Monday, May 10, 2010

Stephen Sondheim on pencils, paper

From a 2005 interview:

Do you use any special kind of paper or pencil?

I use Blackwing pencils. Blackwings. They don’t make ’em any more, and luckily, I bought a lot of boxes of ’em. They’re very soft lead. They’re not round, so they don’t fall off the table, and they have removable erasers, which unfortunately dry out.

And paper?

Yes. Yellow lined pads. I used to have them so it was, I think 26 lines to a page, and my friend, Burt Shevelove, who was a stationery freak, said, “Buy cartons of them!” I said, “Oh Burt, come on. I’ll buy 12 pads. That will be enough.” God, was he ever right, because they discontinued making them about 20 years ago. I’m used to the other pads now. You get used to the exact amount of space between lines, because you write a word and then you write an alternate word over it. You want enough room so you can read it, so the lines can’t be too close. But if they’re too far apart, you don’t get enough lines on the paper. I could go on. I’m sure many writers have these tiny little habits. All over the United States there are people who only use Blackwings. I sometimes get letters, “Do you have any source for the Blackwings?”

And they’re extinct?

Yeah, they’re extinct. Adam Green, Adolph Green’s son, has written an article for The New Yorker, which I think will be published next year. Quite a long article on the Blackwing pencil and the fanatics who go crazy when they don’t have a Blackwing in their hand. You just get habituated. Of course you can still write. If there were no yellow pads in the world, I’d find a way of writing on white paper or on non-lined pads. It’s the lined pads that make it. Yellow is just good because the contrast of the yellow and the black lead is just easier on the eyes than white.
If you’ve never seen a Blackwing, here are photographs. And here is a photograph of Sondheim with a Blackwing. For the Blackwing slogan, stamped into each pencil, see the blog description above.

A search for blackwing at the New Yorker shows no trace of Adam Green’s article.

[The slogan, no longer appearing above: “Half the pressure, twice the speed.”]

Other Blackwing posts
Blackwing 2: The Return
The new Blackwing pencil (a review)
Nelson Riddle on the Blackwing pencil
John Steinbeck on the Blackwing pencil

comments: 1

jw said...

My one Blackwing pencil is one of my most prized writing instruments, much more personally valuable than my overpriced fountain pens (including a Montblanc Meisterstuck no 149 I inherited from my grandfather). My Blackwing is customized with the name and address of the Boston Atheneum stamped in gold foil, and does indeed sport a now-worthless, dried out eraser. A thing of beauty, a joy forever: indeed.