Up until 3rd Grade, I wrote with nothing but yellow No.2 Mongol pencils. My peers and I were promised that once we were old enough to wear trousers to school, we would finally be issued ballpoints. Ever the simpleton, I instantly developed a prejudice. Grownups used ballpoints and like all kids, I wanted to be a grownup. The day I claimed my Papermates from the school bookstore, I said farewell to pencils and never looked back. Excepting our mandatory art classes, I never had to use lead.
Lately though, I’ve been writing with graphite more frequently. This unexpected bout with crow (yes, I seem to be eating a lot of it these days) was prompted by several reasons.
Paper. Not everything I have is pen-friendly. Doane’s vaunted Moon Camera notebook barely takes a Fine nib. Field Notes don’t really play well with my pens. I happen to like their Expedition line a lot, to the point that my Fauxdori is currently in storage. These weather-resistant notebooks can be prickly with ink but boy, can they make 2B lead look dark as coal.
Planners. Yes, I still live in the digital age and Google Calendar has made life so much easier for me. Still, I like writing my schedule down and recapping my days on paper. It helps me remember things more clearly, and allows me to better prepare for the day to come. Someone introduced me to the Hobonichi Techo, and its paper will take anything you can throw at it. But schedules change as quickly as the weather, and I’d rather look at a neatly written agenda than a field of crossed out entries. Pencils give me this flexibility.
Writing on the go. I don’t mean scribbling away at some café table. I mean taking notes while its Standing-Room-Only at the conference room. Ever try jotting down a client’s instructions while your cabbie is zipping through traffic? Or writing down a number/email in a teeny-weeny notepad cradled in your hand as you’re queued at the bank? Even my best nibs don’t perform well in these situations. Gel tips and ballpoints fare a bit better but a pencil does the job oh so well. Also, those who’ve had their papers take a Venti Americano shower can testify how ink probably washed away, while penciled comments remained unruffled.
Which ones do I like? I have a Pilot 0.7 mm that fits me like a glove, and a Staedtler 2 mm that handles like a dream. However, the ones I reach for most are all 0.5 mm models – a Platinum Oleenu High Grade, an entry level Kuru Toga, and a Pentel Sharp Kerry. I favored 2B leads for so long, but some softer 4Bs just arrived and I’m anxious to see how we get along.
I still enjoy a well-tuned nib, but using the right tool for the task is often more important than just having good tools. If it’s been a while since you’ve picked up a pencil, maybe it’s time to renew old friendships.