a discontinued model but I was able to get one at a recent sale. It’s a little slim but the sterling silver gives it pleasant heft and the cross-hatched surface feels good in use. The tip retracts so you don’t have to worry about boring a hole in your shirt pocket. Like the IM it takes 0.5 mms and if you can find one, the Insignia is a decent choice.
Cretacolor’s Ecologic looks plain but if Mick Dundee were to whip out a pencil, this would be it. The grip section feels as comfy as your favored pair of mocs and this leadholder balances better than some top shelf pens that I have handled. The 5.6 mm leads are not the cheapest in town but they are far from unreasonable. Getting a sharpener (or lead pointer) isn’t easy but if you’re handy with sandpaper, you can get by. The best part? An entry level Ecologic costs less than two Venti Soy Chai Tea Lattes.
Staedler’s 925 is a drafting pencil that is probably better engineered than your daddy’s first car. German its make may be but Japanese hands built this thing and the machining is as good as it gets. You even get a view port so you know what graphite grade you shoved into its guts. The 2 mm refills are not hard to find and this size stands up to my clumsy mitts better than anything in the 0.5 mm or 0.7 mm range.
A bit of time spent with lead and some cheap paper may eventually crack the penmanship code for us without breaking the bank. It is no accident that we first learned to write using pencils. It’s those damned biros that threw wrenches into the works.