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As most artists know, crayons aren’t just for kids; high-quality versions are a drawing staple in many an adult toolbox. Perhaps the best known are Conté crayons, invented in the late 18th century. Composed of compressed graphite or charcoal mixed with clay, then colored with pigment, these sticks are ideal for creating drawings with intense tones. While traditionally available in darker shades such as grays and browns, they are today sold in many colors. Conté sticks are just one choice among a variety of artist-grade crayons that can be used for soft and smooth drawing. Explore your options by reading about our top picks, below.
From France come the original Conté crayons—versatile drawing tools ideal for spontaneous sketches, figure drawings, and other expressive mark making. Slightly firmer—and less dusty—than soft pastels, these compressed sticks of pigment, graphite, and clay give artists greater control over their strokes. Their skinny rectangular shape makes broad coverage and fine edges equally achievable. Available in a variety of colors, these crayons are ideal for adding highlights and other details to charcoal drawings, and colors are easily blendable. They’re available in sets of 4 up to 48, with some two-packs available for popular neutrals such as bistre and several sanguines.
Purchase: Conté Crayons, $2.98—$59.77 on Dick Blick
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Faber-Castell Pitt Crayons
Available in just black, dark sanguine, sepia roman, and Van Dyke brown, these crayons from Faber-Castell are great when you need a reliable range of earthy mid-spectrum colors. The firm sticks are oil-free but move smoothly on the page without scratching, and you can smudge strokes while retaining some definition. Like Conté crayons, they are narrow blocks that can be turned on the side to cover large areas quickly but also have defined edges for creating fine lines.
Purchase: Faber-Castell Pitt Crayons, $2.50—$3.50 on Dick Blick
ANOTHER GOOD OPTION
Although technically hard pastels, NuPastels act similarly to Conté crayons, and they’re a great alternative to those drawing sticks if you want to work with colors that have a bit more pop. The sticks are rich in pigment and display astounding color strength, and thanks to their slightly creamy consistency, they blend effortlessly. They’re also pretty tough: You can exert decent force to produce hard lines without having to worry about them crumbling—or worse, snapping.
Purchase: Prismacolor NuPastel, $13.39—$123.99 on Amazon
TOP OF THE LINE
Caran d’Ache Neocolor I Wax Pastels
Artists who love working in mixed media should consider these top-notch tools, which are often fondly referred to as “adult Crayolas.” They’re actually the best water-resistant crayons you can get. Loaded with pigment and buttery smooth, they have a personality similar to that of pastels in terms of their blendability and creaminess but have a firmer structure that resists crumbling. They lay down color that stays put even when covered with paint, so you can use them for underpainting inks, watercolors, acrylics, and more. Caran d’Ache offers a generous assortment of colors, and you can buy your favorite ones singly or in sets of 10 to 40 pieces.
Purchase: Caran d’Ache Neocolor I Wax Pastels, $2.25—$75.66 on Dick Blick
Yarka Assorted Sauce Classic Drawing Crayons
Never heard of sauce? You’re not alone. This centuries-old medium—a mixture of pigment with hasov-Yar clay and industrial carbon—is today relatively well known in Russia and nowhere else. It performs like the child of Conté and soft pastel, having a chalky but velvety, almost silky texture. Each package comes with 10 colors, including black, gray-green, gray-azure, ochre, bistre, and white. Many artists like to grind the sticks into powder, wet it, and use it to create washes in gorgeous tones. A secret sauce, indeed.
Purchase: Yarka Assorted Sauce Classic Drawing Crayons, $17.42 on Dick Blick