Community Member Spotlight: Michael Hagan

     Welcome to installment number two in my "getting to know you" community member series.  This week we have Mike Hagan, fellow blogger and pencil lover.  Mike and I have a unique friendship and I can always rely on him to let me know when I need to reign it in or when my blog is sucking.  Mike runs the blog Leadfast and has TONS of pencil reviews for viewing.  Be sure to check it out!  

What got you into pencils?

     For me, I've always gravitated towards analog things. I was buying records (and working at a record store) before the "records are making a comeback" trope was being bandied about. I've always been into film photography, though I have slacked on that in the past few years. I went to film school, and my class was the last class to learn everything "on film"...the people that started the next cycle moved to digital editing and eventually shooting digital. We had to get a "work print" of our film negatives made and edit on these big machines; once edited we actually had to cut our negative and send it off to get a final print can imagine the fear cutting your negative: there's no Command-Z for that!

     But, as I wrote in my National Pencil Day piece on Lead Fast, post-college, I lived in Chicago without internet access for a while. I've been a blogger for just south of 20 years at this point (starting back when you just wrote about your angsty life and linked to other blogs), and when I had no internet access, I wanted to continue the journaling I had been doing online. So I used pencils and composition books and kept at it a little bit. I also bopped around the city and took pictures of the things that 20 year olds in a new city take pictures of. I carried a little Mead Memo Pad and a Ticonderoga that I stole from work, and I made notes about when, where, and what time I took pictures.

     There were a lot of times of forced minimalism (being broke) and chosen minimalism, where I thought I had found the "one tool" and it was a black Moleskine, a Pilot Precise (black, of course) and whatever pencil I could scrounge up. The problem was the pencils were always crap, office supply-brand junk stolen from work, but I didn't really know it they sucked. It's an interesting thing in the US when kids stop using pencils at a certain age and they're "allowed" to use pens in school. A lot of us never go back to pencils. So my memory of good pencils was faded and I thought that all pencils were always just crappy. When the Moleskine paper started getting worse, I looked around for other options and decided to check out Field Notes. My first order had a pencil in it and it was so totally different then anything I'd used up to that point. The SMELL! I won't really even touch one now, because they really aren't that great, but it lead me on a quest to find other pencils that weren't junk. Fast forward a few years and here we are.  Past that experience, my Grandpa has always had pencil cups all around his house and I've wanted to emulate him in that regard.

How do you use pencils in your everyday life?

     I'm a list maker and a note taker. I write down whatever little thing pops into my head, usually bad jokes for a stand-up set that I'll never do. The first thing I do when I sit down at my desk at work is write the list of things I have to do that day. I really love crossing things off. Doing Lead Fast has also gotten me a plethora of notebooks that I want to use up. I can't give them away because most of them have pencil and pen tests on the back page from reviews! So I have started journaling every night. I started a work journal where I put down everything of note that happened that day. I do it immediately after work, one page only, so I can get it out of my head and focus on my own time and my own projects. I also write in a Standard Memorandum nightly. I don't really have a diary-style journal because I put my thoughts down all day, but the Standard Memo helps me recap the high-points. I also, of course, review pencils for the blog, so I try to find ways to put them through their paces. I have endless sheets of paper that just have the name of the pencil I'm testing written all over the page!

What would be your dream pencil?

    A Blackwing 211 with the Blackwing 24 core, and no thin lacquer over the natural wood (ed. I think we have the same dream pencil!). I want it to collect a patina and give off a blast of cedar every time I look in the direction of Stockton, CA.


Top five pencils?

I'm going to keep my list to things that are available or at least recent. No order!

  • Palomino Blackwing 602: the black eraser MUST be switched out with pink.
  • Apsara Absolute: My favorite Indian pencil, I love the color and the quality of the application. Some Hindustan pencils look a little raggedy, but when you make 40 trillion pencils a day, that's bound to happen. I've never ran into a gross-looking Absolute, though.
  • Tombow 2558 B: the classic yellow pencil, elevated. The best attached eraser in the business. Hates being sharpened in the Pollux for some reason, but it's wonderful.
  • USA Gold #2: My absolute favorite cheap pencil. It's cedar, it's thin, the eraser doesn't suck, and it comes in a natural version (although clear lacquered). The Casemates are cheaper and darker, but the consistency of the USA Gold is way better. I know what I'm getting when I put point to page. With Casemates, I could get anywhere from an HB to a 2B in the same box.
  • Staedtler Norica 2014 Black: this #2 is anything but. The other years are ok, but the 2014 is lovely. Smooth, buttery, thicker cores. Staedtler erasers are great. They say this is a "batch variation" but I think it was a massive mistake and some other pencil got branded as this one at the factory. The cores are significantly thicker and softer than the other years. These are becoming increasingly scarce because we've all picked up on how good they are in this community, but I have over 5 gross of these things, so I think I'm ok. It's the only pencil I've hoarded.

What do you do (for your job)?

     I used to sell craft beer and other booze for a living, but I always was doing freelance graphic / web design on the side. The booze life was leading me down a path that I didn't lay out for myself, so I left to pursue design full-time. The pay cut hurt, but now I do graphic design and social media marketing for a small business. I still do freelance, and now I spend the time I used to spend in bars at home with my little French bulldog, Luna and her mother, my girlfriend Laylie. And I blog over at Lead Fast, which has been such a blast I don't consider it "taking" my free time, but "using" my free time. This community is awesome and I'm happy to be a part of it!