Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Product Review: Viking Verso Pencil

9/26/18 Wedgwood neighborhood (Viking Verso with a touch of Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle on Strathmore Bristol smooth paper)

You already know my love for double-sided colored pencils, both contemporary and vintage (especially when they are also beautifully useable). Imagine my surprise and delight to discover the new Viking Verso pencil – a two-sided graphite pencil!

Viking Verso double-sided graphite pencil
It turns out that the Verso concept is not new at all. With HB grade on the gray half and 4B on the black half, the Danish pencil is apparently based on a design that was introduced at the Paris Expo in 1867 by a Bavarian company. As soon as I saw it, I started wondering . . . bicolor pencils have been around a long time; why aren’t there more dual-grade graphite pencils? According to information provided by Viking and found at CW Pencils where I bought the Verso, the answer is that producing such a pencil is trickier than it seems:

“The challenge comes down to the simple fact that, unlike a double colour pencil, it is impossible to tell two graphite grades from each other in the production process where the ends of the pencils are often mixed up in the various stages of formation, lacquering, etc.”

I admit that production complications had never crossed my mind. Viking, however, was up for the challenge, and the Verso was born.

I pulled out a number of HB and 4B pencils on my desk to make this comparison chart. Spoiled by the buttery smoothness of the Palomino Blackwing, Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and other Japanese favorites, I find the Verso a bit scratchier, but it’s certainly acceptable. The HB side is slightly lighter than the Japanese pencils (which are typically darker than most pencils of comparable grades), but the 4B side compares favorably with all the other 4Bs I tested against it.
Pencil tests done in Baron Fig notebook

In my sketch of the foggy morning in Wedgwood, I used the HB side for the initial toning, where I especially noticed the scratchier laydown (compared to a Blackwing, which I typically use for this step) on Strathmore Bristol smooth paper. However, after smudging the toning layers with a tissue, I was pleased with the result. I continued to use the HB side for most of the sketch, then finished with the 4B side to emphasize the darks. The two grades are a useful, versatile pair – exactly the two grades I would have chosen if I were designing the Verso.

According to the information from Viking, the Verso is handmade (I assume they mean hand-managed to ensure that the two grades are correctly identified on each pencil). At three bucks a pop (that’s like buying two half-pencils for $1.50 each), it’s not exactly an economical pencil. But I always appreciate two sketching implements that fit into the space of one. The Verso is going into my bag when I put my sketch kit on an extreme minimizing diet again. And it’s an ideal pencil for a trip to Gilligan’s Island (which I think about often and am amply prepared for).

Given the complexity of manufacturing the Verso, it seems unlikely that we’ll see too many competitors. I like the concept of a double-grade pencil so much that I am once again thinking about the Tsunago device, which ostensibly can be used to make my own double-sided pencils (unfortunately, it works only with graphite, not colored pencils). I’ve heard it’s a finicky mechanism that requires a lot of practice to finesse. Hmmm – sounds like a good challenge for a pencil geek like me.

Updated 6/28/19: I finally gave the Tsunago a try and made my own version of the Verso!

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