Crayons: Nope, Not Just for Kids

Most of us probably moved on from crayons after elementary school, but let's not sell these waxy wonders short. With the right techniques and some imagination, you can do plenty with the humble stubs. The best part? Crayons are dirt cheap — even for those massive boxes with dozens of colors you drooled over as a kid. You can draw for months on about $5 or $10 worth of supplies.

Here are a few things I discovered in my experiments:

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

When you color with crayons, the paper scrapes off just a little wax with each stroke, creating a faint surface mark. 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. (And now that you're a big, strong grown-up that shouldn't be a problem!) The two secrets to full coverage: more pressure and cross hatching.

2. Even a limited palette can go far

When you're only armed with a few hues — maybe it's a four-pack of cheapo crayons, like the kind that you get at a restaurant to color the kid's menu — use this seeming limitation to push your creativity. I'm 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 color 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.

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.

But when you color with, say, a hot pink over a turquoise, something cool and unexpected happens. Because of the way the wax catches on paper but slides smoothly across other 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 worth the effort.

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.

When you draw lightly and let 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.

The result: It's unlike any other medium, and it's kind of hard to describe. (And hard to resist, right?) 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 with tiny marks appearing as broad strokes from afar.

So, spend some time getting reacquainted with the simple crayon — whether or not you have kids in your life. Who knows? You may discover a new passion for working with kids' supplies. (But please, don't eat the Play-Doh.)

October 04, 2015
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Crayons: Nope, Not Just for Kids