It’s Official: Drawing With Crayons Is Artist Approved!

Crayons spilling from a box

Unusual and comical names. Warm candle-like smells. Scumbling and sliding across the paper. Peeling back the wrapper to reveal more of that colorful, glossy wax. Ahh.

Crayons are a comforting and nostalgic medium to work with, surely. But they are also capable of a surprising range of texture and color and richness that you may have never discovered as a kindergartener.

When my daughter was small, I found myself scrunched at her tiny drawing table sketching alongside her as she discovered the joys of a new box of crayons. I thought I understood what a crayon could do, but as I sat and experimented, I found that there was more to the crayon than I thought possible.

The best part? The crayons and the printer paper I was (and still am) drawing on are super cheap. You can draw for months on about $5 or $10 worth of supplies.

Here are a few things I discovered in my experiments of drawing with crayons.

1. You can get a deep, rich, saturated mark from a stick of wax

Experimenting saturation with crayon coverage

When you color with crayons, the paper scrapes off just a little wax with each stroke. The microscopic texture of the page catches the edge of the crayon and pulls a bit of color. To fill in the deeper grooves of the paper, you have to stick with it and press a little harder.

That means you can get a rich layer of color from a crayon — it just takes a little more elbow grease. More pressure and cross hatching are the secrets to full coverage. However, it might be more work than it’s worth. In my opinion, there are other ways to get that same richness, and this is probably not the right tool for that kind of mark.

2. A limited palette can go far

Two-color crayon palette

When you get those four-packs of cheap crayons at a restaurant — the ones made for coloring the kid’s menu — it can feel disappointing at first. However, limitations are a great way to push your creativity for unexpected possibilities. I am a big fan of limited color illustration, and using just two or three colors can force you to see your drawings in a new way.

Think of an image in terms of white, medium and dark. Then, choose just two colors to work with: the darkest crayon makes the darkest marks, the lighter crayon fills in the midtones and the paper becomes (most likely) the lightest colors in the palette. This can create a striking, graphic drawing. It cranks up the contrast and has a sort of film noir feel to it.

The completed drawing of a fire hydrant

3. Amazing things happen when you mix colors in unusual ways

There are other ways to mix up a limited palette, too. While working with just one or two colors are worthwhile approaches, mixing colors can be even more interesting. It’s not such a big leap to overlay some yellow with some green, or to put a variety of blues together, for example.

Layering unusual color combinations

But when you color with hot pink over that turquoise, something cool and unexpected happens. Because of the way the wax catches on the tooth of the paper but slides across the wax, the second color only fills in the spaces of still-bare paper. You’ll need to apply a little more pressure to work into the paper’s micro-texture, but the results are interesting and quite possibly worth the effort this time.

4. Look at crayons in a new light

Instead of trying to get crayons to fill in every nook and cranny of the paper, you can let a crayon act like what it really is: a rather rigid stick of wax.

By drawing lightly and letting the color build up slowly, the crayons can act almost like watercolor paint.

The crayon colors can build, overlay and blend as you add more to the drawing.

And the final color effects can look, unlike almost any other medium. Because the wax resists previous layers of color, tiny specs of pigment in a variety of colors can sit next to each other.

Up close, a crayon drawing almost appears like one of Georges Seurat’s stippled paintings.

The finished rooster drawing, rendered entirely in crayons on printer paper

Spend some time experimenting with the simple crayon. The nostalgia of running crayons along some regular old paper makes the experiment fun, but you can also try out strange and interesting color combinations for next to nothing. If you keep experimenting with your kids’ crafting supplies, you might find more unusual (and cheap!) tools to sneak into your own studio.

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