Blackwing Scotoma (or What’s Holden Holdin’?)


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If the mind sees what it wants to see, it’s never so true as when you think you might have spotted someone using a Blackwing. The glint of a long gold ferrule; the brightly stamped graphite-grey barrel. But too often you see it only in profile and you can’t be quite certain. Take for example, this scene from Blade Runner.

Context plays an important role, e.g. a Blackwing appearing in a movie such as All The President’s Men makes perfect sense, but Blade Runner? Well, let us not forget their appearance in another film that was set in a dystopian future: Soylent Green.

So, what do you think? Is Holden holding an Eberhard Faber Blackwing, or is it just another part of the Voight-Kampff Test?

“It wasn’t ‘just’ a pencil…” A few words with composer Juliana Hall


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A friend recently sent me a photo of Juliana Hall composing at the piano with an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. Since posting the photo here, I’ve been in touch with Juliana and she graciously agreed to answer a few questions. Her thoughtful responses reveal how a pencil can become something more than just a writing tool.

Do you recall when you first came across Eberhard Faber Blackwing pencils? Were they recommended to you by a friend/colleague, or were they something you happened upon by chance?

I had mainly been a pianist until I was 26, at which point I was a piano performance major in grad school at the Yale School of Music…however, through the years I had composed a few pieces in “composing for performers” types of classes.  So when I entered Yale, I chose to actually study composition with a visiting professor (Frederic Rzewski) as one of my electives.

When the Yale composition faculty heard the songs I had written, they encouraged me to change my major from piano to composition…which, with their help, I did.  But I was new to being a composer, so I was looking for a really good pencil, and I asked a classmate of mine whom I really liked what she used and she recommended the Blackwing 602.  (A few years ago that classmate, Julia Wolfe, won the Pulitzer Prize.)

What were your sources for buying Blackwing pencils? Did you have to special order them, or were they generally in stock?

There used to be an art supply store on Chapel Street in New Haven, very close to the British Art Center and the Architecture School.  They sold the Blackwings during my time as a student and, if memory serves, they always had Blackwings available.

After Yale I went to study with the famous vocal composer Dominick Argento in Minneapolis, but I returned to New Haven to get married and once again begin a new life.  The art supply store closed a few years later, but my husband found a stationary supply store in the next town over, Hamden, and we used to buy Blackwings by the box.  One of my husband’s yearly Christmas gifts to me was a gross of Blackwings.

It was a shocking and very sad day when we drove over to buy some more pencils and the shop owner informed us that Blackwings were no more.  We bought what was left of his stock…but, of course, they eventually ran out.

Some find it difficult to understand how musicians and writers could be choosy (or so precious) to the point that they even have a preference for which pencils they use. But a writing utensil lies at a unique junction: the point through which one’s imagination is rendered tangible. Therefore it’s not surprising that the tactile experience of writing can become intimately associated with the act of composing. What role then, if any, has your preference in writing tools played in your work as a composer?

My transition from pianist to composer was a somewhat magical time in my life, a time when I seemed to be guided towards what I really was…and what work I would really do…for my time here on Earth.

The Blackwing was wrapped up in that, it was a part of that magic for me.  It wasn’t “just” a pencil, but a friend, and my connection to that paper as my ideas became real.  I loved the look of the Blackwing’s graphite on the page, and even the scent of the pencil as I worked was pleasant.

It had a sort of “old-time” feeling, because it wasn’t a machine or a computer…it was very human in its warmth, and it provided a cozy feeling as I drew the notes, the dynamics, hairpins, lyrics, and all the things that formed my compositions.

I miss the Blackwing days, as now everything is computerized…and that certainly makes many things easier for me, too…so I have gone the way of the computer as well.

But there will always be a special place in my heart for the Blackwing 602, and for the time we shared as I became a composer with it…I’ve never found a pencil I liked more.

Thanks to Juliana for taking the time to share her thoughts. This interview is part of an ongoing project to document the life and times of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, and its place in writing culture.

Juliana Hall


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Juliana Hall (b. 1958) is an American art-song composer. Here, she can be seen composing at the piano with an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602*. Along with animators, musicians were some of the most ardent exponents of the Faber Blackwing.

*Unless it happens to be a Microtomic.

Thanks to Elaine and Michael for the find!

Bernstein’s “Little Soldiers”


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Photo: Bernstein Estate

Leonard Bernstein referred to his pencil stubs as “Little Soldiers”, and one can only wonder which notes flowed directly from the tips of the pencils pictured above. As you can see there are many Eberhard Faber Blackwing stubs but also those of another favorite of his, the Alpheus Music Writer.

Thanks to George for the tip!

Buddy Bregman


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buddybregmanbw© 1956 Richard Tolbert/AP

Buddy Bregman (1930-2017) was a composer, arranger, and conductor who worked with some of the most notable musicians of the 20th century, including Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald to name only a few. Like many other musicians who worked in the same era, he can be seen using an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602.

Thanks to reader Boris for the tip!

Contour Drawing


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The following stills are from a 1967 educational/instructional film about contour drawing. This Eberhard Faber Blackwing still has the black-banded ferrule:


If you look closely, you’ll see that this pencil also has a custom stamp: “M. FLAX, INC”.


The only custom-stamped Blackwings I’ve seen prior to this were from the Boston Athanæum, which were some of the last Blackwing pencils ever made. It’s possible that the pencils could have been stamped elsewhere, but as far back as the turn of the twentieth century the Eberhard Faber Co. was custom-stamping their premium pencils, such as the Van Dyke.