Font Size
Return to Previous Page

Crayon as seen through the microscope. The field of view 3/4" in diameter.


In earlier periods and in other languages, the word “crayon” refers to a miscellany of dry drawing materials—pencils, chalks and pastels. Today, in English, the term “crayon” is associated with waxy or greasy drawing sticks. Crayon lines characteristically hold their shape, producing a rich saturated tone that resists blending. This quality encourages the artist to work in a linear fashion or to build up solid areas of tone through repeated application. As seen to the left, black crayon has accumulated along the peaks of parallel ridges in the sheet of laid paper.

Crayons were manufactured to meet the artist’s need for a material of intense color and rich body—these include lithographic, Conté, and wax crayons. The black greasy crayons developed for lithography in the late century contain waxes, tallow, resin binders, and lamp black pigment. Conté crayon, developed in France between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, is the brand name for a more lightly bound crayon that consists of compressed pigments, clay, and a small amount of greasy binder. Introduced for drawing in the early twentieth century, wax crayons such as the familiar Crayola® brand incorporate waxes, colorants, fillers, and lubricants.

Conté and lithographic crayons with their characteristic strokes are shown above. The Conté crayons available today, shown at top right, have a chalk-like appearance when applied.


Examples from the Collection


Man in a Café
Man in a Café, 1911-1912
Juan Gris (José Victoriano González Pérez), Spanish
Conte crayon on laid paper
Sheet: 22 × 16 1/2 inches (55.9 × 41.9 cm)
A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1952
[ More Details ]

When the Spanish born French artist, Juan Gris, arrived in Paris in 1906, he wrote that he "fell straight into the studio of Picasso," his fellow countryman and mentor, and embraced the birth of Cubism. Gris imposed a Cubist structure on real objects that transformed them by fracturing the subject into facets, as in his drawing of Man at Café, an early study for the 1912 painting, also in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (seen below). In this drawing, Gris used crisp well-defined lines of black crayon to define the forms, and dense webs of crosshatched lines to build-up broad areas of tone.

In Gris' drawing and in Seurat's Trombonist, the crayon holds its shape without any dusting or smudging, and adheres to the raised texture of the paper surface. Otherwise the two artists use the material quite differently: Gris used the firm point of a crayon to build a composition of pure line, while Seurat accomplished form solely through tonal modulation.

Trombonist (Study for "Circus Side Show")
Trombonist (Study for "Circus Side Show"), 1887-1888
Georges Seurat, French
Conte crayon with white chalk on laid paper
Sheet: 12 1/4 × 9 3/8 inches (31.1 × 23.8 cm)
The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986
[ More Details ]

Georges Seurat used soft repeated strokes of black Conté crayon to build gradations of tone on the textured paper, creating this image of a Trombonist without the use of line. The artist used the small raised peaks of the paper texture to achieve effects similar to the pointillism in his paintings. Although he generally left areas of the paper bare to create highlights, as in the stagelights along the top of this sheet, he also applied white chalk to delineate the slide of the trombone, seen at the center of the composition. This drawing served as a preparatory study for the center third of the painting Circus Side Show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Return to Previous Page