Conté crayons

What Are Conte Crayons? The Conte Format Explained

We love exploring some of the more unusual formats and materials that some artists love to experiment with. What are Conte crayons? What results do they give? Some artists use Conte as their main medium, and these unique crayons definitely offer a unique experience.

In this guide, we explore the answers to your questions on Conte, as well as explaining they differ from other types of crayons or even charcoal. Technically, the format should be referred to as “Conté” crayons. It is a French name, which is why the accent is over the E. Phonetically, it is pronounced “con-tay”.

If you are looking to buy these today, you will usually see them marketed as “Conté à Paris”.

Conte crayons are a medium made out of compressed graphite and charcoal. This is combined with a base made of wax or clay, which keeps the materials bound together. The results tend to get confused with charcoal drawings a lot.

Conte crayons were invented in the 18th century by an artist called Nicolas-Jacques Conté. He was the first to combine clay with graphite. He did so because there was a shortage of graphite in France, and this way he needed less of it to get the same effect. Conte crayons became popular because they were cheap and easy to make.

Nicolas-Jacques was quite a character and is often credited with the invention of the pencil. He also lost one eye in an accident.

Buying Conte Crayons Today

Even though Conte crayons have a historic origin, they are still available today. Most of them are made in France, but Conte crayons can be bought all over the world.

Sketching Crayons – Black Conte Crayons

Conte crayons make a simple and convenient sketching medium. You can find black crayons here. These can be used for portraits, sketching and anything using greyscale.

The crayons are really soft. A lot of people love to use these for shading large areas quickly.

If you are creating pastel drawings, these can also be a great way to add further details. A lot of people combine the Conte crayon medium.

Colored Conte Crayons

Though the first Conte crayons made will have been black, you can now take advantage of a full range of colors. We recommend these Conte a Paris Color carre crayons. You can use the edges of the sticks for solid outlines, or you can use the broader areas for shading. You can even use the flat of these crayons. They’re incredibly versatile. Some people see Conte crayons as quite specialist, you’ll be amazed at how useful they can actually be.

What Are Conte Crayons Made Of?

These crayons are still made in a similar way to the original method. Conte is made out of a mix of graphite and clay. The hardness and colors can be varied to give different effects.

Can You Erase Conte Crayon?

Yes, you can erase Conte crayon in the same way that you can erase other graphite, such as pencils. Erasing becomes more difficult if you use a broad range of colors.

A lot of people choose Conte crayons as part of their sketching setup because they are easy to erase.

What Are Conte Pencils?

You might hear people talk of “Conte pencils”. These are almost the same thing. It’s a different, but very similar product. A Conte crayon can be sharpened, which means that it can be turned into more of a traditional pencil shape. Alternatively, you can buy specific Conte pencils. The sharper point is great for detail, and they are smaller and more portable. When you sharpen these pencils there is less risk of splintering.

Are Conte Crayons The Same as Pastels?

There are some reviews saying that if pastels and charcoals had a baby, it would be Conte. This is a fair analysis. Conte crayons and pastels are not the same things, though they are easily confused when you look at them.

Conte crayons are hard and waxy. They produce a lot less dust and debris. They also tend to have harder lines. This means that they are better for detail, and are great for portraiture or other detailed drawings. Pastels might not be suitable for the same uses.

The debate is not “Conte crayons vs Patels” as the two are not mutually exclusive. Having both in your set of art tools is a great idea to provide you with the most options possible.

Artists Who Use Conte Crayons

Georges Seurat might be the most famous historic user of Conte crayons. You can see a gallery of his work here. Seurat’s work can be found in the National Gallery in the UK, and elsewhere around the world.

There are a lot of artists out there using Conte crayons to great effect today, and there is an active Instagram hashtag (#contecrayons) where you can find some stunning work. This beautiful portrait by Lauren Ross is a great example.


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A post shared by Lauren Ross (@laurenr4444)

Lauren was kind enough to give us a quote about her use of Conte crayons, too: “I would say that Conte crayons are a great compromise between pastels and soft pencils. The selection of colors you usually buy them in offers a limited color palette that lets you focus on tone and texture. They also give a soft, timeless effect to your drawings. I especially love the terracotta red color.”

Are Conte Crayons Toxic?

We can’t speak for every type of Conte crayons. You need to check whenever you buy new art supplies, but most of the Conte crayons on the market are non-toxic.


For sketching, or ambitious portraits full of color, Conte crayons and even Conte pencils can be a superb tool and give you something a little different from traditional charcoals or pastels.

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