Waxy Drawing Materials

(Excerpts from ART HARDWARE: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials, by Steven Saitzyk © 1987)

Waxy drawing materials are relatively modern and differ from dry drawing materials in two fundamental ways-they cannot be blended easily unless a solvent is used, and drawings done with waxy materials have more durable surfaces. It is basically a trade off-durability for blending.

The basic recipe for a waxy drawing material is to mix a coloring material with a filler, then add a lubricant and a binder. The coloring material, or pigment, may be water soluble or not, depending on whether the blending solvent is water or organic (mineral spirits or turpentine). The filler is usually clay or talc. The lubricant is a natural wax, if blending is to be done with an organic solvent, or a fatty acid, if blending will be done with water. The binder may be fatty acid or wax, as well as gum tragacanth or methyl cellulose. The mixture is blended and is not fired.

It is important to note that all drawings done with waxy drawing material must be fixed with a fixative or a final protective coating. This prevents the tendency of wax to rise slowly to the surface of the drawing, giving a chalky, or milky, apperance.

Oil Pastels

Oil pastels are a cross between wax crayons and encaustic (wax) paint in stick form. The amount of wax used in oil pastels varies considerably from brand to brand. With more wax, the pastel is greasier and less dusty, and is also much less subject to mechanical blending. Oil pastels were originally made by first mixing pigments into a solution consisting of a slow drying oil, such as poppy oil, and mastic resin dissolved in turpentine. This mixture was then given body by the addition of wax so that it could be shaped into sticks. As the turpentine evaporated, the sticks hardened. This recipe produces a high-quality oil pastel with a limited shelf life. Today, virtually all oil pastels are primarily made with pigment dissolved into a fossil wax. Some brands have a small amount of a nondrying oil, such as mineral oil, to improve the shelf life. Consistency varies greatly among brands and you should experiment to find the brand that best suits you. Oil pastels can be blended easily with a brush soaked in turpentine or mineral spirits.

Several years ago, almost all the oil pastels on the American market were of poor quality and lightfastness, and were primarily designed for use by children. This was not because there were no professional artists’ pastels manufactured, but because it was felt there was no market for them in this country. Today, several professionalquality brands can be found. The Holbein Company offers two hundred and twentyfive colors that are rated for lightfastness. They are less waxy and have a consistency closer to a soft pastel than most other brands. The Sennelier Company makes seventy-two colors, twenty-four of which are iridescent. They are also introducing a jumbo version, approximately 1’/4 inches in diameter and 3’h inches long, in selected colors. These oil pastels contain a small amount of mineral oil, which increases shelf life and eases application; however, the drawing’s surface does not harden for a long time and should not be painted over with oil paints or encaustic (wax) paint materials. Many manufacturers make both professional and nonprofessional oil pastels. The labeling is often unclear as to which is which, so you should ask before you make a selection.

Paint Sticks

Currently there are two types of paint sticks available-pigment in wax and pigment in acrylic lacquer. The first type is just a giant oil pastel called a paint stick.

Paintstiks, made by Markall for the Shiva Company, is a widely available brand of paint stick. It comes in twenty-seven conventional colors, six fluorescent colors, which are not lightfast, white, black, gold, silver, and a colorless blender. There is a skin over the surface of the stick that has to be peeled away or dissolved with thinner before use. The skin will re-form when not in use. Paintstiks work equally well as encaustic paint or as oversized oil pastels. They dry to the touch in approximately twenty-four hours, but, like any encaustic, they take several years to cure and harden fully. Paintstiks may be used in mixed media drawing; however, in mixed media painting they should be treated as an encaustic paint, and are best used over dry oil paint or under oil paint mixed with a wax medium.

There is currently only one brand of acrylic lacquer paint stick on the market. The Edding 650 Grafic Painter is available in eighteen colors, white, and black. The Sakura Company will soon be introducing a larger version. These paint sticks appear to have stronger colors, which is probably due to the absence of wax. Their consistency is that of lipstick. They may be blended mechanically while they are still wet, but cannot be blended with solvents wet or dry. Acrylic lacquer paint sticks dry in fifteen minutes after application. Although they cannot be blended into such other wet media as oil paint, they can safely be used under oil paint or over dry oil paint.


The difference between a crayon and an oil pastel is that the crayon is harder and often has a great deal more filler, which may be either wax or clay or both. Crayons are composed primarily of kaolin (white clay), wax or fatty acids, and dyes. School, or children’s, crayons are not for professional use because they are not designed to meet the artist’s need for lightfastness and permanence. One product, Caran D’Ache (forty colors), is popular among both children and professionals, although several of the blues and violets did not pass our tests for lightfastness. Artists occasionally complain about many brands that claim lightfastness yet seem to have a few colors that do not hold up well over time. Consequently, I recommend that when you buy a set of crayons, you do your own test. Simply take a piece of drawing paper, preferably bristol, and apply each color so that when the paper is cut in half each sample of color will also be cut in half. Place one half in direct sunlight for several weeks and store the other half in the dark. At the end of the test put each half together and compare them. This simple test will indicate the colors to avoid.

There are several crayons currently available that claim to meet minimum standards for professional use. Among these are Berbl Art Stix (sixty colors matching Prismacolor Pencils) and Derwent (seventy-two colors), which are simply blocks, or sticks, of the same material the manufacturer uses in making its pencils. These crayons are made for working in larger areas than are practical with pencils, yet they are much firmer than oil pastels and can be sharpened. Caran D’Ache offers water-soluble crayons as well as wax crayons.

Colored Pencils

Colored pencils were originally developed for the illustrator and graphic artist. The development of the New Realism art movement has given new respectability to the colored pencil as a material for fine artwork. Colored pencils have been used to create detailed drawings that in many ways resemble paintings in egg tempera.

Colored pencils are produced in the same way as crayons, and the same precautions regarding quality and lightfastness must be taken into, account when selecting a brand. Prismacolor Pencils (sixty colors), Derwent No. 19 Artist Pencils (seventy-two colors), and Caran D’Ache are popular pencils that are said to meet minimum standards for the artist’s use. Caran D’Ache produces water-soluble pencils as well as pencils that can be blended with an organic solvent. Prismacolor and No. 19 Artist Pencils blend only with organic solvents. The wax pencils may be used ‘ as a colored resist for the water-soluble pencils, so that when water is used for blending, the areas covered with wax pencil will remain undisturbed.