This is the first in what we hope will become a series of articles that provide a behind the scenes look into the inner workings of Blackwing. On the verge of a new release, today we are diving into the process of bringing a Blackwing Volumes edition to life.
When we started discussing the Volumes program at the end of 2014, we thought it would be a fun way to honor impactful creative legacies and help fans discover or reconnect with different creative mediums. We believe putting pencil to paper makes for a more fulfilling life and this program, like everything else we do, is aimed at getting more people to use and appreciate pencils.
The brainstorming started well before the program even began. After prepping individually, we sat down with more ideas than any of us can remember. After several hours that involved guitars, singing, yoga mats and a few jump shots on our warehouse hoop, we emerged with a long list of blue sky ideas. We then took this list to everyone in the company to get their feedback. Once we prioritized the list, we started reaching out to potential partners.
Whenever possible, we wanted to collaborate with the subject of each edition and, in the case of individual subjects, their families or estates. And we didn’t just want permission, we wanted input on the design and story for each pencil (nowhere was this more evident than our collaboration with the Steinbecks on the Blackwing 24).
We also wanted partners who would be able to help us capture the attention of people who haven’t thought about pencils in years. In this case, the Blackwing 725 is a perfect example. We partnered with the Newport Folk Festival to make sure every musician who played last year’s fest, from the main stage headliners to the upstart songwriters, were introduced to Blackwing pencils. We also spent a week educating festival goers, making some great friends in the process.
We had the ideas and we knew what we were looking for in a partner, but we really underestimated what it would take to get from the idea to the pencil.
Once we have a design on paper, we need to see if it translates to the real world. Like any manufacturing process, this involves making a sample. But, as we quickly learned, it takes just as much work to create one sample pencil as it does to make several hundred. Most Volumes pencils take at least three or four rounds of sampling before a prototype is finalized, and there’s no guarantee the design will work at all. As a result, we’ve had to tweak some designs in order to make them work, and scrap others entirely (you should see the collection of oddities littering our HQ).
Once we finalize a design, the sticks are shaped, painted, imprinted and shipped to our California HQ where we inspect them, and add ferrules and erasers. After another round of inspection, the pencils are packaged and then subscription boxes are assembled. Once all subscription shipments are out the door, we begin packing the remaining pencils for stores and individual resell on Blackwing602.com.
Shoutout to the shipping and fulfillment team for making all of this possible. If it weren’t for the early mornings and late nights of Mary, Mason, David and Candita, folks might still be waiting for the 725.
All of this adds up to some pretty crazy lead times. To give you an idea of what we mean by crazy, we’ve already submitted our designs for 2017 and are working to nail down 2018 and 2019. But, all of the planning and stress is worth it. Blackwing Volumes is a labor of love, and we’re excited to be able to share it with you.