Saturday, July 15, 2023

12 Pencil Questions

Just try to pry these from my cold, dead hands.

A while back, Ana at the Well-Appointed Desk proposed 21 Pen Questions, which other pen bloggers have since taken up. To be on point (ahem), I decided to answer a pencil-appropriate, abbreviated list of 12 Pencil Questions, mainly because I’m too lazy to answer all 21. Below are my answers. If you want to play, please put your answers in the comments, or let me know if you answer on your own blog! (Oh, I suppose I should make a hashtag, too: #12PencilQuestions)

1. What is the pencil they’ll have to pry out of your cold, dead hands?

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised: Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles!

2. What’s your guilty pleasure pencil?

Before I could answer this one, I had to make sure I understood the expression “guilty pleasure” correctly. Is it like Cheetos – a food (and I use the term “food” loosely) that gives me pleasure but I feel guilty eating a whole bag of? Is it a pencil that gives me pleasure but I probably spent way more than I should have and therefore feel guilty about (certainly I may have a few of those)? I looked it up, and according to a Google search definition, a guilty pleasure is “something, such as a movie, television program, or piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.” A-ha! So it’s like my Kenny G CDs! That’s quite different from either Cheetos or paying too much.

My guilty pleasure is not a pencil but a brush.

This stumped me, and I could not come up with a pencil that would qualify, but since pen folks have broadened some questions to include all stationery, I did the same by including more general art supplies. I would have to say that my long-standing guilty pleasure is
the waterbrush. After nearly 12 years of sketching, and especially now that I’m using watercolors again, surely I should have outgrown the waterbrush as my brush of choice. Certainly those nylon bristles are not held in high regard by most painters and even some urban sketchers. But I don’t care. It’s not just that it’s the most convenient form of water media brush; it’s also ideal for use with water-soluble pencils because it’s relatively dry (I talk more about this benefit in this post). And after a month of daily direct watercolor painting with nothing but the lowly waterbrush, I’m not even guilty; I’m proud.

3. What’s the pencil you wish existed?

At first I was going to say Museum Aquarelle bicolors, but if that ever happened, undoubtedly the wrong colors would be paired up, and I’d be miffed (to get this right, Caran d’Ache would obviously have to consult with me). A more practical answer would be a bi-grade graphite pencil like the Viking Verso (but not with Viking graphite). How about a Blackwing with extra firm on one end and extra soft on the other? Or a Mitsubishi Hi-Uni H/4B? I think it would be super-handy to have two such grades – a hard one for initial blocking, a softer one for shading – in one convenient stick.

4. What pencil would you give to a new enthusiast?

A good introduction to watercolor pencils.
Among colored pencils, I’d offer Caran d’Ache Supracolors. They are a delight to use, either wet or dry, so a new user who was reluctant to add water could still enjoy them fully. They are high quality without being over-the-top pricey (ahem – like Museum Aquarelles). They are also readily available in the US (many art supply stores even carry open-stock singles).

As for graphite, it’s likely that this new enthusiast would discover traditional graphite pencils on their own, so I’d offer the less-well-known Viarco ArtGraf. It’s better than any other water-soluble graphite pencil I’ve tried, and it might surprise a new pencil user who wasn’t aware that water-soluble graphite exists. It’s not always easy to find, but it’s usually available on Amazon and some art supply stores.

So pretty on the desk or on a shelf.
5. What pencil do you want to get along with but it just never clicked?

This one is easy: Derwent Inktense. After more than a decade of a complicated relationship, we have finally come to friendly terms, but I will never love this pencil as much as I wish I could.

6. What pencil do you keep only because it’s pretty?

I have so many answers I could put here. I could even categorize by packaging, overall design, or famous-designer inspirational theme. But on a more general level, I’d have to go with Tombow Irojiten. While they are OK to use, I hardly ever use them. I keep them around because they are so beautiful, whether in a vase or on a shelf.

7. What pencil did you buy because everyone else did?

Most of the Blackwing Volumes and other Blackwing limited editions. I do love and regularly use Blackwing pencils, especially my favorite soft (Matte) grade, but I can get that graphite core any time. The limited edition purchases are almost always FOMO-driven.

Nothing but FOMO.

8. What pencil is over your head or just baffles you?

I’m not sure it’s “over my head,” but my answer is Holbein Artists’ colored pencils. Of excellent quality and a joy to use, they baffle me nonetheless because they are so darn expensive. I simply do not think they are so much better than other high-priced, high-quality lines (such as Caran d’Ache Luminance) to justify that price.

The beautiful but baffling Holbein.

The surprising Arrtx colored pencils.

9. What pencil surprised you?

In the colored pencil category, my answer is Arrtx. With so many extremely inexpensive, huge sets of colored pencils available, some of which are of low-to-terrible quality, I did not have high expectations for Arrtx and was therefore pleasantly surprised (and I’m not even talking about the bunnies on the box!).

For graphite, I’d say Caran d’Ache Grafwood. Initially I had dismissed these lovely, high-priced pencils as having graphite with a weird, slippery feeling that I found disagreeable. Then I experimented with paper and found the right match – and they surprised me by becoming a delightful drawing experience. This taught me an important lesson about the critical (and somehow under-discussed) relationship between paper and pencil.

To love these, I just needed to find the right paper.

10. What pencil do you love in theory but not in practice?

When I first learned about Faber-Castell Pitt Graphite Matt pencils, I thought they were ingenious: Finally the one potentially objectionable characteristic about graphite – its reflective, shiny surface – had been eliminated! And a huge bonus: These pencils smudge less than standard graphite! Alas, despite these excellent attributes, I just don’t enjoy using them. Whether the paper is smooth or toothy, they feel “sticky” and draggy instead of gliding smoothly.

11. What’s your favorite vintage pencil?

In the colored category, I have many that I could name for their sheer beauty, rarity, personal nostalgia, or other reasons. But my all-time favorites are those that I buy to use as well as collect, and the best in that category is US-made Sanford- or Berol-branded Prismacolors. (I also love older Eagle-branded Prismacolors, but they are becoming too rare and pricey to use.)

Vintage England- and USA-made Eagle "Chemi*sealed" Draughting pencils

In the graphite category,
Dixon Typhonite pencils, which are both hard and dark (a rare combination in graphite), are a delight to draw with and, I would imagine, equally wonderful to write with. I’m also very fond of Eagle “Chemi*sealed” Draughting Pencils (above), which are still relatively easy to find on the secondary market, especially the US-made versions. I have a few of those, and just recently, I was given an older one that was made in England. (I adore being part of a generous pencil community!)

12. What’s the pencil that got away?

Hmmm. Any pencil on my grail list (and I still have a few) hasn’t yet “gotten away,” as there’s always hope of still getting it, right? But my favorite example of a pencil that almost got away is the Caran d’Ache Prismalo Swiss Wood.

Edited 7/24/23: Check out Ana's answers to the 12 questions at the Well-Appointed Desk!

A close call. . . whew!


  1. Some of your answers made me smile. When I think colored pencils I think of you...and also trees that are trimmed around electrical/telephone wires. lol

    1. Ha-ha!! Glad to know those things make you think of me! :-)


  2. An excellent piece of writing, Tina. I giggled while reading your guilty pleasure paragraphs.

  3. Tina, Caran d'Ache do make bicolour water soluble pencils, although Prismalo not Museum Aquarelle.

    1. Oh yes, I do love those Prismalo bicolors! Not quite the same as MA, though.

  4. Also, there are pencils with different hardness ends and I bought some from

    1. I looked through Pencilly, and I'm guessing that you got the Viking Verso? I have one of those, and although I don't care for the graphite, that's how I got the idea! ;-)

  5. Ooooo!! I love your idea for the dual ended Hi-Uni! That would be amazing🩶🖤 I've never met a Mitsubishi pencil that I didn't like! Also, there's just something about those darn Blackwings...😉

  6. I just love your writing, so this piece was a wonderful pleasure. I just wanted to throw my enthusiasm behind your idea of a 2-ended Hi-Uni pencil. Outstanding! Also, I’m there with you in Blackwing Volumes FOMO land. Have you kept any of the boxes untouched? (She asked, knowingly.) ;-)

    1. Sorry, forgot to add my name — thanks again, Tina!

    2. Thanks for your comments, Jeanlou! I don't have anymore untouched boxes of Volumes, but I may have a few of other limited editions. ;-)


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