review

Review: Caran D’Ache Swiss Wood HB

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It was kind of difficult to find a store that had the Swiss Wood, when you try to find it in a physical shop that is. I found it in a really nice little shop in Cologne called Papier Pop-Up. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough in the past, but they had the Black Wood on display so I asked if they were also carrying the Swiss Wood. The pencil is really a beautiful one. A bit larger than average, with natural wood finish with some sort of transparent lacquer. The white lettering, the FSC logo and the red tip with the white swiss cross; it’s a surprisingly light pencil compared to its size and the dark wood color really convey a sense of uniqueness.

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Then that smell! Some might find it unpleasant, I’m not yet sure what to think of it. Some describe it like the smell of smoked ham or grime. I think it smells a bit like soy sauce. Glovelier Beech seems to be a special breed of beech found in the Swiss, hence the “Swiss Wood” moniker.

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I heard a lot of good things about the pencil, before I had one in my own hands, so my expectations were pretty high. That said, I must say that these expectations were way too high. The graphite that is based on clay (!) is not really pleasant. It writes  easily, but with a very light gray tone. It’s lightly sticky, moderately smooth, but too firm for a HB. I was expecting something darker, heftier as the size suggests, but the lead is disappointing from my viewpoint, though still above average. Caran D’Ache has a special place in my heart as they are promoting the pencil in an exclusive and almost luxurious way with their limited editions, especially the Maison series. I’m feeling a bit bad of giving the “Swiss Wood” a less enthusiastic review than I expected, but that is what it is, despite its unique looks and the peculiar fragrance the utility of the pencil is above average.

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Review: Maruman Mnemosyne A4

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This is something I wanted to do for some time now. Writing a review about my favorite notebook. But mind you I never use it as a notebook, but as a drawing/sketch-book. If you’d use it as a notebook alone there are some warnings to consider. The first one is that the paper is quite thin and things shine through, and I believe if you’d use the pages on both sides things would become quite messy. Another annoyance is that the paper easily creases and that can be quite frustrating. I often creased pages when erasing something and due to the smooth nature of the paper it literally slipped under my fingers. These negative points are just small caveats compared to when you start to write or draw on that paper.

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That paper… it is just fantastic paper, thin, light, smooth, precious, but can easily take a “beating”. I even wrote Maruman to ask if they didn’t have the paper in larger formats, but unfortunately the biggest format is the A4. The notebook itself lives through very clever design features. The first one is that it is a spiral notebook.

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The spiral is so cleverly designed that it never hinders the opening of the book, and another nifty detail, the first and last spiral are left out. This enables you to easily tear the micro-perforated pages out of the book.

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The back of the book is made of thick cardboard, that is just sturdy enough to use the book on the lap.

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Then there is the black plastic cover with gold lettering and the inspiring “Imagination / Unruled” quote.

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The first page is bright yellow with some note-taking tips in Japanese. The pages itself are not white, but a tone yellowish and have a box on the top for titles or whatever.

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Another great design detail is that the back and front are bigger on the large side of the pages and protect them from harm. I used the notebook with both Uni Pins and Pilot Drawing Pens. I largely prefer the first ones, but that is for another review sometimes this year. The paper is just sooo smooth, but with the right grip, not slippy, just fantastic. As said before the paper can take a “beating”, meaning that when you blacken an area repeatedly the paper doesn’t bloat and break (do I make sense here?).

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I use mainly a MONO100 H pencil for preparation sketches, which is absolutely perfect for the paper, although I do have sometimes some difficulties to erase some firmer pencil strokes with my kneading eraser, but my trusty electrical eraser comes in handy then. And no this paper does not whiten (become white?) when erasing on it, as it happens with the colored Moleskine paper. But as said before the paper is very unforgiving for creases. The Mnemosynes come in different sizes. If you ever fancy an unruled notebook, give them a try. I love it to death and will always prefer them to Moleskines or other drawing notebooks. I’ll use it to the last page.

Review: A.W.Faber-Castell 2000

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“1” is a small number. But even small steps can make a big difference. In this case I’m referring to the “2001” the younger brother of the 2000 that I have reviewed some time ago. I didn’t really like the 2001, not especially bad, but really far from being any good. So I got my hands on some Faber-Castell 2000 HB/2. So it’s the exact same grade as the 2001 I have reviewed. But you have already guessed it: the “1” makes a big difference. The 2000 is a beautiful pencil, exactly like the 2001, but without the ferrule, which is in this case a good thing. The pencil is very light and sharpening it feels quite right.

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A recent comment on the 2001 made me realize that I am perhaps sometimes using the wrong words when talking about the softness of the lead. I was referring to it as smoothness occasionally. Well in this case the lead is really soft for an HB, but not too smooth, nicely gritty, which gives a whole different feeling to drawing with this pencil as opposed to the 2001. One big negative point with the 2000 is that despite it’s relative lack of blackness it smears easily. So when drawing with this pencil, you should really put a piece of paper under your palm if you tend to rest it on the paper. So the lead is not giving an especially black line, but the result is still enjoyable, but I feel that it is maybe a bit too soft and you have to sharpen more often than with higher quality pencils. I felt that this pencil could find its place as a sketching pencil for loose lines, relaxed doodling and quick drawings, but less as a dedicated drawing pencil.

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And I found it particularly pleasant to write with it. My writing is very loose and uneven, so a soft pencil like the 2000 is great for me. So as you can see I have a very different opinion on the 2000. The 2001 feels compared to the 2000 even less appreciable and cheap. This is a very biased opinion, but I hope that through this you can draw your own picture on the quality and usability of these pencils.

Review: Hardtmuth 110

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I have worked with some pencils, big known brands, Tombow, Faber-Castell, Mitsu-Bishi, Staedler, Palomino, etc. The great thing about doing these reviews is that I “force” myself to sketch with pencils that seem interesting or that I have simply aquired on the Bay or elsewhere. I recently aquired a box of these Hardtmuth 110. A short and fruitless research, erm, typing the words into a search engine, I came up with no infos about these.

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The pencil is thick, way thicker than the normal thickness that we are used to. The edges of the hexagonal shape are sharp, the coating is unspectacular to say the least, despite the golden lettering perhaps. To say it shortly: pure understatement.

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As I started sketching it became quickly clear that this is an exceptional pencil, not due to its outer characteristics, but the lead, the weight, the thickness, all came together for a brilliant smooth, gliding, yet still a bit gritty experience. For a “2” pencil it is perhaps a bit too soft, but the lead delivers its graphite graciously without loosing the freshly sharpened point. It just feels great and very inspiring.

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This last sketch really shows the qualities of the 110. Easy shading, nice dark bold lines with some pressure, thin airy lines, all is possible and that with excellent erasing quality and still being decently smear-resistant. Its a great drawing and sketching pencil. It lacks a shiny outer shell and a flashy ferrule, but compensates that with outstanding drawing qualities. If you happen to come by some, don’t hesitate!

Review: Venus Perfect Pencil

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The Venus Perfect Pencil is a beautiful pencil. It has that classic pine-green color that we are used to see on high-quality pencils, perhaps a tone darker. But what makes this pencil stand out is the unique craquelure pattern in a lighter green, giving the pencil a leathery look.

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The writings are in gold with a serif typo that hightens the feel of uniqueness, even if they are not really well defined.

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The ferrule is perfectly matched to the pencil, being in gold with a green ring. The eraser itself seems to have lost its color over time. I’m not sure how old this pencil is, but the eraser is dried up, if that is the right term.

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As you can see in the pictures I fetched a whole dozen in a pretty (kitschy) box. The smell of the cedar wood is overwhelming. We europeans are not used to cedar wood in pencils, so that smell totally transports you to the meditereanean, sitting on a small hill, looking down into the old center of an small italian village, cicades singing their song… but I diverge. The smell is just great, while sketching I repeatedly smelled the tip.

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An interesting detail was uncovered by sharpening with my KUM Long Point. You can see how the lead has cannelures, which are certainly used to make the lead adhere to the wood and perhaps also to make it more durable.

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It felt quite right as a drawing pencil. Not extremely smooth, but the weight of the pencil and the hardness of the HB lead made for a balanced and inspiring performance. Just the right hardness for an HB with a nice dark line if sharpened and pressed hard. The craquelure provided some light grip. I unfotunately put the eraser to my mouth at some point and this totally destoyed its mediocre performance, but that is mainly due to its age and not really a thing of quality.

So I can say that this pencil is worth the purchase, if you happen to come by a few. I certainly will sketch more with it in the future. I tried it in my small Canson sketchbook and in the big Moleskine and the performances were good on both papers. Is it a perfect pencil? Certainly not, but it is a good pencil, not outstanding, but worth the price.

And there’s even more to the brand Venus.

Review: Faber-Castell “Dessin 2001”

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The “Dessin 2001” is a beautiful pencil. It immediately struck me when I saw it hanging there with its two other siblings in their blister. The colors, reminiscent of the “2000”, its older brother, gold and red divided on the corners of the hexagonal shape by black lines, emanate a vintage character. The gold print heightens that feeling. But the problem starts with the ferrule, whose bronze color does not match the rest of the pencil, even worse: the rubber is pinkish red and pops right into the eye almost destroying the noble looks of the “Dessin 2001”.

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The wood is odourless and the SV-bondage of the lead leaves no apparent glue line between the 2 parts of the shaft. I sharpened it with my KUM Long Point Sharpener. It sharpens well and it is apparent that the lead is well centered.

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You can also see that the lacquer is pretty thick, made of at least 2 layers, where the bottom layer is red only.

So I tested the B-grade and was very much disappointed. The pencil feels pleasantly light in the hand, but the lead is really not a B. It’s a hard lead which gives off its graphite only with much pressure. I wonder how hard the HB will be with what I experienced with this one. It didn’t feel nice to draw, light lines were too light and strong lines really needed a lot of pressure, the in-between was hard to achieve. So calling this pencil “Dessin” is not fitting. I used it in my small Canson sketchbook. I had high hopes for this pencil, that its aura of tradition and the ominous “Dessin” would make this pencil more outstanding, but it is just an average pencil, well produced and nice looking with flaws. As a solo drawing pencil it fails. The eraser did a decent job, but like the lead there was no real pleasure in using it.

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I feel like the Faber-Castell brand has lost a lot of its finesse and quality over time. The 9000 are still really good pencils, but they have long be surpassed by others and the other big brand name Staedler has the better pencils, with its Mars Lumographs. Even Faber’s Perfect Pencil is far from being perfect, but that’ll be for an other review.

So this is it. My first review. I try not to be too technical as I ignore most of the intricacies of what the leads are made of, etc. I look at the pencil from a drawing artists perspective and hope that my view is followable. Any remarks or ideas concerning this review can be discussed in the commentaries.