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 This look is never outdated, it’s a timeless design classic.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.
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.
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…