|7/8/17 Gekkoso 8B graphite pencil, colored pencil, Baron Fig notebook|
Gekkoso is a 100-year-old art supply store in Tokyo that makes its own products. It breaks my heart that I didn’t know about it when I was shopping in the Ginza district two years ago – I was so close! Of course, I wasn’t sketching much with graphite back then, so even if I had been there, perhaps I wouldn’t have paid much attention to the Gekkoso 8B pencil (though being who I am, I can’t believe I would have walked out without one, even if I had no immediate plans for it).
|Gekkoso 8B graphite pencil|
By the time CW Pencil Enterprise’s Pencil Box subscription service included a Gekkoso 8B in last quarter’s box, it certainly did catch my attention. I’m not a subscriber, but fortunately, a couple of kind folks in the Erasable Facebook group were willing to trade me theirs.
A unique pencil, it’s also beautiful. With an understated Japanese esthetic, it has a clear, lightly varnished cedar finish with its name and – delightfully, if inexplicably – a French horn stamped in black. Although I normally use graphite more during the gray of winter, I have to say that this pencil is making me want to use it even during these colorful summer days.
My favorite graphite drawing pencils up to this point have been the ultra-soft grades of the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni line. When I compare the Gekkoso to a Hi-Uni 8B, the darkness is about the same. The Gekkoso’s core, however, is significantly thicker, as is its entire barrel, and that thicker core somehow makes it seem softer because I can lay down such a broad swath with its side. While the Hi-Uni is still slightly smoother, the Gekkoso applies effortlessly on both smooth and toothy papers, gliding on like pressure-sensitive liquid. When urban sketching with graphite, I typically use two grades – a mid-grade like a Blackwing or Hi-Uni 4B, and something super-soft like a Hi-Uni 10B. With the Gekkoso, though, I find I don’t need a mid-grade pencil because it’s so much fun to barely touch the paper for light lines. With firmer pressure, the dark is dark – and just as effortless. I think of it as charcoal – but smoother, cleaner and much more pleasant to use.
Despite being dark, it erases relatively well. In my sketch of the trees behind the utility pole, I drew the trees first, drew the outline of the pole over the trees, and then simply erased out the pole to bring it forward.
As you’d expect from such a soft core, it doesn’t hold a point for long, but if I keep turning it as I use it, it stays sharp long enough for several sketches. And that’s a good thing, because I haven’t found any portable sharpeners that will fit the large barrel. I use either a knife or the largest hole in my Bostitch electric.
|Core and barrel size comparison, from left: Blackwing, |
Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 8B, Gekkoso 8B
And speaking of that thicker barrel, it is truly comfortable compared to a conventional size pencil. None of my sketches so far has taken more than 20 minutes, but if I were making a drawing that required hours of work (as most of my colored pencil class studies did), I think I would be able to work longer with the Gekkoso before my hand got tired.
As all soft graphite does, it smears and transfers to the opposite sketchbook page. I’ve decided those are acceptable tradeoffs, though, for such a great drawing pencil. I take advantage of the softness by smudging with my finger for shading, and I leave the opposite sketchbook page blank.
At six bucks a pop, it’s not a cheap pencil, nor is it easy to find (CW Pencil is the most obvious US source). But once I use up my traded stash, I have a feeling I’ll be getting more of these.
|7/6/17 Gekkoso 8B, 140 lb. watercolor paper|
|7/3/17 Gekkoso 8B, colored pencil, Baron Fig notebook|