Not long ago, I reviewed India’s Nataraj Bold pencil. In the interest of promoting peaceful coexistence between the countries of the world, I would be remiss if I didn’t also give some press to their neighbor and fellow pencil-producing country: Pakistan.
Uniting over a shared love of pencils may not be enough to stave off the spectre of nuclear war, but Shahsons Ltd. put Pakistan on the pencil map alongside its neighbors in 1953, when the current Director’s grandfather, Shah Saeed, established it as the his homeland’s first pencil manufacturer. Today Shahsons is the manufacturer of several pencil lines and are the flagship writing-instrument producer of its country.
The Picasso Executive is Shahson’s “business” pencil. As such, it has a much more formal appearance than their lines marketed as branches of the Goldfish family. Upon initially opening the box, I was greeted with a fine coating of white powder which thankfully doesn’t seem to be anthrax. After giving the pencils a good wipe-down, though, I was able to appreciate their aesthetic: matte black lacquer with a somewhat-spotty silver imprint on two facets of the hex-shaped barrel. The main label features the Shahson’s name and logo, the “Picasso Executive” designation, and the grade: HB, and the corresponding (in Pakistan, I guess) numerical grade of 2 1/2. The opposite facet of the hex has bar code and associated information; thankfully, in the same silver imprint as the main label. A plain aluminum “tin can ” ferrule holds on a white eraser nub. The ferrule is sadly loose and wobbly, and the font of the word “Picasso” is a little goofy; but other than that, the appearance is straight-forward and classy.
One very interesting attribute is that the imprint is applied “backwards” as opposed to every other pencil I can recall using. Explained another way, when holding the pencil in one’s write hand, the writing appears upside down. As it turns out, in Pakistani culture the right hand is typically reserved for specific purposes, while the left hand is preferred for mundane or “dirty” tasks. That would explain why the imprint is oriented to be read while held in the left hand.
Unfortunately, the core-centering is not a strong point for the Picasso Executive. The below-pictured pencil has a core that is obviously askew, and when sharpened with the Deli 610 sharpener the resulting point had a very significant amount of wood “creep” up toward the tip. The barrels, on the other hand, are generally nice and straight. A few of them have a slight bow, but nothing to raise a stink about.
The exact species of wood is a mystery — not cedar, probably basswood or such — but aside from the wonky core issues, sharpening was quite pleasant. As discussed previously, my helical sharpeners left a nice clean point. Sharpening with a hand-blade was smooth and clean as well. All of the shavings peeled away into a single “flower” of wood. My blade sharpener left a little bit of chipping and splintering around the throat of the core, but not too shabby.
According to the back of the box, the Picasso Executive contains “erasable ceramic graphite ultra corpuscular reinforced break resistant lead”. I can’t find any more information on what exactly that means, but nonetheless the cores do seem to be quite sturdy and break-resistant. I did not experience any separated or crumbly tips as I ground through an entire pencil.
My first impression of the Picasso Executive was that it must be a softer pencil than the HB and, especially, the “2 1/2” grades imply. In fact, it’s not a soft pencil — it just writes a little bit nicer than I expected.
The line darkness is right in there with other typical HB grade pencils. There’s something about it, though, that I can’t quite put my finger on. My initial reaction was that it wrote dark for an HB; other times, it seems relatively light. Perhaps it has to do with the paper, or the undertone of the graphite and the way it reacts to certain lighting. Perhaps it’s all just an illusion. However, when swatch-testing the Shahsons Picasso Executive, it seems to be a precisely-graded HB shade.
The lead of the Executive writes quite smoothly. It’s significantly less scratchy than the run-of-the-mill HB; e.g. the Cedar Pointe, Ticonderoga, etc. It’s closer to the “nice” end of the HB spectrum, similar to the Castell 9000 HB, but not quite into the territory of softer B-grade pencils. The consistency is also pretty good; I recall encountering one random chunk of hard stuff while writing, but those type of snags are quite rare.
Point retention is another solid plus for this pencil. It performs similarly to the General’s Supreme #2, which is a pencil I regard highly for its ability to hold a point. The Picasso Executive was really hard to review, because it took so damn long to grind through one pencil!
The smudge-resistance is okay; it sits within the range of other HB office pencils. Given that left-hand writing is apparently the norm in Pakistan, I was hoping this would be some sort of silver bullet magic smudge-proof core. It didn’t quite live up to that hype, but it doesn’t resist smearing respectably in “lab” tests. In the real world, I haven’t experienced any noteworthy messes, so it’s at least pretty good.
While giving the Executive a thorough stress-test, I found the eraser to be remarkably effective. Errors seemed to nearly vanish with a little rubbin’ from the supple, white rubber tip. I did the mandatory head-to-head-to-head and found that the built-in rubber eraser from the Shahson’s Picasso Executive was nearly as effective as the Hi-Polymer block eraser (and better than the Pink Pearl). That’s pretty awesome considering that nub erasers, even on high end pencils, tend to be mediocre at best. The Executive’s eraser really blew away my expectations. If only the ferrule were crimped a little tighter to hold it into place…
The Shahson’s Picasso Executive is a pretty solid pencil. I can think of one legit knock against it, which is that the core centering is not super great. Other than that, though, it’s a well-constructed pencil. It’s definitely above-average in terms of writing smoothness, and the eraser is great (except for the fact that it’s loosely attached — okay, so maybe two knocks against it). Basically, I think the Executive is what the Chinese Ticonderoga Black wishes it was. The two pencils look very similar, both in terms of the visual aesthetic and the written mark. They target the same market niche: office workhorse HB pencils. The Executive, though, is a notch or two ahead because it’s simply more pleasant to write (and erase!) with.
Personally, I prefer this pencil on toothier paper. The core is rugged enough to last on an abrasive page, and it writes smoothly enough that a rougher stock won’t cause an excessive grinding sensation. However, the extra tooth will help it lay down a nice dark line.
It’s not perfect, or fancy. But the Shahson’s Picasso Executive is a pretty solid performer in the category of general writing, paperwork-type pencils. If that kind of pencil is your jam, but you want something a little smoother or with an eraser that doesn’t suck, you’ll like the Picasso Executive. If they put a little bit more into quality control (centering the cores, and keeping the ferrule attached) you’d love it.