September 1997 Volume 19 Number 3

Categories of Wax-Based Drawing Media

by Margaret Holben Ellis and M. Brigitte Yeh

excerpted from "Wax Based Drawing Media--History, Technology and Identification: presented at AIC, June 1997

Colored Pencil

Other Terms: Crayon, colored crayon pencil, art pencil

History: Available since the early nineteenth century, a moderate range of 15-20 colors was manufactured in both America and Europe by the early 20th century. The pencils, however, were not highly pigmented and did not contain as much wax as today's products, nor were they marketed for artistic use. A circa 1905 catalogue refers to "commercial colors for checking and marking". By 1924, colored pencils in over 60 colors were being sold for artistic use by A.W. Faber; that same year Caran d'Ache, a leading manufacturer of artists' colored pencils, was founded in Switzerland, with Schwan Stabilo in Germany following a year later. In America, Berol Prismacolors, advertised for their velvety texture and wide range of laboratory tested colors, were introduced in 1938. Today's artists have at their disposal an enormous range of colored pencils to choose from, in both water and organic solvent soluble varieties, as well as a professional organization to represent their interests, The Colored Pencil Society of America.

Ingredients: Filler (kaolin, talc, chalk), colorant (pigment or dye), binding material (cellulose ethers, vegetable gums), wax (paraffin, beeswax, carnauba wax).

Method of Manufacture: Made in the same way as graphite pencils, except that the leads are not fired in a kiln, since this would alter the color of the pigments or dyes. Wax is either added to the mixture before it is extruded or the extruded leads are immersed in molten wax. The dried leads are usually encased in wooden shafts; earlier colored pencils were wrapped in peel-away paper casings.

Characteristics: Available in a wide range of colors. Lines may appear shiny or matte. Colored pencils do not smudge excessively, except for those intended to be dissolved in water or when the artist's hand or arm is resting over a drawn area. Efflorescence may be present. Fixative may have been applied to prevent efflorescence (manufacturer's recommendation). Soluble in aromatic hydrocarbons; may also be soluble in water. Many colors are light sensitive.

Example: Berol Prismacolor

Note: Highly glossy and waxy lines of colored pencil may be readily soluble in water if soap or other emulsifier has been added to the "lead" mixture. Many 20th century artists, Jackson Pollock for example, used both water and organic solvent sensitive pencils in the same composition.

Grease Pencil

Other Terms: Crayon, all-purpose wax pencil/crayon, marking pencil/crayon, industrial pencil/crayon, technical crayon, lumber crayon, checking crayon, cattle marker, railroad crayon, glass marking pencil/crayon, china marker, leather crayon, bowling alley crayon, rubber crayon, paper pencil.

History: Almost certainly available by the end of the 18th century, but not used for artistic purposes. Industrial crayons contained lead chromates and lead oxides for high pigmentation; many still do. In the United States, they were manufactured in the mid to late nineteenth century by many of the same companies who later entered the wax crayon market, for example Binney and Smith (Crayola) and the American Crayon Company (Prang). Grease pencils closely resemble lithographic crayons (see below). Artists' manuals today contain working techniques for grease pencils, however, they were not generally used until the mid-twentieth century for artistic purposes.

Ingredients: Wax (paraffin, beeswax, ceresin, carnauba, spermaceti), colorant (pigment or dye), tallow (beef or mutton), alkali (potassium carbonate), stearic acid, filler (talc, kaolin).

Method of Manufacture: Ingredients are mixed over heat until melted and then poured into molds. Usually wrapped in a simple paper label or in a peel-away paper casing, first introduced around the turn of the century by the Blaisdell Pencil Company.

Characteristics: Limited palette; high pigmentation (may contain chrome or lead). Same consistency as medium to hard grades of lithographic crayons. Lines appear "stickier" than colored pencil lines with a higher gloss. Lines may have "pick-up" at terminal ends or "puttying", a result of heat and friction. Tallow penetration and haloing over time. Efflorescence or wax bloom may be present. Soluble in aromatic hydrocarbons.

Example: Dixon China Marking

Lithographic Crayon

Other Terms: Crayon, lithographic chalk, lithographic pencil

History: Available since the invention of lithography in the 1790's May have been used as a drawing medium in the nineteenth century.

Ingredients: Wax (carnauba, beeswax), tallow, soap, lamp-black, natural resins (copal, shellac). Other ingredients mentioned include olive oil, graphite, stearic acid, saltpeter, lye.

Method of Manufacture: Ingredients are mixed, melted and molded into rectangular blocks or cast as thin leads and wrapped in peel-away paper casings.

Characteristics: Available in black in 5-7 hardnesses. "Pick-up" at terminal ends and "puttying" of softer grades. Scattered clumps of crayon from "piling". Can be very soft and greasy depending on grade. Softer grades smudge easily; harder grades resemble grease pencils. Tallow penetration and haloing over time. Efflorescence or wax bloom may be present. Soluble in aromatic hydrocarbons and water.

Example: William Korn Lithographic Crayon Paper Pencils #1-5

Wax Crayon

Other Terms: Crayon, drawing crayon, school crayon, Crayola (craie from French meaning "chalk" and ola from English meaning "oily"), creta levis (also, creta leavis or creta laevis, from Latin meaning "smooth chalk")

History: An outgrowth of the industrial crayon industry, wax crayons for drawing purposes were introduced first by Binney and Smith in 1903 (eight different colored Crayolas for a nickel). Prang quickly followed by introducing a comprehensive line of art supplies and educational system for schools. European manufacturers were the first to target artists as consumers of wax crayons.

Ingredients: Wax (paraffin, microcrystalline, polyethylene, beeswax, ozokerite, japan, carnauba), colorant (pigment or dye), stearic acid (palmitic acid), tallow (beef), filler (kaolin, talc). Water soluble wax crayons contain an emulsifier wax and polyethylene glycol.

Method of Manufacture: Molded or extruded (pressed through a die). Molded crayons contain lower m.p. waxes. Extruded or pressed crayons have more filler and are more dense, i.e., Kantrolls are three times heavier than molded crayons. "Hard" molded crayons contain polyethylene wax for greater breaking strength, smoother "lay down" and less "piling".

Characteristics: Characteristic odor. Oil penetration and haloing over time. "Sinking" of colorants. Efflorescence or wax bloom may be present. Fixative may have been applied to prevent efflorescence (manufacturer's recommendation). Soluble in aromatic hydrocarbons; some may be soluble in water. Many colors are light sensitive.


Binney and Smith Crayola (Hard Molded)
Caran d'Ache Neocolor I (Molded)
Dixon Ticonderoga Prang Crayonex (Molded)
Lyra-Bleistift Lyra Wax Giants (Pressed)
Dixon Ticonderoga Kantroll (Pressed)

Note: Caran d'Ache claims that Picasso used their Neocolor I crayons exclusively. In the movie, "Museum Without Walls", he can be seen surrounded by Caran d'Ache products.

Crayola estimates that by the age of ten, every American child has worn out 270 crayons.

A Yale University study ranked the smell of Crayolas among the 20 most recognizable scents in America.

In the mid 1920s, Binney and Smith introduced Munsell Perma Pressed Crayons which, along with Crayola, conformed to the Munsell Color System.

Oil Pastel

Other Terms: Crayon, pastel crayon, oil crayon, Cray-Pas

History: Introduced to Japanese children in 1925, Sakura's Cray-Pas was the earliest "oil pastel". The product was part of an educational campaign imitating western art education, aimed at elevating children's creativity by providing vivid colors in soft stick form. When first developed Cray-Pas contained coconut oil and paraffin which were sensitive to heat. As a result Sakura originally produced a "hard" Cray-Pas for summer and a "soft" version for winter months. In an effort to broaden its market base, Sakura has commissioned several well known artists to use Cray-Pas. The Sakura Art Museum was founded in 1992 in Osaka to showcase artworks done with Sakura Art Products. In the United States, a similar product, Prang Sketchos, was introduced in 1940.

Ingredients: Wax (paraffin, microcrystalline), filler (calcium carbonate), tallow (beef, mutton), oil (mineral, coconut), glycerol, stearic acid, colorant (pigment or dye).

Method of Manufacture: Ingredients are mixed and extruded or a colored stick of inert filler is impregnated with oil, wax and tallow.

Characteristics: Available in a wide palette. Oil penetration and haloing over time. "Sinking" of colorants. Lines are softer and fluffier; some impasto effects are possible. Some smudging but not as extreme as unfixed pastel. Efflorescence or wax bloom may be present. Fixative may have been applied to prevent efflorescence and smudging (manufacturer's recommendation). Soluble in aromatic hydrocarbons. Many colors are sensitive to light.

Sakura Cray-Pas
Dixon Ticonderoga Prang Sketcho

Paint Stick

Other Terms: Crayon, oil stick, tubeless oil paint, Paintstik, oil painting stick, encaustic stick

History: Available commercially since 1966; homemade versions existed earlier.

Ingredients: Drying oil (linseed, poppy), wax (paraffin), colorant (pigment or dye).

Method of Manufacture: The colorant is mixed with linseed oil and melted wax and poured into molds.

Characteristics: Now available in over thirty colors. A strong and lingering odor of linseed oil. Oil penetration and haloing over time. "Sinking" of colorants. A tough film may form over thicker layers of medium. Tacky surface attracts dust. Impasto effects are possible. Efflorescence or wax bloom may be present. May be delaminating from support. Soluble in aromatic hydrocarbons.

Example: Markal Shiva Artist's Paintstik


Other terms: Lip rouge

History: Refined during the Eighteenth century in France, lipstick has been used by artists either due to contingency (Helen Frankenthaler) or as a feminist statement (Rachel Lachowicz, Pat Lasch).

Ingredients: Filler (titanium dioxide), oil (castor, corn, cocoa butter), stearic acid, wax (paraffin, petrolatum, ozokerite, ceresin, candlelilla, beeswax, carnauba), colorant (pigment or dye).

Method of Manufacture: Ingredients mixed, melted and molded.

Characteristics: Limited palette. Extremely streaky and greasy. Oil penetration and haloing over time. "Sinking" of colorant. Smudges easily. "Pick-up" and "puttying" of lines. Soluble in aromatic hydrocarbons. Light sensitivity unknown.

Note: Rachel Lachowicz's lipstick sculptures are said to be "stabilized with paraffin", which suggests that a higher m.p. synthetic wax has been added.

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