Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils

Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


This is part of an ongoing series where I review some of my favorite creative tools!

I first spotted Blackwing pencils on the Instagram posts of various artists I follow, and was intrigued by these supposed “high end pencils”. The more I saw their sophisticated colors and giant, shiny ferrules, the more I needed to try one for myself!

Eager as I was, it actually took me quite a while to get my hands on one. As a Blackwing newbie, I wanted to sample one of each since the different pencils contain varying lead grades. However, Blackwings are only available in packs of 12 at most retailers… and since they aren’t cheap (about $22 for 12), an entire box is a hefty pencil commitment!


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


If you’re lucky though, you can find single versions in little brick-and-mortar shops for about two dollars. I picked up a few at Maido in San Jose, and one at CW Pencils in Manhattan. (I’ve also spotted “eligible singles” at both Kinokuniya branches in San Francisco and NYC, as well as FLAX Art in San Francisco.)


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


The original Blackwing lineup consists of three models: the Blackwing MMX, Blackwing 602, and Blackwing Pearl. Here are some details:

  • Blackwing MMX: softest and darkest graphite, matte black lacquer with gold text, gold ferrule, and a white eraser. This is the only pencil that has a slim gold band printed near the ferrule.
  • Blackwing Pearl: medium graphite, shiny pearl white lacquer with black text, gold ferrule, and a black eraser
  • Blackwing 602: hardest graphite, shiny gray lacquer with two sides of gold text, gold ferrule, and a black eraser. This pencil has Blackwing’s motto, “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” printed on the body.

The soft MMX lead wears down rather quickly, and is best for sketching. Both the Pearl and 602 have better point retention, and are great as general-use writing pencils. In terms of smoothness, they are all very smooth — a quality that becomes apparent if you write with a Blackwing for a while and then switch back to a cheap school pencil.

It’s hard to tell in these photos, but there really is a slight variation in darkness/lightness as you go from the MMX to the 602.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


In terms of sharpening, all of them sharpen very well. Cheap pencils tend to have misaligned graphite cores, which mean they frequently snap while sharpening. Quality pencils like the Blackwing have meticulously aligned cores, so they did not have any issues  — even with an older, slightly dull sharpener.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


They also have large erasers housed in shiny oversized ferrules. I honestly think the gold ferrule is what leads me to reach for Blackwings more often than any other pencil (oooh, shiny!). The eraser can be extended by inching it up from the metal casing, or swapped for other erasers of varying colors.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


The Apple-esque colors of white, gold, black, and “space gray” make them lovely eye candy on my desk, and pretty props for my photos.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


If you do decide to splurge on a whole 12-pack of pencils, it is a worthwhile purchase. The packaging is nicely done, with a minimal sleeve and a nice matte black box that definitely worth keeping.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


Another noteworthy pencil point to mention is that Blackwing offers a seasonal limited edition release, called Volumes. To those outside of the stationery lovers’ circle, a limited edition pencil may seem like a strange thing to be giddy about, but even those with no affinity for stationery can at least appreciate the thoughtful design that goes into these special releases.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


A recent release, Volume 211, is inspired by the 211-mile John Muir trail that runs from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney. Its natural-wood finish and rustic brown eraser really evoke the woodsy, outdoor spirit of John Muir — making it the perfect match for the Field Notes Shelterwood!


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


As a calligraphy artist, I have found a designated use for the 602 as my envelope sketching pencil — its lead is light enough to be easily erased, yet dark enough that I can see it on colored envelopes. I’ve used up quite a length of this pencil making wedding envelopes and sketching out name cards.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


I’ve also been experimenting with pencil calligrapy (penciligraphy?), and have found the soft Blackwing MMX capable of creating very elegant line variation. To accomplish this, I treat the pencil like a dip nib or brush tip — press harder on downstrokes for swells, and lighter on upstrokes for hairlines.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


I’ve been using Blackwings in regular rotation for a while now and there’s just something about them that is really unique. Part of the pencil’s allure certainly lies in its chic appearance and the cult mentality of the creative folks that use them!

That being said, it also has an extensive and fascinating history, which covers legendary animators, musicians, and authors like John Steinbeck. History buffs can read about it on the official Blackwing website.

Review: White Inks for Calligraphy

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink


I recently had the opportunity to test some white inks, and wanted to share my findings. Specifically, I wanted to see which white inks were best for calligraphy.

Here are my results! I hope you’ll find this helpful :)


White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

White Calligraphy Inks

These inks are either marketed as calligraphy inks or are popular within the calligraphy community. (You can click on the image for a larger view)


 White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Pen-White – ★★★★

  • Very thick right out of the bottle
  • Requires diluting with distilled water
  • It is ~magical~ once dry, crisp and very opaque
  • Handy eyedropper for easy diluting in separate container

Verdict: Worth the hassle of finding the perfect ink-to-water ratio because it is fantastic when diluted properly.

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleed Proof White Ink – ★★★★

This is hailed among many calligraphers are the holy grail of white ink! My coworker was kind enough to let me take a dip out of her bottle to test it out.

  • VERY thick and pasty — even thicker than the Pen-White
  • Requires more diluting with distilled water
  • Crisp and opaque once dry
  • Similar to the Pen-White

Verdict: Best ink for the price. Since you are diluting it so much, the tiny bottle will go a long way.

J. Herbin Dip Pen Calligraphy Ink – ★★★☆

  • Lower viscosity and thus writes straight from the bottle.
  • Better ink flow, smoother to write with
  • Less opaque, fades significantly as it dries.

Verdict: I give this ink points for convenience, despite its low opacity. Plus, it is perfect for the rustic/vintage chalkboard look that is quite popular.

Speedball Calligraphy Ink – ★★★☆

  • Only $2! An easy purchase if you are just trying out white calligraphy
  • Bottle shape makes dipping easy
  • Must be diluted with water
  • Quite opaque once dry
  • Less smooth and dries with a bumpy finish

Verdict: If you are going through the trouble of patiently diluting your ink, you might as well go for Dr. Ph. Martin’s.

 J. Herbin Dip Pen Pigmented Ink – ★★☆☆

  • More watery and less opaque than the other J. Herbin white
  • If you write too slowly,  ink drips off the nib
  • If you write quickly, not enough ink is left on the page resulting in faded letters

Verdict: I don’t really like it :(

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

White Comic Inks

Comic artists use white in many ways — adding highlights to eyes and hair, or covering up small mistakes. Many manga artists use the same G nib that is popular among calligraphers, so I figured it was worth a try.

These inks are VERY thick — almost all of them need to be diluted with water to be usable, and it took a lot of trial and error to get the right ink-to-water ratio for all of them. Once diluted, I was pleasantly surprised by how well some of them worked as calligraphy inks!

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Copic Opaque White – ★★★★

  • Very thick out of the bottle, requires diluting
  • Smooth once diluted
  • Very opaque and crisp when dry
  • Annoyingly tiny bottle
  • Kind of expensive for the size

Verdict: The most opaque of the comic inks, if you can get past the price and the frustration of scooping the ink out of the tiny bottleneck.

Deleter White #1 and White #2 – ★★★★

  • Very thick out of the bottle, requires diluting
  • Smooth once diluted
  • Opaque when dry
  • #2 is waterproof!

Verdict: There isn’t much difference between the two, but I found #1 to be slightly smoother.

IC Comic Art White and Super White -★★★☆

  • Very thick out of  the bottle, requires diluting
  • Not as smooth as Deleter inks
  • Super White is very opaque when dry

Verdict: The regular Art White is mediocre, the Super White is much better.

Kaimei Manga Ink – ★★☆☆

  • Thinnest manga ink – thus, surprisingly smooth out of the bottle
  • Decently opaque when dry
  • Annoying caveat: chalky bubble effect

Verdict: Pretty decent, but with one MAJOR caveat. The pigment settles to the bottom, so when you shake the bottle to mix up the ink, a mass of bubbles forms. As you write, your pen leaves a trail of tiny bubbles that dry inside your calligraphy, making it look rough and messy :/

Kuretake Comic White – ★★☆☆

  • Very thick out of the bottle, requires diluting
  • Not cooperative with the paper I used
  • Difficult to write with
  • Not very opaque once diluted

Verdict: This is one comic ink that cannot really be used as a calligraphy ink. It works on some papers, but not on others — not worth the gamble


Some examples of my favorite inks in action…

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Pen-White

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleed Proof White

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Speedball Calligraphy White

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Pen-White on a light gray envelope


There are some other white inks that I’ve heard about, but not yet tried. Eventually, I hope to try all of them…

Note: All product photos from and Review photos by me.

Materials Used:

Review: Recent Stationery Hauls

I enjoy what Andrew does over at Minimally Minimal, in which he rates a roundup of items that he tried but didn’t write a full review post for. In this post, I rate some of my recent stationery  acquisitions!


Recent Stationery Hauls - Clear Document Holder

Daiso Clear Document Holder – ★★★★

These have been redesigned over the years, but they are essentially the same: a clear plastic box for storing your papers. I find them great for things that I want to keep in one place, but don’t want to hole-punch into a binder. I recently bought two more: one for storing calligraphy practice sheets, and another for transporting watercolor supplies. Four stars for being cheap, functional, and easily replaceable.


Recent Stationery Hauls - Washi Tapes

Daiso Washi Tapes – ★★★☆

Daiso washi tape comes in pretty limited (and sometimes ugly) patterns, but there are a few gems in the midst. On a recent visit, I was tickled to find this adorable owl one! Some of their tapes seem stickier than others, which is strange, but I won’t complain about washi tape for just $2.00.


Recent Stationery Hauls - Paper Cutter

Fiskars Paper Cutter – ★★★☆

I mentioned in a previous post here that I bought this paper cutter for a wedding place card project. This is one of those things that I didn’t know I needed, until the very hour that I needed it. Since then, I’ve used it for pretty much everything that involves cutting paper. Knocking off a star because the cuts aren’t as clean as they’d be if I used my Xacto-knife and ruler, but the convenience is unparalleled.


Recent Stationery Hauls - Mini Stamps

Alphabet Stamp Sets – ★★☆☆

I found these tiny alphabet stamps in the dollar section of Michaels, and couldn’t resist. I picked up a traditional serif set, a vintage typewriter set, and a basic sans-serif set. They are really cute, and I’ve been enjoying them in a variety of silly uses (like the teeny tiniest Field Notes that ever existed). However, they are very roughly made — the edges are roughly cut, and I don’t expect them to last long.


Recent Stationery Hauls - Sugar Paper for Target

Sugar Paper Collection for Target – ★★★☆

I love the black/gold/ballerina pink combo that graces all of Sugar Paper’s 2016 lineup. On a trip to Target, I picked up the small weekly/monthly planner and two document folios. I plan to use one for important documents like my passport, checkbook, and insurance cards. The other will hold small calligraphy pieces. Taking off a star because the planner already has some loose threads, after barely any use.


Recent Stationery Hauls - Notepad by The Well-Appointed Desk

Shit To Do Notepad from The Well Appointed Desk – ★★★★

Ana and her husband brainstormed this funny little notepad on a whim, and I love it! It’s simple, cheeky, and motivates me to actually “get shit done” — mainly because like feeling productive by writing lists in it.

Review: Levenger Gemstone Green

Levenger Gemstone Green Review


When I was a kid, my mom bought me these plastic stick-on gems for me to do crafts with, and I am surprised by how often I’ve run into practical uses for them since then… like my first ink review!

As a relative newcomer to fountain pens, my ink collection is still pretty small. I started off with the standard colors: one black and one blue-black (reviews to come), and I was contemplating my next “fun color” purchase.

While I was browsing shelves at a thrift store, I was pretty happy to find two bottles of Levenger ink! I didn’t know if there was anything I needed to be cautious of in terms of buying used inks, but they were 50 cents each and a $1 risk purchase seemed reasonable to me.


Ink Review: Levenger Gemstone Green


Levenger Gemstone Green is a dark emerald ink that is primarily green, but with a slight turquoise hint to it. It is definitely a cool green, as opposed to a warm green, and made me think of spruce trees and other evergreens.

If you really layer it on, you can even get a bit of reddish purple sheen — kind of like the new Emerald of Chivor! (but sans the sparkle)


Ink Review: Levenger Gemstone Green


The ink writes nicely in a Lamy Safari with a fine nib, on Maruman Mnemosyne paper. However, I did notice a little bit of feathering and show-through, so if it feathers on Mnemosyne then I wouldn’t try my luck with cheaper paper.


Ink Review: Levenger Gemstone Green


It doesn’t shade very much  in a fine nib– the color is pretty consistent throughout the words. However, put it in something like a Pilot Parallel and that’s when some real shading action comes out to play.

Unfortunately, it does not play nice with dip pens… at least, not straight from the bottle (not sure how it would be with a bit of gum arabic mixed in to thicken it).

As a mini experiment, I dropped it into a glass of water to see what it would look like! You can really see the teal color emerge as the ink begins to dissolve.


Ink Review: Levenger Gemstone Green


The full review!


Ink Review: Levenger Gemstone Green


Finally, just for fun, I made a collage inspired by Gemstone Green :)


Gemstone Green Mood Board
Dioptase Gemstone | Emerald Green Walls | Forest Watercolor | Emerald Green Silk | Vintage Vogue Poster

Other recent emerald green ink reviews:

Review: Field Notes Shelterwood Edition



I have been a casual fan of Field Notes for a while, but it took me a while to hop on board. When I first discovered them, I had just missed the beautiful Night Sky edition. Plus, I already had a small pocket notebook that a friend gave me as a gift, so I figured I would finish that first before buying any new ones. The release that finally got me in on the Field Notes game was SHELTERWOOD, the Spring 2014 Edition.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Field Notes — four times a year, a seasonal limited edition is released. It is a one-time-only, limited run of a good couple thousand copies, and it lasts until the edition is entirely sold out. As of now (Spring 2015), Shelterwood has been long discontinued, but I still wanted to review it because it matches the aesthetic of my new site :)

Shelterwood is a beautiful edition that is made of real American cherry wood veneer, sliced super thin and glue-bonded to their usual kraft paper covers. Because they’re made of real wood, each one looks different! A pack of Field Notes includes three memo books, and here you can see the varied wood grain of the three I received.


Field Notes Shelterwood Review


Field Notes Shelterwood Review


The cover text, which is printed with “Ghostflower White” ink, is subtly semi-opaque so the wood grain shows through. It gives the cover a rustic look — according to the Field Notes page, “like a faded whitewashed fence”. To keep with the theme, I filled in the inside cover information with white ink as well.


Field Notes Shelterwood Review


Field Notes Shelterwood Review


My favorite pen to use with this edition has been the Pilot Hi-Tec-C in Kurikawa, or Chestnut Brown. It’s a dark brown-black (lighter than it appears in this photo) that fits perfectly, in terms of both size and color.

I always enjoy reading the Practical Applications listed on the back — “Treehouse Blueprints” is my favorite. I’ve been using one for blog planning!


Field Notes Shelterwood Review


Field Notes Shelterwood Review


The inside paper even handles brush pen pretty well! I’ve heard this paper is great with fountain pens too, but I’ve mainly just been using pens and markers. This is a Pentel Fude Touch pen in green.

Overall, I have to say I loved my first foray into Field Notes! Unfortunately Shelterwood was discontinued some time ago, but it was replaced by the Cherry Wood edition, which is similar but with graph paper inside instead of lined. Personally, I prefer lined paper, so I’m glad I picked up an extra pack while I did!


Field Notes Shelterwood Review