What are Conte crayons made of? Are Conte crayons the same as pastels?

What are Conte crayons made of? Are they the same as pastels? What is a binder in a Conte crayon and what paper should you use for them? The answers to these questions and more can be found below!

Conte crayons are made by compressing natural pigmented chalk (originally it was either iron oxide, titanium oxide or carbon black but now come in many colors), a fine clay (kaolin – the same stuff used in makeup), powdered graphite, mixed with gum and a little bit of grease or beeswax for a binder. They are then baked. The longer they are baked the harder they get.

They are harder than chalk and while originally found in black, browns and reds they now come in a wide variety of colors. They also work best on colored papers.

Conte crayons are what many call hard pastels or “chalk pastels” as they are sometimes referred to in a few countries, and what you need to know about them is that they can be used on any paper, including watercolor paper. They also blend well with other colors, so if you want to create a smooth transition from one color to another then this might just be the tool for you!

Conte crayons can be used in a linear way for graphic effect and can give a paint like effect especially when smudged.

They were really popular with early artists because they produced strong lines and worked well for painting under drawings/preparatory drawings which were drawn in before painting. When used with white conte crayons, you could give the drawing the effect of depth and solidity to forms which could then be left as a drawing or painted over in oil paints.

Conte crayons really come into their own when used on darker papers.

Conte crayons

Are Conte crayons the same as pastels?

While Conte crayons look similar to chalk pastels, they are much harder and appear waxier such as oil pastels but they are not the same as oil pastels. I like to say they are what you would get if you mixed hard “chalk” pastels and oil pastels but the end result is even better.

Because they are waxier than “chalk pastels” they produce far less dust and are easy to use. The lines they produce are strong and some say they are similar to charcoal but with a finer line. Because you can manage Conte crayons so easily and the line they produce is so good, they are perfect for figure drawing and portraits.

Are Conte crayons hard pastels?

No, they aren’t as dry or brittle as “chalk pastel sticks” and have a waxy texture which I think is what people sometimes mistake for being “hard.” They also don’t break easily so can be used by children.

small conte crayons

Are Conte crayons safe?

Yes, Conte crayons are generally safe and non-toxic to use and I have never had any problems with them. I have touched my eye with them on my fingers by mistake and never had a reaction.

The binder, which could be beeswax, grease or oil are quite natural as well as being non-toxic.

They also produce less dust than “chalk pastels” so you are less likely to be breathing in any of the pigments or other materials that make up a Conte crayon.

The only thing that could make them unsafe is due to their size and hardness they need to be kept away from children under 3 years of age as they could be a choke hazard.

What paper is good for Conte crayon?

The paper is what makes the medium what it is and can vary greatly.

While Conte crayons produce the best effects on coloured paper with lots of tooth you can experiment on whatever paper you have for pastels and see if you like the end result.

Some paper to look out for are Canson Ingres Sheets, UArt sanded paper, Canson Mi-Teintes Pastels Paper or any paper you would use for “chalk pastels.

You will need to experiment with different kinds of paper and take into account that some papers may not be good for Conte crayons. I would recommend a medium tooth paper, not too smooth and definitely not too rough (as you would for oil pastels).

canson pastel paper for conte crayons

Are Conte crayons lightfast?

Yes and No. No because all wax colors contain some degree of pigment that doesn’t stand up well to direct sunlight. Yes, because some of my drawings made using Conte crayons have been sitting in a well lit room for years and I haven’t noticed any considerable fading. Ask me again in 70 years and my answer may be different!

Do Conte crayons smear?

No. Conte crayons are great for adding details to your drawings because they don’t smear or smudge (much) when you color over what has already been drawn in ink, but go ahead and experiment with it, try it out and see what you can achieve.

If you really try hard and you apply a lot of Conte crayon then you can actually smear and smudge the crayon but it needs to be an effort rather than accidental.

Do I need to apply a fixative to Conte crayons?

No. Conte crayons are made using a combination of natural pigments, binding agents and chalk so you don’t need to apply any fixative to keep them on the paper or to prevent smudging.

I do like to frame my pastels, chalks and Conte with glass once I am done. Only to protect them from malicious attack or accidental water damage.

What is difference between charcoal and Conte?

Charcoal comes from burned wood (like old school pencils) whereas Conte can be made of all kinds of waxes and pigments that give you a wide range of colors. White charcoal on the other hand are actually chalk or titanium dioxide.

This gives them different uses; while charcoal is good at making deep black lines Conté Crayons produce lighter shades better suited for shading purposes. And if the desired effect calls for light strokes, use Conte crayons instead.

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