I ordered this set of Conté Crayons from Jerry’s Artarama to push my order over the line into the next discount bracket, which effectively made the box free. I thought the little drawer-based box was cute, and as I hadn’t tried any Conté products before, I wanted to see what they were like.
The full range has about 80 colours with a decent variety of hues. Here’s the colour chart for the 18 colours I have (the small brown sketching box contains duplicates of the white, black and two browns in my larger set).
Though they’re called Conté “Crayons”, these are not crayons at all. They are actually hard pastels like the Derwent or Faber-Castell pastels. I suspect they’re also similar to the Cretacolor hard pastels, though I haven’t tried those. They feel about the same as the FC ones, a little smoother than Derwent pastels. Even though they’re firm, they are still smooth to draw with, and easy to blend by rubbing slightly with a finger.
As I mentioned in my review for the Derwent pastels, the Derwent pastels seem to have been discontinued (both in sets and in open stock), and the Faber-Castell pastels have had their range slashed from 120 to 60 and are seemingly now only available in sets, not individually. Conté Crayons, on the other hand, are available in open stock and in sets. For this reason, Conté Crayons are worth looking into if you like using hard pastels, as it’ll be easy to replace a colour or buy a set if you need to; at around the $2.50 mark per ‘crayon’ (depending on where you buy them) the price between Conté Crayons and Faber-Castell pastels (if you can even find the latter) is negligible.
I haven’t done a proper lightfastness test, but I did have a sketch I did with these sticks many years ago which I’d left sitting on the sidebench in the spare room and promptly forgotten about. When I came back to it a bit under a year later, I couldn’t see any noticeable fading. Though it wasn’t in direct bright sunlight, it was still a reasonably sunny room, so the fact there was no fading suggests that their lightfastness is at least reasonable (though I’d want to do a proper test with some swatches in my front window to confirm).
Here’s a little sketch I did today with the Conté Crayons.
Whether you want some hard pastels to use under softer pastels or just to use on their own for quick pastel sketches, Conté Crayons are a solid investment. The compact size of the sets makes them excellent for drawing on the go, and their texture allows for fine detailed lines as well as smooth blends. It’s worth buying a small set to add to your drawing supplies and see if you like them enough to upgrade to a larger set.