Back when I was in art school hanging with the DUCKWORK crowd who would eventually morph into the Comico crowd, we would compare notes about art supplies and techniques. Back then, some of the guys were real excited about using non-repro blue leads in a mechanical clutch pencil or a lead holder. The robin’s egg blue color wouldn’t reproduce on a stat or PMT which was a high contrast photographic reproduction. That repro would be pasted onto a board along with the text and all of the other page elements, and then a negative would be shot of that in order to burn a printing plate, etcâ€¦etcâ€¦ The blue lead was also great for sketching and building a drawing. The blue ultimately wouldn’t show up so you could sketch and sketch to your heart’s content. Coming back in with a regular black lead pencils would define and firm up what you were trying to get at in the blue sketch. Recently I went walking into a brand new art supply store which is part of a national chain looking for non-repro leads. I looked around, but no dice. Black leads, but no blue. I asked one of the clerks wandering the floors. She asked me what I meant by non-repro. It was then that I realized that this sales girl was probably a toddler when companies started selling their stat cameras for scrap. She had grown up completely enveloped in the digital age.
What to do? I looked around and found something that is working a lot better than the old blue leads. Pictured above is a 0.9 mm mechanical pencil and indigo blue leads that fit in it. The leads are thick enough so that they give a nice beefy line like a wooden pencil, but are a consistent thickness or thinness so they never have to be sharpened. That isn’t the case with the thicker leads that went into the clutch pencils. I was constantly using a lead pointer on those things.
The blue leads aren’t non-repro, but, as I said before, we’re living in a digital age – it doesn’t matter. I can build and build the sketch with the blue pencil and then refine it with black. I scan it in and ink it digitally on a separate layer.
The indigo leads are fun to work in. I start out really sketchy and light and start leaning on the pencil more heavily as I make decisions about lines. I know it’s a poor craftsman who blames the quality of his work on his tools, but a 0.9 mm mechanical pencil with blue leads is making doodling and sketching just plain fun for me again. I love this pencil!
Of course, if they stop making the leads, I’ll be sunk. Maybe there will be another color. I don’t know. I’m not sure what the industrial purpose of these indigo leads is now if any. If that market dries up, they will go the way of the non-repro leads. I’d better stock up!
I may ink and color digitally, but I’m not ready to sketch digitally. I think I’ll always be analog in that regard.