Conte pencil review

29 Jan

Guest blog post by Design Team member Pat Mathes

Comments in italics by Deb


This month, Deb gave me the Conte a Paris pastel chalk pencils.  Happy, happy me!  I love working with pastel chalk pencils.


Any time you start working with colored pencils of any type, whether they be pastel chalk or wax-based, you should make a color chart of how the colors look on paper.  You can’t always go by the color of the pencil itself as it often is different when applied on paper.  Another thing to keep in mind is that the paper you are using will also have an effect on the way the color looks.  So it is always good to have a sample piece of the paper to see how the color works.  Here is a picture of my color chart with the Conte pencils, a set of General pastel pencils and a couple of others.
Picture 1


Pastel chalk pencils are wonderful tools of art to work with.  They blend easily, both with other colors and single color.  They can have very vibrant colors – I was surprised at the intensity of the color in the Conte pencils – or they can be muted and pastel.  The Conte colors I was given are very strong colors and I found that when I used them on black, I did not have to undercoat with white like with other brands or with wax-based colored pencils.  They feel like cream as you are layering them.  Once in a while I got a gritty feel to the point that felt like it was scratching, but used an emery board and lightly sanded it off.


As you are blending with the Conte pencils, you can mix two colors and using the lighter one, make the two blend together.  Or you can use two colors and then use white to blend them.  You can use white over a single color to blend it, and then use the color over it to highlight parts.  I learned to use the pastel pencils instead of graphite to shade zentangle drawings in some organic pieces.   This technique can make some beautiful pieces on tan and gray papers.  I teach this method in Experience the Blues, coming up in March.   (Pat teaches a number of classes at the shop)


The first project I undertook was a wonky house picture I have been wanting to create.  I had seen a couple of them done by other artists and they intrigued me.  I thought the chalks might work with it so started with a simple sketch of a street scene.  Once I had a light graphite sketch on paper, I started layering colors.  The first time around was just putting color on the page.  I then sprayed with Krylon workable fixative.  This is a re-workable spray that eliminates smudging and protects the work you have already done.  You always want to use the fixative in a very well-ventilated area.  During the winter, I walk into the garage to use it.  One that dried, I then started working on layers and blending, highlighting.  I will warn you working with chalk is challenging in one big way – it is easy to smear on your paper.  That being said, you will be blowing on your paper a lot.  I have large fingers so it isn’t easy for me to blend with my fingers – I use a blending tool like with pan pastels, or a cotton swab.  I have some cosmetic swabs that have a paddle end and a pointed end.  I also lay a paper under my hand as I work so that my hand doesn’t smear.  I do tend to hold the chalk pencils about half way back on the pencil so it doesn’t smear as badly.  The good thing is that you can use an eraser on chalk.  It will take most of it away, and the eraser can be used to highlight areas and bring the color of the paper through.  Once I had the colors the way I wanted, I sprayed again with the fixative and let it dry.  I then took a black Stabilo All pencil and added some outlines, and a water brush to make it messy looking.  I didn’t want straight lines.  I was using it as kind of a dimension tool.  It is difficult to use other pens on top of the chalks – you can do it in small areas, but it can clog the points.  Sometimes with using fixative, you can use pens but the fixative does also clog the nibs a bit. (unfortunately a lot of things clog up the tips of pens)
Picture 2


Next, Johanna Basford’’s coloring book, Secret Garden.  I picked a floral page and started coloring the page entirely with pastel chalk pencils.  What a relaxing, wonderful evening that was.  Again, you have to be very careful about smearing.  Definitely a paper under your hand.  I always work from the left side of the paper to the right (I am right-handed).  That helps eliminate some of the smearing. Once I had an initial layer of color, I applied fixative to preserve to that point.  I then started shading and highlighting with the pastels.  In this one I used the black pastel chalk to lightly outline some areas to give weighting and dimension.  For the final touch, I applied some gelly roll highlights to flower centers.


Secret Garden page


The last project I worked on black artagain paper.  I drew a butterfly with White Signa Uniball pen (another great product).  I then used the pastel chalk pencils to shade, color and highlight.  I even used some black pastel chalk to clean up a couple of areas and to see if it would stand out when I scanned the photo.  The pastels work well on Artagain paper.  The big thing I realized with the Conte pencils was that I didn’t have to do an undercolor of white to make the colors come through.  They are intense and vibrant enough to show up on the black.  Note: When I used General pastel pencils on black, they were much more muted and I put white under them and still they were muted.  The picture did not have the vibrancy of the Conte pencils.  So working on black, I will definitely use the Conte pencils in the future.  In the pictures below, the floral one is done using the General’s brand of pastel pencils, and the butterfly is with the Conte brand.


Generals chalk drawing



My final thoughts on the Conte a Paris pastel chalk pencils.  I really like them.  The only downfall I had with them was that gritty piece once in a while that I had to scrape clear.  But that was just a minor inconvenience. They go on easily and blend wonderfully.  The intensity of the colors made me very pleased.  I will be looking to purchase some additional colors of these.



Thanks Pat for a fabulous review of these pencils. I don’t think a lot of people have heard of them before. I haven’t played with them yet, but I certainly intend to now that I see such a glowing review.

I do have Conte pencils in the shop, as well as General’s chalk pencils and the Stabillo All pencils. All are great to use, each giving you different results. And with any chalk or pencil art, the workable fixative is a must.  I apologize that all these products are not on the website, however you can always call me and place an order. 🙂


Let Your Inner Artist out to Play

Blue Twig Studio – 5039 N Academy Blvd – Colorado Springs, CO 80918



2 Responses to “Conte pencil review”

  1. claywithme January 30, 2016 at 8:58 am #

    Great article, Pat. I loved your instructionals and your artwork! Thank you for evaluating this product and sharing.


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