Tag: pencils

The enduring allure of pencils

By Julie Schneider for Hyperallergic 

I hadn’t thought of pencils as objects to be obsessed over or really noticed at all, even though I’d found refuge in writing and drawing since childhood. My parents were teachers and pencils were just always there, like air. I certainly never expected to have a crush on a pencil or to ardently seek out specific models on eBay. But sometimes affection sprouts up in unexpected forms. Sometimes a core of graphite mixed with clay and encased in a tube of wood can surprise you. It hooked me, anyway.

My gateway pencil was dark and mysterious, with a cult following: the storied Blackwing 602. “A kind of unicorn of pencils” is how pencil shop owner Caroline Weaver describes it in her new book, Pencils You Should Know: A History of the Ultimate Writing Utensil in 75 Anecdotes, where she dishes on the origin story of Blackwing 602, among many other pencils. This particular pencil legend was invented during the Great Depression at the Eberhard Faber pencil factory. In 1934, despite cutbacks, the company produced this new and notable writing utensil. With distinctive style — flat ferrule, replaceable rectangular erasers — and a dark, “feathery smooth” graphite core specially formulated for gliding across the page with “half the pressure, twice the speed,” the Blackwing 602 would draw fans for generations to come, including John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, and Walt Disney. It eventually went out of production in the ’80s when Faber-Castell bought the company.

Blackwings entered my life decades after their initial heyday. In 2012, I read the sort of breathless review touting the reissue of this pencil by Palomino, a California-based brand, that left me thinking, “All this praise is for a pencil?” And, in quick succession: “I’ve gotta try one for myself.” From there, it was love.

I made my first drawings with Blackwings in a Brooklyn art studio, located in a former rope factory. After rising rents shuttered the space in 2015, I relocated to a spot in a former pencil factory. My favorite feature of the building? The giant yellow terracotta pencil sculptures that ring its upper level. Soon, I realized, with great delight, that this was not just any old pencil factory, but the site of the Eberhard Faber pencil factory! This was where the original Blackwings were conceived and produced — and where I scribble with their predecessors today.

After my first foray into Blackwings, one pencil led to another. I began to frequent Caroline Weaver’s charming New York City pencil shop, C.W. Pencil Enterprise, where I’ve spent many happy afternoons perusing the curated collection. Weaver opened the shop in March of 2015, inspired by her longtime love of these writing implements.

“I’ve always been drawn to the pencil as an object,” she writes. “As a kid, I was fascinated by their compactness and simplicity. I love that this affordable little commodity is also highly collectible. After traveling the world and studying the pencils of places near and far, I can glean meaningful information about a culture through each unique object. What is easy to forget sometimes is that the pencil, as seemingly simple as it is, took hundreds of people and hundreds of years to come into being.” Through the shop’s Pencil Box, a quarterly subscription boasting 1,200 subscribers, I’ve met many new and vintage pencils I’m glad I now know.

Weaver’s book, Pencils You Should Know, is shaped like a palm-sized pencil box. Each spread highlights the story of a notable pencil, which is photographed school-portrait style on bright backdrops. “The pencil is a curious object,” Weaver writes in the introduction. “Everyone is familiar with it, yet most people don’t actually know much about it.”

The book is an amble through four centuries of global pencil history, and Weaver is our captivating tour guide. She showcases specialised pencils developed for secretaries, editors, voting booths, test scoring, stenography, and scoring games. Pencils whose shavings unspool to form rainbows or sakura flowers, and pencils made of unexpected materials, like denim. These writing utensils embody the trends, styles, and technical innovations of bygone eras. Taking care to point out the quirks and distinctions of each of the 75 featured pencils, Weaver blends unabashed nostalgia with historical fun facts. She gives colour to an often overlooked tool while adeptly making the case that the humble pencil is, in fact, a cultural icon.

Source: The Citizen

With a sharp eye for detail, Bilal Asif carefully labours over his quest for a pointedly unusual world record – crafting the largest swing ever made from pencils.

Asif combs over his creation inside his studio in the southern megacity of Karachi, fine-tuning details with a razor blade and mulling new decorative additions.

“My main objective was not only to make the pencil swing but I aspired to make it with as much creativity as I could,” said the artist.

By January, Asif plans to register his work for the Guinness Book of World Records. He has used up to 30,000 pencils in total, cut into more than 100,000 pieces.

The swing rests on massive posts resembling pencils, while colourful pastel designs give the structure a touch of South Asian flamboyance, drawing striking similarities to the artwork decorating the ubiquitous “jingle trucks” that barrel down roads across Pakistan.

Striving to break world records is the norm in neighbouring India, which holds a suite of peculiar Guinness plaudits including the largest number of people to sing a national anthem in unison.

But Pakistan, which split from India at independence from Britain in 1947 and has viewed it as an archrival ever since, has yet to match its neighbour’s enthusiasm for quirky world record glory.

The achievement would cement a goal sketched out since Asif’s youth, when he began collecting pencils from all over the world.

“Some people criticise my work but I don’t react to them,” he said.

He likes to point out that the swing is not just about breaking records, drawing a line between his art and his quest to promote friendship abroad.

“This is not only a world record but this is a message of peace from the whole Pakistan to the other countries through this art,” Asif adds. “This is my aim.”

By Kristen Stephenson for Guinness World Records 

Julian Martinez was told by his own art class that crafting a mural using just pencils was impossible – but he’s proved them wrong by creating the largest pencil drawn mural.

While no one seemed to have confidence in his abilities, the 24-year-old never failed to believe in himself.

It was this doubt that motivated the Colombian artist to spread his talent across 84.86 m² (913 ft² 61 in²) of wall to earni his Guinness World Records title.

Julian wasn’t always interested in art, so this ambition was quite the mission to take on.

The teacher had previously been studying agriculture production, but realised after several years he had a passion for the arts and sought out to become a tattoo artist.

Thus, he began a 48-day project titled La Realidad Absoluta, which translates to Absolute Reality.

The idea behind his image is show that although others may be different from one another, we can adjust the human perspective to see eye to eye.

Although Julian began the illustration alone, his students and others in the community of Roldanillo came out to help him finish the massive piece upon seeing his intense commitment.

After going through 1 200 pencils, and sketching despite blisters and intense heat, the team of artists now have a detailed canvas exemplifying their hard work.

For the Japanese Sun-Star design contest in 2015, graphic designer Hiroaki Doi created something truly unique – a sakura-shaped pencil.

Creating a pencil in a non-conventional shape is pretty difficult. Doi not only managed to create a pencil shaped like a sakura (cherry blossom), but his pencil also produces shavings shaped like cherry blossom petals when sharpened.


The pencils are available for sale online.

By Rūta Grašytė for www.boredpanda.com
Image: www.boredpanda.com

Despite the growing popularity of electronic devices among school-aged children, writing instruments are still a force to be reckoned with in the classroom, at least in the US.

According to research firm NPD Group, the American office and school supplies industry grew 3% in 2015 to $12-billion, with $1,2-billion stemming from online sales.

The bulk of the industry’s revenue came from the writing instruments category, which represented 20% of total industry sales, and was the thrust behind its growth in 2015; the category experienced dollar and unit growth of eight%, and seven%, respectively.

“From writing to adult colouring, a number of exciting trends emerged and re-emerged in 2015 which helped grow dollar sales for key players in the office supplies industry. These trends continue to have a positive impact on sales,” says Neen Nsouli, office supplies industry analyst at the NPD Group.

Amidst the digital migration being seen across industries, the traditional writing category has managed to grow and, at the same time, evolve with the times, as new products on the market show.

Traditional pen sales grew 5% during the year, and specialty pens by 11%.

In line with the adult colouring book trend, dollar sales of porous, gel, and multi-coloured pens were up by 28%, 9% and 8%, respectively.

Coloured pencils were also popular items, with sales up 40% for the full year.

Consumers are also spending on fine writing instruments, and increased their spending by nearly $2,5-million on fountain, gel, and ballpoint pens compared to what they spent on these products in 2014.

Source: www.stationerynews.com.au

Pencil it in!

Standard pencils

Graphite pencils are the pencils we all know and love, and are most commonly used for drawing and completing schoolwork.
There are more varieties of graphite pencils than any other kind. In spite of the name, pencil leads do not contain the toxic chemical element lead, but are typically made with graphite and clay, or plastic polymers. This mixture leaves grey or black marks on the substrate, which can be erased easily.
Most graphite pencils have a combination of numbers or letters stamped onto it. These numbers and letters indicate how hard or soft the lead of a pencil is. The higher the number H, the harder the lead, meaning the pencil will produce a lighter line. The higher the number B, the softer the lead. This results in a darker line. The numbers and letters usually range from 6H to 9B.
The standard, familiar yellow pencils with pink erasers on top are HB, which sits right in the middle of the range.

Mechanical pencils
A mechanical pencil – also known as a clutch pencil, a propelling pencil or technical pencil – is a pencil with a replaceable and mechanically extendable solid pigment core.
Unlike traditional wood-encased pencils, the graphite in a mechanical pencil is not bonded to the outer casing, but is instead extended as it becomes blunt.
Mechanical pencils provide lines of constant width without the need for repeated sharpening. They are used by people who work in pencil all day, such as draughtsmen, architects and mathematicians.
Mechanical pencils can also be used for fine-art drawing.

Did you know?
Mechanical pencils first appeared in the 18th century. Many designs were patented in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Mechanical pencils can be divided into two basic types: those that both hold the lead and can actively propel it forward, and those that only hold the lead in position.

Screw-based pencils were the most common type of mechanical pencil in the earlier part of the 1900s. This mechanism ensures that the lead is brought down the dispensing column by twisting a screw. A slider is moved down the barrel of the pencil.
Pencils of this type typically have a locking mechanism to allow the lead to be pushed back into the pencil.
Clutch pencils are activated by pressing the cap at the top. This opens jaws inside the tip, and the lead is able to drop down the barrel towards the tip of the pencil. When the cap is pushed down and the lead is in free-fall, it can fall out of the pencil entirely. It is worth holding the pencil just above the work surface, and the lead will stop when it touches the obstacle.
Some types of clutch pencils contain mechanisms to incrementally advance the lead.
Clutch pencils use thicker leads than screw-based pencils, and can only hold one piece of lead at a time.

pencils have lead which is held in place by two or three small jaws inside a ring at the tip. A button on the end or side of the pencil controls the jaws. When the button is pushed, the jaws move forward and separate, which allows the lead to advance down the barrel of the pencil. When the button is released and the jaws retract, the “lead retainer” (a small rubber device inside the tip) keeps the lead in place, prevents the lead from either falling freely outward or riding back up into the barrel until the jaws recover their grip.
Ratchet-based pencils are a variant of the clutch pencil.
Mechanical pencils that are shaken back and forth to release lead are a type of ratchet-based pencil. Pencils of this type may also have a button so that the user can manually advance the lead if necessary.
Another type of ratchet-based pencil advances the lead automatically. In this design, the lead is advanced by a ratchet but only prevented from going back into the pencil by friction. The nib is a spring-loaded collar that, when depressed as the lead is worn away, extends out again when pressure is released.
Yet another type of ratchet-based pencil  has a mechanism that twists the pencil lead at six degrees counter-clockwise every time the lead is pressed on to the paper. This means wear is evenly distributed and lines are of uniform thickness.
Most mechanical pencil mechanisms can only house a single lead diameter. Some pencils contain several mechanisms within the same housing, so as to offer a range of thicknesses, but these are rare.
The lead of mechanical pencils is also available in a range of hardness ratings. The hardness required will depend on the user’s desired balance between darkness and durability. The lead most commonly found in mechanical pencils is identical to HB, although not as thick.
Mechanical pencils with coloured leads do exist, but they are quite rare.

Different diameters of mechanical pencil lead and their uses

  • 20 – technical work
  • 30 – technical work
  • 40 – technical work (only available in Japan)
  • 50 – general writing, general technical work or beginner’s technical work
  • 70 – general writing
  • 90 – students/general writing
  • 00 – rare, used in pre-1950 Parker pencils
  • 18 – used in older pencils
  • 00 – drafting lead-holders
  • 15 – non-drafting lead-holders
  • 60 – non-drafting lead-holders

Pop-a-point pencils
Pop-a-point pencils, also known as stackable pencils or non-sharpening pencils , were pioneered by Taiwanese stationery manufacturer Bensia in the early 1970s
Many short pencil tips are housed in a cartridge-style plastic holder, decorated with patterns or colours. A blunt tip is removed by pulling it from the writing end of the plastic body and re-inserting it to the bottom of the holder.

Graphite sticks
A graphite stick is similar to a standard pencil, but instead of a wooden body with a lead core, they are comprised of solid sticks of graphite. The advantage of these graphite sticks is that they produce thicker, bolder lines that pencils can’t match.
Graphite sticks are used by artists to block in shadows and dark tones over a large surface area.

Charcoal pencils
Charcoal pencils are very similar to graphite pencils but for the core made of compressed charcoal. This is a much softer material than graphite, producing richer and deeper blacks. Charcoal pencils combine the depth of charcoal with the control and precision that a pencil provides. These are usually used for impressionist drawings, quick sketches, or in conjunction with regular pencils to add a little more depth to a drawing.

Carpenter’s pencils
A carpenter’s pencil is a pencil with flat sides. This makes it easier to hold and use in tight spaces that craftsmen are confronted with, such as the corners of pieces of wood. The fact that the core is not round means that thick or thin lines to be drawn by rotating the pencil. Thin lines are required for high precision markings and are easy to erase, while thick markings are needed to mark on rough surfaces such as wood or walls.
The type of lead used in these pencils is strong enough to withstand the stress of marking on these usual surfaces.
Typically carpenter’s pencils are more robust, and able to endure in dirty, demanding environments such as construction sites and warehouses.
Because of their unusual shape, carpenter’s pencils do not fit into a standard pencil sharpener. They are usually sharpened with a knife.
Similar pencils (called “jumbo pencils”) are sometimes used by children, although these tend to have a softer core. This allows the child to draw with less effort. Designers and artists may also use carpenter’s pencils to draw thick lines. They are sometimes used in calligraphy – Old English letters are easier to draw with a carpenter pencil than with an ordinary pen.

Did you know?
The flat pencil is one of the oldest types. The first versions were made by hollowing out sticks of juniper wood. A superior technique was then discovered: two wooden halves were carved with a groove running down them; a plumbago stick placed in one of the grooves; and the two halves then glued together – essentially the same method in use to this day.
Source: Wikipedia

Pencil crayons

Standard coloured pencils
These brightly coloured pencils are a staple of the classroom and craft box. The pencils are made of a wooden cylinder with a core of pigment. The pigment can be wax- or oil-based, and contain varying amounts of additives, pigments and binding agents. Professional-level pencil crayons are much softer, with wax-based pigments that transfer to paper more easily.
Pencil crayons come in a vast array of colours, but in the event that the right colour can’t be found it can be produced by layering pigments one on top of the other, and blending.

Erasable coloured pencils
Unlike wax-based coloured pencils, erasable pencil crayons can easily be erased.
Erasable pencil crayons are used mainly in sketching, where the objective is to create an outline using the same colour that other media (such as wax pencils, or watercolour paints) would fill or when the objective is to scan the colour sketch.
These pencils may be used by animators instead of the more traditional graphite pencils. They don’t smudge as easily, and the different colours allow for better separation of objects in the sketch.
Erasable colour pencils are also used in the publishing industry by copy-editors and proof-readers. Their markings stand out more than graphite but can be erased.

Watercolour pencils
Water-soluble or watercolour pencils are pigment-based and work much in the same way as coloured pencils. The unique quality of watercolour pencils is that the “lead” pigment dissolves quickly in water. This means you can apply different amounts of water to the lines you have drawn to create a traditional watercolour effect, or dip the pencil directly in water to add very bold areas of colour.
Watercolour pencils are an ideal gateway into the watercolour world. They offer a greater degree of control when compared to a paintbrush.
They can also be used alongside coloured pencils to add splashes of very vibrant colour or highlights.

One morning last month a man sat down at his computer and ordered $4 000 worth of pencils designed to look like John Steinbeck’s favorite, the Blackwing 24.

“It’s probably the most iconic pencil ever made in America,” says Caroline Weaver, whose shop on New York’s Lower East Side, C.W. Pencil Enterprise, took the order of 1 920 pencils.

C.W. carries more than 200 types of pencils, including the Blackwing (also favored by Walt Disney), as well as a dozen erasers and sharpeners, and zero mechanicals.

“Mechanical pencils, they don’t smell like anything. The lead is so small you can get no line variation out of it,” says Weaver, 25. “Though it is a little bit of work to use a wood-cased pencil, most people appreciate that. There’s a physical connection you can draw between how often you have to sharpen your pencil and how much work you’ve done.”

The shop was bustling on a recent Thursday afternoon as Weaver made rapid-fire sales to a hodgepodge of tourists, designers, and high school students. Three Spaniards approached the cash register, unsure which of their coins amounted to the 87 cents they needed to buy a miniature pencil. Weaver solved the problem and carefully packaged their purchase in a custom envelope, tying her signature bow around it.

Her devotion is reflected in a tattoo on her forearm of a black Ticonderoga from the early 2000s that her mother, an interior designer trained in technical drawing, created. “I had her sharpen it three times,” Weaver says, “because a pencil sharpened and used three times is the perfect length.”

The hipster movement and Steampunk aesthetic have brought back a number of other traditional products. Restoration Hardware fashions 20th-century trunks into $2 495 bookshelves. Tin ceilings popular in the late 1800s are being reproduced in plastic. And vinyl, done in long ago by the cassette tape, has been resurrected. Pencils, unlike trunks, still serve a day-to-day function for students, designers, and contractors, as well as note takers predisposed to changing their minds.

Hipsters don’t pay the bills at C.W., though. While most of Weaver’s customers are millennials, she says, the big spenders are the roughly 15 percent who are over 50. The shop’s top five customers, who spend between $3 000 and $4 000 a year, are all over 40.

The average sale at C.W. is about $50 online, $25 in the store. Weaver typically charges twice her wholesale cost. She declines to disclose total costs or revenue but says the business turns a profit.

The pencil industry boasts a lively collector’s market, and Weaver says that, as far as she knows, C.W. is the only brick-and-mortar store catering to this demographic. Despite some nice buzz (here, here, and here, for example), she faces competition from Amazon.com, Pencils.com, and resellers on EBay, and tries to distinguish C.W. with the in-store experience. She’s familiar with every pencil she sells, as well as with those she can’t get her hands on; many are no longer in production. Bantering, that Thursday, with a collector from out of town, she sold him and his wife about $100 of merchandise and recommended a pencil podcast.

Weaver grew up in a small town in Ohio, went on to study art at London’s Goldsmiths, and traveled the world picking up new pencils along the way (such as a mint green set of three she acquired in Japan, her favorite at the moment). She risked personal funds of $80 000 to build up inventory, create the online store, and pay advance rent. Weaver launched the website in November 2014, found a retail space of roughly 200 square feet renting for $1 900 a month, and opened the doors in March of last year.

“I didn’t want it to be in a shopping neighborhood,” she says of the store, on Forsyth Street, above a restaurant, Birds & Bubbles, that specialises in champagne and fried chicken. “I didn’t want anything too polished. I like the idea that this shop kind of has to be discovered, that people seeking it out would be brought to a neighborhood that they might not usually come to.”

Since C.W. opened, the block has filled up with other quirky businesses. A 14-year-old neighbor stops by regularly to purchase pencils for her exams at the exacting Bronx High School of Science. She gets a neighborhood discount, reflecting her frequency as a client and Weaver’s management style.

Demand is sometimes more than Weaver and her staff of four (all millennials) can manage, she says.

“I have had a couple people offer to invest in the business, and I’ve declined. I’m not good at finance things. It really terrifies me, so even if it’s unwise, as long as I can keep it as simple as possible, I feel safer,” she says.

She and Caitlin Elgin, deputy pencil lady1, closed the shop for a week in February to travel to Germany, where they found a manufacturer for their cases and, as a bonus, a pencil with plain graphite on one end and neon yellow for highlighting on the other.

Those unable to travel to the store get a taste of Weaver’s personality from her online shop, her Instagram page, which has more than 94,000 followers, and her pencil-of-the-month club. Weaver, who had long dreamed of being such a club member herself, launched the program without any marketing beyond an offer on her website. It promises one pencil a month for a year for $80. Within about five months, she had 700 subscribers.

“We always try to pick pencils people don’t really know about, which is quite a task. It’s one of my favourite things, but all that packing and all that prep work takes us the entire month to do,” says Weaver, who says she had to stop accepting subscribers. She could probably afford to hire an employee dedicated to expanding the club but has a hard time justifying it and, in general, doesn’t see herself building an empire.

“I never want it to be where I can’t be here, or have too many locations to worry about,” she says. “I didn’t start this because I want to be a business lady. I started it because I really wanted to sell people pencils.”

By Polly Mosendz for www.bloomberg.com

Ystudio is back with another timeless stationary set. Crafted locally in Taiwan, the set of beautiful writing instruments consists of one sketching pencil and a classic ballpoint pen, made from brushed brass that has been tempered in the scorching heat of 1 000 degrees.

Each item included in Ystudio’s “The Weight of Words” collection is characteristically rendered, featuring imperfections like rust spots, yet ensuring an honest and durable result.

Both pens will be available from 1 April.

Source: www.highsnobiety.com

A Scottish illustrator has been credited with boosting the fortunes of the global pencil industry after the surprise success of her “colouring-in” books for grown-ups.

Johanna Basford’s books of elaborately-crafted fill-in drawings have tapped into a huge demand from those seeking to switch off from I-pads, laptops and computer games.

Now, having already topped the Amazon best-seller lists, her tomes are also giving a massive boost in global sales for high-quality pencils, as colouring-in fans compete to make masterpieces of their work.

Far from being a casualty themselves of the digital age, pencil manufacturers are now struggling to cope with demand, with Faber Castell, the world’s largest wood pencil manufacturer, revealing last week that it was now having to run extra shifts at its factories.

“People like colouring-in because they are fed up with digital,” Basford, 32, told The Sunday Telegraph. “There is something nice about picking up a pencil and a pen. You are not going to get interrupted by Twitter, and there is also a childhood nostalgia element to it. The last time you did a bit of colouring in, you probably weren’t about thinking about mortgage or Brexit.”

Rather like other recent middle-class crazes like allotments, ukulele playing, and home-brewing and baking, colouring-in appeals to a nostalgia for a simpler, analogue era.

adult colour 1

However, while it might be healthier than tucking into a home-made sponge cake inspired by the Great British Bake Off, there is still an element of a guilty pleasure to it.

For not everyone approves of university-educated adults dedicating their spare hours to a pastime that – in the view of critics anyway – ranks somewhere below puzzler books and Ludo.
Leading the chorus of disapproval is the comedian Russell Brand, who produced a recent sketch entitled Adult Colouring Books: Is This the Apocalypse?

“What has turned us into terrified divs that want to live in childish stupors?” he raged, accusing colouring-in fans of being scared of the modern world.

Indeed, according to Basford, 32, even her own publishers had doubts when she first suggested the idea to them five years ago.

At the time, the Aberdeenshire-based artist was working as a commercial illustrator, doing hand-designed drawings for companies including champagne and perfume brands.

“I used to do all my work in black and white, and some of my clients used to joke about how they would like to take them home and colour them in,” she says. “I was then asked to do a children’s colouring book, and I said ‘how about doing an adults’ one as well?’. They were a bit tentative, but eventually they went for it, and printed 13,000 copies that sold out within a few weeks.

Basford’s first three books of drawings – some of which can take three days to produce – have now sold some 16-million copies worldwide, with three million alone in China. A new one, Magical Jungle will generate excitement worthy of a best-selling novel when it comes out in April, and her work is also generating all manner of spin-off versions.

There are now colouring books for fans of Game of Thrones, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Who, as well as a Tattoo Colouring Book and even a Corbyn Colouring Book. It features the Labour leader in various guises including as a soccer star, the Mona Lisa, and Moses parting the Red Sea.

Meanwhile, “colouring-in” clubs have formed worldwide, meeting in cafes and online to compare their works, and keeping the lead in the pencil of the stationery industry.
Carlotta Lein, a spokesman for the Bavaria-based Faber Castell, says: “We have noticed the effects of the colouring trend very strongly. Colouring doesn’t require artistic training to get started yet offers a great sense of accomplishment when finishing a piece.”

Basford adds: “Colouring-in fans just love their pens and pencils, they become real artists. I get messages from people in New Zealand and Australia saying there are big shortages now. It’s really nice that something I was passionate about is now shared worldwide.”

And what about detractors like Brand? “It’s a case of whatever makes you happy, there’s no right or wrong about it,” she says. “Who knows, maybe he just hasn’t found the right colouring-in book yet.”

By Senay Boztas and Colin Freeman for www.telegraph.co.uk

Colouring books for grown-ups have become a bona fide lifestyle craze. They claim to offer a way to combat stress, unleash our creative spirit and generally take time out from our tech-frazzled, gadget-obsessed lives.

But for the makers of crayons and colour pencils, the trend also poses a fundamental strategic question: is this boom in demand just a passing fad or a sustainable trend?

“I dream about crayons at night,” says Andreas Martin, who manages a Staedtler factory in Nuremberg, Germany.

Staedtler is a small, family-run firm with a workforce of about 2 000 people, which has experienced soaring demand, more or less overnight, for some of its coloured pencils.

“These are models we’ve been making for years, and demand always chugged along unspectacularly,” Martin says. “But then, all of a sudden, we weren’t able to manufacture enough. It’s incredible.”

Behind him, a machine spits out yellow-ink pens at a rate of about 6 000 an hour. Another is currently programmed to produce orange ones.

On the floor below, finished crayons in a kaleidoscope of colours are packed into boxes of 20 or 36 for shipping to the United States, Britain or South Korea. These are the countries at the centre of the adult-colouring craze, according to Staedtler chief, Axel Marx.

Colouring books regularly feature among the top 20 best-selling products on ­Amazon.

adult colour 2

“We’re seeing a similar development in European countries, too,” says Horst Brinkmann, head of marketing and sales at rival Schwan-Stabilo, which makes fluorescent ­marker pens and coloured pencils.

All of the players in the sector are keen to get a slice of the cake. Stabilo has launched a set of crayons and books with a spring motif. Upmarket Swiss manufacturer Caran d’Ache has published a colouring book of Alpine scenes.

Without revealing any figures, Brinkmann says Stabilo’s crayon sales have risen by more than 10 per cent, while the colouring craze helped Staedtler boost sales by 14 per cent last year to €322 million (Dh1.3 billion). “That’s remarkable, in this age of digitalisation,” says Marx.

But the hype also represents something of a headache for factory chief Martin.

“No one knows how long it will last,” he admits.

“We need to strike a balance” when deciding how much to sensibly invest to be able to ride the wave, while keeping in mind that the trend could vanish as quickly as it started, he says.

They are also making use of adjustable working hours, adding shifts at night or on Saturday mornings, he adds. In addition to the 350 regular employees, the factory has taken on approximately 30 temporary workers. But ultimately, the big decision is whether to invest €300 000 for a new machine.

Staedtler is ready to stump up the cash, with the rationale that “if the market falls again, we can use the machines for different types of products”, says Martin.

Others are betting on the durability of the new trend.

At Caran d’Ache, “we have invested in production equipment and extended working hours”, says president Carole Hubscher.

The company sets great store in being a “Swiss-made” brand and “there is no question of relocating to boost production”, she says. Hubscher is convinced that writing and drawing “won’t disappear” and “our growth targets are not solely built on trends”.

Stabilo’s Brinkmann insists that the popularity of adult colouring books “is part of a fundamental and universal trend towards slowing down”.

Nevertheless, “it’s important to continue to innovate in this area” to maintain market momentum, he says, pointing to the new “fashion within a fashion” of “Zen­tangling” or drawing images using structured patterns.

Staedtler chief Marx is more ­fatalistic, saying that a trend such as colouring in for grown-ups is fundamentally unpredictable. “But we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it’ll continue,” he says.

Source: www.thenational.ae

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