Since I’ve been involved in Industrial Design, one thing has remained constant: I suck at sketching. Due to my non-standard approach to this area of study, I skipped a lot of classes that would have helped me out here and have been muddling along on my own. Throughout my classes, I’ve always felt like I’ve never really found my “voice” visually.
Drawing tools have helped a little in this area; their tactility inspiring me somewhat. I started with ball point pen as mandated by my sketching instructor. Completely hated it. I can’t speak for other designers or students, but it seems like the worst sketching utensil to start with. It was very difficult to get levels of darkness.
I then moved to mechanical pencils with red lead. They seemed much more expressive to me and also scanned well.. Unfortunately, red line drawings looked almost universally crappy after markers. I switched to blue, which helped the situation, although they didn’t scan well.
Then I found the Papermate Flair pen. It was the first writing instrument I really liked a lot. It’s felt tip isn’t extremely versatile, but it feels so smooth. I still use them for post-it sketches, and just about any text. The next and most recent discovery was accidental. I grabbed a pencil out of the pile at work to use for sketching up some UI wireframes. It was perfect. It was a Sanford American 2.5F. I searched high and low (and on the internet) for more of them. The only find was one 12 pack left at an Amazon store. I couldn’t bring myself to pay $5 in shipping for some pencils, so I gave up. Dixon seems to be the cock of the walk around here, so I got a pack of Ticonderoga Black’s and found them to be pretty lousy. They had grainy porous wood that flaked off and the thick paint just felt sticky.
At the same time, I started researching the Sanford American. Interestingly, they are owned by the parent company Newell-Rubbermaid. The lists of N-R subsidiaries is rather disgusting to me, as someone who fears big business and would also like to see pencils made by a pencil company and not a mega-conglomerate. Also interestingly, other subsidiaries included Papermate and Prismacolor. It looks like Prisma still has some pencils in the Sanford name, but I really don’t want to pay Prisma prices for a cheap pencil. However, when I was at the drug store yesterday, I noticed a new pencil offering from Papermate along side their crappy Mirada pencils. They are called (not surprisingly) American Classics. I’ve not spent extended time with them, but at first glance, they are damn near the Sanford American. Cheap, thin paint, and a more solid (and probably cheaper than cedar) wood. Perfect!
I know how lame it sounds, but I really feel more creative when sketching with these things.