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Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils

Introduction & Background

Disclaimer: I was not paid to review Palomino Blackwing pencils & I was not given product for free – all of my art supplies are fully paid for with my own cash. Purchased at Reid’s Stationers in Calgary, Alberta. JetPens also sells them and has an amazing in-depth review and purchasing guide on their website. [Click to open link]

Palomino Blackwing Pencils were once an Eberhard Faber product. They have a cult following, and are supposedly THE pencil for artists, animators, and general creative types. I personally like using the Faber-Castell Castell 9000 line of pencils, so when Blackwing was re-introduced to the market a few years ago, I was unfazed about it and did not jump on the bandwagon. They were difficult to find in Calgary and I was not able to stock them in my artist supplies shop (I owned an art supply store for 8 years – Sketch Art Supplies).

Is Eberhard Faber the same company as Faber-Castell?

Sort of. The von Faber family ran two separate businesses in both Germany and the USA. From the Faber-Castell website: “Lothar von Faber (1817-1896) fourth generation, took over management of the company as the oldest of five siblings after the death of his father, George Leonhard, in 1839. However, he saw to it that his two brothers Johann and Eberhard were also involved in the management of the company. Eberhard managed the subsidiary in New York – later, he became independent under his own name.” Source: http://support.fabercastell.com/support/solutions/articles/25000010672-the-name-eberhard-faber

Assortment of Palomino Blackwing pencils, September 2019

Where to buy Palomino Blackwing Pencils in Calgary

Reid’s Stationers shop in Calgary, AB is a stockist of Blackwing pencils. They are $2.49 a pop. Three of them – the special edition ones dubbed “Volumes”- were a dollar extra at $3.49 each. I purchased the following pencils: Right to left: 4 Blackwing, Pearl, 33 1/3 Black, 611 Green Volume, Natural, 602 Blackwing, Original Blackwing.

Actual Review

My Background: I’m an artist. I enjoy using art materials which are tried, tested and true. I support Canadian brands whenever I can. I owned and operated my own art supplies shop for nearly a decade (Sketch Art Supplies, which I renamed to Sketch Art & Framing after I closed the art supplies portion of it). I was picky with the brands I carried in my shop, and I tested out the samples that distributors sent me. I would tell the distributor or manufacturer if the product was good or if it was crap and I’d tell them why. I gave out samples to customers so that they could try them too, and asked for their feedback afterwards. I will review artist materials differently: from an everyday user perspective; not a collector or a casual use perspective. Please keep this in mind when reading my reviews. Thank you.

First Impressions: Pencils felt nice to hold in the hand, and the heavy metal/eraser back gave it a pleasant balance. I looked for grading information on the pencil but could not find any. Reid’s did not have any sharpened pencils for testing, so I blindly grabbed a few different ones plus a sharpener so that I could figure it out at home. Turns out, the grading system was on the website and is confusing. Extra Firm, Firm, Soft, Balanced and Extra Soft. Ok… no comparisons to the existing grading system for pencils, however. Strike one, Palomino Blackwing. You guys should know better. Mysterious grading is not intriguing – it is annoying and does not help with efficient studio workflow.

Lead Grading system: Palomino Blackwing is on their own planet when it comes to lead grading. Totally non-standard. Does not line up with the “standard” 9H to 9B graphite grading in the art supplies industry. Can be difficult to remember what the heck you are using because the pencil grade is not printed on the pencil. Actually, its mildly infuriating. I would really like to know what I am grabbing when wanting to use the pencil.

Graphite Use: Wears down relatively quickly. The least wear was on the “Firm” which is actually an “F”, not a 2H as the lady in the shop first told me. It is actually between an F and HB, in my opinion. Firm was the 611 Green Volume. Palomino Blackwing “Natural” is supposedly Extra Firm in grading, but it feels softer than the 611 Green Volume. Weird. The rest in my random purchase bundle are a great example of Palomino Blackwing’s convoluted grading terminology gone awry. I can’t really tell the difference between “Soft” and “Balanced” and I really could care less to learn what the differences are, because they are SO similar in feel. Damn you, Palomino Blackwing. Why?!

….Oh, I know. You wanted to create shopaholics which collect trendy pencils via marketing and cross-branding (oh yes, I feel like I’m sitting in an old-ass library when I pick up that 611 Green Volume, and visions of dusty old books and rickety tables swirl around my head as a stare blankly at the gaping white sketchbook page in front of me, wondering, hey, aren’t I supposed to be INSPIRED by these pencils which told me that I WOULD be inspired?! Now, where’s the damn image I’m trying to deposit out of my brain and onto this paper…), and you really didn’t think that actual artists would be using your pencils daily. Instagrammers are the new market, I am told.

Pencil Sharpener & Lead Tips: KUM (Kunstoff Metall) Germany manufactures the Palomino Blackwing branded double sharpener. Quality is good. Sharpener blades are replaceable with item #KUM 801.07.11, which is a bonus. Left-hand hole removes the wood, exposing the graphite. Right-hand hole sharpens the 2mm lead, much like a 2mm leadholder sharpener. Two birds with one stone. Retails at Reid’s Stationers for $12.00 CDN in Sept 2019.

Eraser: Cool design. Gives weight to the back of the pencil. Neat idea. Meh performance. Just meh. I found that the black, pink and white erasers were equally meh. Some felt “spongy”, some felt “floppy” and some felt “firm”, yet they all erased equally terribly. If a Palomino Blackwing were in my sketching arsenal, I’d still carry around my Faber-Castell Latex-Free 184120 eraser, which will erase dead, encrusted bugs on a polar white matboard.

Sketchbook Test

Assortment of Palomino Blackwing pencils tested on Pentalic Nature Sketch 130 lb 25% Cotton Sketchbook paper. The erasers all performed terribly and are more of a decoration then a utilitarian item. No doubt, the Eberhard Faber vintage ones were possibly much different than whatever they are using today; however, I cannot confirm this information and can only speculate. I’ll have to find some vintage ones to test out, one day.

Palomino Pencils tested on Pentalic Nature Sketch 130 lb 25% Cotton Sketchbook paper
Palomino Pencils tested on Pentalic Nature Sketch 130 lb 25% Cotton Sketchbook paper

Final Thoughts

Yeah, Palomino Blackwing pencils are just ok. They are like any other pencil to me, except that the grading is convoluted and not easy to deal with when you are a working artist, since it is non-standardized and not even printed on the pencil. Palomino Blackwing can’t even get their own grading right, as the “extra firm” felt softer and performed smudgier than the “firm”. So weird. Extremely inconsistent.

I do like that they feel substantial in the hand and have a bit of weight to them due to the gigantic eraser. I also like the feel of the wood, and the design of the metal eraser holder. My favorite pencil was the Palomino Blackwing 611 Green Volume and I would repurchase that one only.

I found that the erasers do not perform their erasing duty very well, especially on textured or thicker paper, and I’d still carry around my “MOO” eraser and Faber-Castell Latex-Free 184120 eraser.

Faber-Castell Latex-Free 184120 eraser is a heavy-hitter which will erase pretty much any offending mark, including hard-to-erase marks on matboard. I am a picture framer as well as an artist, so my fellow framers will understand when I say that once you find “THE” eraser, you will never want to run out of them and you’ll end up buying them in bulk just so that you never have to go on the hunt for a good eraser ever again.

I’ll use my pencils up and I am not sure I’d buy them again. I’m probably one of those old fogies who will stick to her Faber-Castell 9000’s because they use the proper grading numbers and have clearly labelled the pencils with said numbers. If I want to use a 2H, I will buy a pencil that is labelled as such. I am not a fan of manufacturer-invented grading systems which can confuse users by making it incredibly annoying to have to memorize which trendy colours and names go with what graphite softness. Meh.

Verdict

Today’s Palomino Blackwing pencils are marketed towards a trendy, stylish crowd. Companies like to market environments, experiences, and feelings to consumers. Nostalgia is a big hit in retail and it isn’t going away. These pencils are not for working artists who require graphite grading consistency and variability. Palomino Blackwing pencils are for consumers who wish to feel nostalgic as they are thinking about writing or drawing, or for artists who use only the one grade of pencil and nothing else (value scale renderings require graded pencils, for instance).

The Animators of Yore probably used Blackwing pencils because of several reasons.

  • Lack of product competition on the art supplies market,
  • Supply deals between manufacturer and animation studio.
  • Combine the two above points and you get: Animation studios were stocked with supply deal products.

Blackwing fell out of favor over the years for several reasons.

  • Animation studios lost traditional artists due to computer animation debut,
  • The need for pencils in animation studios dropped due to lack of animation artists,
  • The most notable reason is that the eraser ferrule manufacturing machine broke [source], and Faber-Castell/Sanford (the last owner of the brand) decided to cease production of the pencil entirely. Sale were low at only 1,100 units a year and thus the repair cost outweighed the profits. See source for more info.

The company which owns the brand today is relying solely on nostalgia and story to fuel the sales of these pencils. Fine Artists, art students, and anyone else wanting a clear grading system for their work should avoid this pencil. It is a nice pencil to use for everyday writing, or for basic sketching and drawing. If an artist requires a consistent grading system for their graphite artwork (value scale drawings), I would avoid this brand entirely. Stick to Faber-Castell 9000, Derwent, Lyra or Staedtler. Caran d’ache is another good brand but it is expensive.

I would revisit Palomino Blackwing pencils if the graphite grading issues were resolved (please print the standardized equivalent on the pencil – 2B, B, etc.), and if the eraser issues were resolved (pair up with someone like Faber-Castell, just as you did with KUM of Germany on the sharpener).

Assortment of Palomino Pencils. Right to left: 4 Blackwing, Pearl, 33 1/3 Black, 611 Green Volume, Natural, 602 Blackwing, Original Blackwing

They sure look pretty. Don’t you want to buy them (by the way, the bill totaled just under $50 for the above items) and then stare at your blank sketchbook, wondering if you needed to pay some bills instead of buy a handful of Palomino Blackwing pencils? Nah, you can survive off of ramen anyway. Artists do that, right? Right? Starve, and give the money to the companies that really need it. You know, to create jobs. You gotta spend money to make money. I think.

As always, take my words with a grain of salt, because ultimately, it is one opinion in a sea of opinions. Thanks for reading. I am usually sarcastic and full of fun ideas to share! ‘Till next time…

Ljubica Todorovic
September 28, 2019
Calgary, AB

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