The Creator’s Utensil: Blackwing Pencils
Written by: Geo Hagan Photos courtesy of: Palomino Brands

All dedicated creatives know about the special alchemy that happens when an idea is first conceived in the deepest regions of the mind. It’s an elusive reaction that comes in like a flash and can disappear just as quickly. It could almost be compared to capturing lightning in a bottle. Once that spark of imagination happens, the next step is to write it down as fast as possible before it disappears into the ether for ever.

Dating back to the 1930’s, Blackwing pencils have been the writing instruments of choice for award-winning creators. Iconic authors, songwriters and composers like John Steinbeck, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Cohen all used these revered pencils. Even the legendary cartoonist Chuck Jones used the superior graphite in Blackwing shafts to create beloved Looney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny and several other animated personalities.

Blackwings were discontinued in 1998 due to an unfortunate twist of fate, but Palomino, a California-based company, decided to bring back the heritage brand in 2010. Its resurgence has been a huge hit and a whole new legion of idea merchants are discovering the rich Blackwing legacy. We recently reached out to the general manager of Palomino, Grant Christensen, to find out more about Blackwing’s storied history and ask about plans for the future. Read on below …

 “It’s a culture for people who think and create independently …”

Can you tell our readers about the storied heritage and history of Blackwing pencils? 

Blackwing pencils have been around in some form or another since the 1930’s. Many famous writers, musicians and animators used them religiously throughout the 20th Century. It was discontinued in the 1990’s after one of the tooling machines that accounted for its unique design broke. Despite its cult following, it wasn’t deemed a big enough business by some number crunchers. Unused stock started selling for $40 a pencil on eBay and people started asking us if we could find a way to revive it. We did so in 2010 and it became bigger than any of us could have imagined. Much more than a pencil, it’s a culture for people who think and create independently.

Blackwing is associated with some legendary, award-winning creators and composers – can you elaborate on that? 

Many incredible composers and songwriters have spoken or written freely of their love of Blackwing pencils. The smoothness of the graphite is great for shading and composing. It especially developed a great following among world class songwriters and producers in Nashville. Some of the best albums being made today were recorded in studios flush with Blackwing pencils.

What was the main inspiration behind Palomino deciding to reintroduce this classic line of pencils?

Our customers. They came to us – they noticed the similarity in quality between our Palomino pencils and the original Blackwings and asked us to consider bringing it back.

What goes into the making of a Blackwing pencil – where are the materials sourced and where are the pencils manufactured? 

The wood is incense-cedar from northern California. The graphite comes from Japan, where you’ll typically find the best graphite in the world. We finish the pencils at our company headquarters in California.

There are probably a myriad of reasons why creative people love Blackwings. What are the praises you hear the most when people describe their love for Blackwing pencils?

Most people point to the smoothness of the graphite. Some people have said that it glides across paper so quickly that they’re able to get an idea out of their head and onto paper before they forget it. A lot of people just feel more confident with it because of the feel and knowing that so many of their heroes used Blackwing pencils.

In your experience, who is the Blackwing consumer – is it mostly individuals in the creative/artistic spectrum?

Yes, creative people especially like the product but we have customers who simply like a well-made, good pencil. They use them for crossword puzzles or homework. Business people like them as well because of the high-end look.

Are there any programs/projects that Blackwing is currently involved in to foster, sustain and propel the creative community? 

Yes, we hold events, like our Blackwing Sessions series.  We hope to not only inspire creativity but bring awareness to emerging artists who deserve attention. We recently started our own independent record label and our first project is due out in the spring. We also recently launched a blog,, to highlight the creative works of some of our favorite artists.

Are there any big announcements/new products coming down the pipeline in 2015 you’d like to share with us?

Yes, but we aren’t ready to share just yet. Definitely excited though for 2015.

Lastly, where can people find/purchase Blackwing pencils in NYC? Are they available online too? 

We’re in about 400 stores worldwide now, including a dozen or so in NYC. A complete list can be found at We also sell them online at

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