What are Conté Crayons?

Conté crayons were developed in the 18th century by Nicolar-Jacques Conte, a French scientist, in response to a shortage of graphite. He set out to design a pencil that could be made with a small percentage of graphite, which would allow him to make it from materials obtained in France.

The result was a mixture of clay and graphite that was fired to achieve a hard texture. Artists adopted these crayons, which are available today at many art supply stores.

The traditional colors of Conté crayons were black, red, and brown.

The reddish sepia tone is sometimes called sanguine and was used by many old masters in preliminary sketches and drawings. Modern versions come in a variety of colors, although some artists prefer to stick to traditional colors, focusing on shading and design nuances rather than bold colors.

A skilled artist can achieve very subtle shading, creating almost photo-realistic work with these drawing tools.

The design of Conté crayons is sometimes compared to pastels. Both are solid pigment sticks that are applied directly to paper. However, crayons are much harder than pastels or embers, and produce sharp, narrow lines, rather than the more blotchy look that pastel users are familiar with.

Using Conté crayons, an artist can achieve subtle shading variations in clear, distinct drawings.

Also like pastels and charcoals, they can stain fingers, and art produced with them is usually treated to prevent the pigment from rubbing off.

Thick papers are often used with Conté crayons as they pick up pigment better than smooth or glossy papers. They are also used to make sketches on canvas that will later be painted.

Artists can also use one as a drawing pencil, if they want a different color or level of hardness. Some artists may also choose to use colored paper to achieve a specific desired look.

The modern Conté crayon is long and square in cross section. As it is used, the stick slowly erodes and should not require any sharpening.

Manufacturers also offer them in varying degrees of hardness, allowing artists to use the crayons for softer lines and more delicate shading.

They are sold both individually and in boxes, and many art supply stores carry a large number of individual black, brown, and red Conté crayons, as these colors are in high demand.

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