Exploring Conte Crayons – Experimental Recipe for Fine artists and Clay artists

Conte crayons, paper & clay slabs

Exploring Conte Crayons 

by http://www.pistrucciartworks.com/

Although most of us have explored the pastel/crayon/chalk aisle of the local art supply center, we might not have had experience with conte crayons or conte pencils. And few know any history or application of these wonderfully versatile and stable materials.

First invented over 250 years ago to supplement the softer pastel sticks being made and to offer a less fragile end product, the conte crayons of today are made of highly refined materials. Kaolin clay (a product fine enough to be used in quality cosmetics) and pure pigments are compacted to create an extraordinarily rich and smooth graphic material. These crayons are harder and thinner (approximately 1/4″ by about 2½”) than traditional pastels but offer a product that is ideally suited for drawing and sketching on a wide variety of surfaces. They can be blended with paper stumps and removed with a kneaded eraser.

Adored by portrait artists because they hold their edge and can be “pointed” for extremely fine detail work, conte crayons are the perfect addition to any artist’s sketch box. Able to overlay traditional pastel and other graphic media, they are often used to make corrections or to add detail to works in progress. Several color assortments are also available in pencil form. Because of their hardness, conte pastel pencils are premier tools for controlled detail work.


Conte Crayons for Fine Artists

Although I am still in the development stage of this recipe I am including it for artists who may wish to experiment further with this process. I have been very excited about my research so far and the quality of marks that I have been getting with my conte crayons on paper. Artist may be aware of their process in creating their art but tend to buy products ready made. Although this is convenient and for many sufficient there is restrictions to every medium and material. If you create your own art supplies you can alter the ingredients and process which will  allow more freedom in your materials and mediums. Your art supplies will work for you rather than against you.  Artist materials are generally a mixture which includes— a pigment (colorant), binding agent and strengthening material and a process (mixing, baking etc). The binding materials are generally wax, gum solution, plaster of paris, cornstarch, and fine clay (kaolin and ball clay mixture). For this recipe I have chosen to use fine clay as a binding agent for its transluscent, water soluble and color qualities.

Not to mention it is historically a favourite of many of the masters and was developed originally by Francois Jean Conte in the 1795 as a replacement for graphite. 

link here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cont%C3%A9
Conté, also known as Conté sticks or Conté crayons, are a drawing medium composed of compressed powdered graphite or charcoal mixed with a wax or clay base, square in cross-section. They were invented in 1795 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté, who created the combination of clay and graphite in response to the shortage of graphite caused by the Napoleonic Wars (the British naval blockade of France prevented import). Conté crayons had the advantage of being cost-effective to produce, and easy to manufacture in controlled grades of hardness. They are now manufactured using natural pigments (iron oxidescarbon blacktitanium dioxide), clay (kaolin), and a binder (cellulose ether).[1]

Conte Crayon recipe is as follows:

100 grams ball clay
[or you may experiment with a mixture of kaolin & ball clay]
3 grams macaloid

[ OR 5 grams bentonite]

up to 25% pigment depending on strength of color desired.


Mix dry ingredients in a small container. Add a very small amount of water until the mixture is a dry oatmeal texture. Pour onto a piece of wax paper and knead into a ball. If it requires more liquid use a spray bottle on fine mist and continue to knead until it holds together well. You can roll the mixture into any shape or use a rolling pin and cut the mixture into long thin squares or roll out into long rounded shapes. Cut into lengths desired. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes for soft crayons for harder crayons bake for 20 minutes on a metal cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. If you prefer a very soft crayon let dry without baking in the oven. Conte crayons can be sharpened with a good quality pencil sharpener. Save the shavings to experiment with painting and washes.

Such as Mason stains, wedgewood blue is very popular as well as Yellow ochre & red iron oxide stains are used to achieve the sanguine colors

Pigments may be mixed for color variations.

The conte crayons are also water soluble for washes.

(All of these ingredients can be found at a local pottery supply store).

For Charcoal Black Conte: 

50 grams ball clay

3grams macaloid or 5 grams bentonite
1 tsp Black Stain (non toxic)

20 grams charcoal powder

follow mixing instructions as above – still in the development stage but you can alter the ingredients to suit your specific requirements for your artwork.

I was very pleased with how the homemade conte flowed on the paper and smudged – when applied to the paper it smudged, erased and adhered very well to different types of paper. The conte also was water soluble and behaved like watercolor paint making beautiful washes.  I have yet to add gum solution to see how that would effect the pigment as a medium.

Conte Crayons For Ceramic Artists : Use to draw on Bisque claywork prior to glaze application and firing in a kiln.

Excerpt from Ceramicsartdaily.org

Ceramic Conte Recipe

White Ball Clay 50%

Potash Feldspar 25%

Silica 25%


Macaloid 03%

or 5% Bentonite

Colorant up to 15%

Sieve dry through 80 mesh.

Color oxides/mineral colorants and stains

Mix with 45% water

to which a solution of 1% sodium silicate per 100 gms of dry powder.

Form into rolls or squares cut to lengths.

Fire 800′ -950′

1472’F – 1742′ F

low softer – higher harder

Note***** For very soft crayons Bake in an oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes [or if you prefer harder crayons bake for 20 minutes] on a metal cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. If you prefer a very soft crayon let dry without baking in the oven. Conte crayons can be sharpened with a good quality pencil sharpener. Save the shavings to experiment with painting and washes.

Place in a claw grip /drafting pencil up to 1/4” thickness

To reduce smudging before glazing mix 1 tbsp gum solution to 1 pt water in spray bottle. Lightly mist work prior to glazing.

For Pastels or soft fired crayons

Porcelain slip (white) 50gms

add 3% macaloid or 5% bentonite

Mix with stain, oxides, mineral colorants. Use in greenware state or fire 1112′ (600’C) or 1472′ (800”C). Maximum 15% stain or colorant added to mixture.


One comment on “Exploring Conte Crayons – Experimental Recipe for Fine artists and Clay artists

  1. […] Exploring Conte Crayons – Experimental Recipe for Fine artists and Clay artists […]

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