Review: Faber-Castell Blackwing 602

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The myth, the legend, the pencil of pencils, the pencil made famous through numerous illustrious people is… well, I think we’ll start at the beginning. So my love for pencils is an old one. This love was a practical love, a love for the medium rather than the product. As I probably said in other posts my first real good pencils were Lumographs and 9000s. Really good pencils, pencils for drawing on different papers, pencils for sketching, pencils for realistic finishes. As I drew less, through shifting goals in my life I lost interest in drawing and into pencils. But this recently changed big time through my job as an art teacher and especially my first assignment to a drawing course. I began to draw again. Through this I delved also deeper into the realm of the pencil as a product and discovered a whole world of nerds and geeks talking about pencils and other things related to these in a pompous and loving way. Here I discovered that there is this one pencil everybody is talking about: the Blackwing 602. So after purchasing some other pencils on the bay, I managed to get hold of some Faber-Castell Blackwings for a somewhat decent price as these had minor faults (the ferrule not in the right position f.ex.).

I really didn’t want to use them seriously. Just keep them for my children or something like that. But as I also started to write this blog, it turned out that there’s no way around a review of the original Blackwing 602. I recently reviewed the Palomino Blackwing Pearl, which I liked, without being stoked. So what do I think about the real thing. It looks good, it looks vintage with its pink eraser, the pale bronze ferrule, the grey lacquer, the fading gold lettering. This look is never outdated, it’s a timeless design classic.

You see I’m not eager to get to the point. This might be the premature end of this blog, because I’m not going to say a lot of good things about the Blackwing 602 as a drawing pencil. The hype surrounding this pencil is clearly overblown. It’s a pencil that’s really smooth, too smooth, extremely soft, too fat, breaks fast as hell and does not really shine in its performance. I had to sharpen often. I used it in the same Canson sketchbook I used for almost all the pencils I reviewed until now, and it behaves a bit like a 4B, maybe 5B. Even the smallest pressure produces a very visible line, putting pressure on the point produces a lot of dust and a nice smeary black line or it breaks.

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This happened twice now, and it is not that the lead is broken inside, I know how that feels, no here the lead just snapped, and no I didn’t force it. I used a Palomino Blackwing Automatic Longpoint sharpener. So nothing too spectacular. For the rest of the drawings I tried different angles with my Kutsuwa T’Gaal and it didn’t break anymore, even on the point-iest selection (For those that  don’t know the T’Gaal: it’s a sharpener that has a dial on the side where you can decide the point-iness of your pencil). This is the first time I remember that happening to me with a pencil and at that with the legend, the myth, the Blackwing 602. You can imagine my surprise, that was the last thing I was expecting to happen. I’ve also been missing the stickiness, that smooth, graphite leaden stickiness I learned to appreciate with the Palomino Blackwing 602. The lead feels a bit uncontrollable, too fast, not enough grip, but not entirely unpleasant. The sharpened point dulled extremely fast, which I felt as being somewhat unnerving considering the price I payed for it and also strange since the pencil is hailed as long-lasting. I tried the pencil on very smooth paper (Kokuyo Twin Ring Notebook), just to be sure that the Canson paper is perhaps the wrong paper for the BW602, but the result has been exactly the same. Smear resistance is something one would normally not look into with a 4B or 5B pencil, but a pencil that is thought as a writing instrument and smears like the BW602 shouldn’t get the praise it gets in my opinion. It’s a pencil that’s not meant for tidiness, it’s more the dirty kind.

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I really wanted to love it. I wanted to cherish it, to hold it in my hands and let Hemingway’s spirit flow out of it onto the paper. But nothing of this happened. Maybe I was expecting too much, maybe the Faber-Castell version of the Blackwing 602 isn’t the same as the Eberhard-Faber one. Maybe the one I tested has been badly storaged, has dried out (if that is even possible). Maybe my writing, my sketching is not adapted to this pencil or vice-verso. I am underwhelmed and also a bit sad. I’m sad that the myth has truly died a bit under my sketching hand. Only the stories remain, reality has taken its toll. I have paid way too much for that pencil…

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11 comments

  1. Hi, I was really looking forward for comments and reactions about your personal experience with this “mytholopencical” writing instrument called Blackwing 602, it looks like you are the few ones who ended up with this sad surprise.

    1. Yeah, I feel kinda stupid and really would love to hear what other people think about my review. I thought I’d push a shit-storm or something, but then no comment at all but yours… strange.

      1. I have read your review with great interest. I think it is a matter of taste – “The lead feels a bit uncontrollable, too fast, not enough grip”, as you write, is just what others like at the Blackwing. As an artist you have specific needs, and a pencil which is very good for fast and easy writing may not be suitable for artistic purposes. I have some old Blackwing 602 myself and find them very interesting, even exciting; however, I prefer other pencils for daily usage.

      2. You know what, indeed this is strange…, most of the reviews are about its writing capabilities, and out there are many who are glorifying the Blackwing 602 pencil, and I have no doubt it is a really great pencil, but I’m not familiar if there is a review except yours about it’s drawing proprieties, I know it was used by a series of animators, but the animation drawing paper it is very different from the Canson Sketching paper you have used, I’m looking forward to get a Blackwing 602 and draw with on animation paper, I’m using Mono100 and Hi-uni’s, on paper whit more tooth, the graphite looks more “scattered” on the other hand on animation paper the line feels full and more compact, so probably the paper in this case could make a difference.

      3. “I thought I’d push a shit-storm or something, but then no comment at all but yours… ”

        Consider then, that perhaps the ‘myth’ of the Blackwing is itself a myth. In the years I’ve spent researching, collecting, using, and writing about the Blackwing 602 I have never come across a single person who ever claimed it was “the best pencil ever made.” Not one. I’ve only read about people who have said that “…many people have said…” or that it is “…regarded as the best pencil ever made.”

        The “overblown” hype you speak of rests largely on the shoulders of those marketing their imitation Blackwing, not with Eberhard Faber or Faber-Castell, or even the people who had used them. In fact, the genuine Blackwing was scarcely marketed in its lifetime, if at all.

        Personally, I think that pencils (along with so many other things) are resistant to superlatives (e.g. “best”, “worst”, “smoothest”, etc.), and that anyone trying to convince you otherwise has likely made the conversation more about themselves than the pencils.

        Getting caught up in all that “shit” only feeds the storm; I just like the pencils.

  2. I have to say that I agree with much of what you said. To me, the original Blackwing is not all that much different from the Palomino Blackwing Pearl. Also, you have to keep in mind that any original Blackwing is probably at least 15 years old, so maybe some degradation over time comes into play. I think that shelling out $20+ for an original is a matter of acquiring a collectible. It’s a fine pencil, but the best ever? It’s a subjective judgement at best, and one fueled by reputation, scarcity, and the comments of a few famous users.

    1. I listened to the Erasable podcast episode 14 with Charles Berolzheimer (WoodChuck) of Cal Cedar which makes the Palomino Blackwings and he says that over the life of the Original Blacking, the formula for the graphite changes so there’s no one, true Blackwing experience. I’m saddened that readydot got a lousy one — a brittle lead does not sound like the hallmark of the One True Pencil. Nice art btw.

  3. I just bought some in an art supply store in NC at $2 each. I haven’t tried them yet. I read the other comments here.
    My drawings are of the photo-realistic type, and I have had an ongoing problem with graphite shine in the deeply dark areas of my drawings. The 602 is supposed to be better with tackling the shine problem. We’ll see.
    I don’t usually have problems with smearing because I use a piece of acetate when I need to have my hand on the drawing. My method is different: I block in my basic lines, refine them to a light, easily erasable line drawing, and complete a small area before moving on to the next. This is unorthodox, I know, as I was not taught to work that way. But my method works well for me.
    I hope the Blackwing will help with the shine.

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