By Nicole Tinkham
They resemble pastels and are even located in the same general area in your typical art store, but Conte crayons are actually much different. We’ve found that when the average person doesn’t quite know what a product is, how to use it, or what results it produces they skip right past it and move onto something they are familiar with. Do you ever find yourself doing the same thing? While that’s totally normal, we dare you to try at least one new thing this month. That’s right; we’re kicking off the year doing something completely new! And we will strive to bring you a new art supply guide each month to help you pick up a new medium and learn how to use it. This month is all about Conte crayons. Funny thing is, as we were browsing the Keeton’s art department, we glanced at these and instantly thought of pastels. So we did our research, found out how these differ from pastels, how to use them and then came up with this helpful guide. Read on to discover the possibilities of Conte crayons in your next masterpiece.
What are they?
Conte crayons (or sticks) look similar to that of a pastel but are much different. These are a drawing medium made up of compressed charcoal or graphite with the addition of wax or clay mixed in for the base as well as natural pigments for color. Conte crayons are actually commonly used for the initial sketch for a pastel drawing as the colors mix well.
Paper to use them on
You’ll want to use a rough textured paper with Conte crayons as this will hold the pigment better. You can also use a primed canvas for your drawing. Just keep in mind that Conte crayons are better suited for hatched work, not bold lines (as with soft pastels). You’ll notice that many Conte artists use a tinted paper for their drawings, something to consider for a different look.
Conte Crayons versus Pastels and Charcoal
Although Conte crayons look similar to pastels, they are harder and waxier. This means they produce less dust and are easier to control. They actually produce a similar line as charcoal but since they are harder, lines with a Conte crayon will be finer. You’ll also notice that Conte crayons come in different colors but are most commonly found in natural browns, reds, tans, black, and white (great for highlighting). This makes Conte crayons perfect for figure drawing and portraits.
The square sticks are great for producing blocks of pigment, as you would with oil pastels. As mentioned previously, the harder crayon is also great for producing very fine lines. Conte colors are very easily blend-able (we recommend a blending stump) and since they aren’t powdery like charcoal, they work well in layers.
The typical Conte crayon is in a block stick form but it is possible to sharpen. Just use a little sandpaper to sharpen the stick to a chisel point. You can also break the sticks into smaller pieces that are easier to handle.
Working in a medium you’re not too familiar with doesn’t have to be all that scary. It’s important to understand what the medium is, how to use it, and the results it produces before you begin. We also recommend researching helpful techniques and example pieces for inspiration. So now that you know a little bit more about Conte crayons, will you be giving them a try? Let us know in the comments!