View Full Version : What is the difference between pastel and conte?

03-31-2009, 07:44 AM
Hi all
I think that pastel and conte are the same thing, but I am not sure. Isn't conte just a brand (where is that accent on the e on my computer?)? Or is conte a very hard pastel? Why are there people like Marina Dieul who make amazing paintings, who say they use conte? Usually people who say they use conte, mean they only use those square crayons with sanguine in it. Isn't that a pastel??

Brands like Talens and Cretacolor produce square pastels and call them conte and they produce 'round' pastels which they call pastel.....Some say conte has chalk in them (and pastel has not) and others say conte has graphite and clay in them.....
What is the difference??

Please help if you know the answer.....


03-31-2009, 09:26 AM
Sophie, this is stirring an ant's nest! Clearly, manufacture of pastels are not standardized.

Many of the pastels we use do include small amounts of chalk, and talc. And binders, like gum traganth. In good pastels these are used to even out quality and feel between different pigments, for example. Some brands do not equalize their sticks, so you may have a very soft green, but a rather hard red.

Conté, the classical ones in brown/sanguine/red/white/black, may have clay or graphite in them. Clay makes them harder and more transparent, and graphite make them feel 'oilier'. There are other stuff in them too, but memory fails me. I'm sure you'll get better answers from others.

Did you do a search? I seem to remember this has been asked before, but I'm not sure.

03-31-2009, 05:13 PM
This link gives a reasonably good definition of Conte.


03-31-2009, 06:20 PM
Not sure if the terminology is the same around the world, but square pastels (as those made by Cretacolor) are often called "carre" (yes, with the accent on the e), carre being a french term for square (from what I read, anyway).

Conte can be a confusing term because it refers to the pigment plus clay square sticks (Conte Crayons) that we are probably all familiar with. But Conte is also the name of the company - and (though they are not readily available in the US) they also make soft pastels. The Conte pastels are not the same as their traditional Conte crayons.

I hope this is accurate!


03-31-2009, 07:40 PM
Don, that does make sense. I used the Conte colors as hard pastels and enjoy them immensely, they're like Nupastels and have a slightly nicer texture with very rich easily mixable colors. Conte's a brand. I've been thinking of getting the Cretacolor Pastel Carre set too sometime since those are similar.

Pastels come in hard, medium, soft, pencils and pans. There's a wide variety of products that are all pigment with minimal binder applied dry or sometimes washed to dissolve them. They have in common that they're powdery, smudge easily and you can draw or paint with them in many colors. That's my understanding of pastels.

04-01-2009, 04:48 AM
So, if I understand it correctly conte contains clay.

and pastels do not of course.

That seems clear enough, except when I look in my art materials catalogue I see Cretacolor Carres (indeed it just means 'square') and the brand Conte has 'conte crayons' and 'sketching crayons' (both called carre in French as they are square). Rembrandt has 'chalk pastels' that are square and only come in these earthy colours and one catalogue calls all these square pastels 'chalk pastels'. So they seem to distinguish between the traditional pastels (no chalk or clay, just pigment and a tiny bit of binder) and 'chalk pastels' or 'carre pastels' which are the square ones in brown and grey colours.
I am still confused.....

04-01-2009, 08:07 AM
I will confuse you even more, Sophie. I got a box of FC Polychromos (I think 100) in a lot of different colours and even some Talens in very bright colours. I think indeed the difference is the type of binder. The square ones are just very hard.

04-01-2009, 10:46 AM
When I use the square things called Conte Crayons (comes in black, white, gray, bistre, sanquine), they have an almost waxy crayon-like feel to them, like a hard crayola. To me, at least, they don't handle like a hard pastel like Nupastel.


04-01-2009, 11:13 AM
LOL...just been reading up on the Talens Rembrandt website where it states that their soft pastels contain Kaolin = Chinese Clay.

So pastels contain clay too.


Quote from the Talens site about their Carre pastels:
The raw materials are the same as those for
Rembrandt soft pastels, but applied in another ratio. This makes Carré
pastels less soft and ideal for sketching.

04-01-2009, 06:59 PM
Perhaps more importantly, are they mixable? Can I put one over the top of the other without any problems, say laying down some hard conte and then applying Daler or Unison soft pastels on top. And vice versa, of course.


04-02-2009, 05:44 AM
Good question. Black and dark brown conté works under Rembs, I've tried.

Sophie, this is the most confusing thing, to find out what is in pastels... As there is anything from plain ole rust (iron oxide red) to sophisticated chemical stuff in pastels. We just call them "pigments", but they can be anything! Including clay and chalk. (I do think we pastellists don't have to paint with dried urine from cows, though, as I've never seen an Indian Yellow stick.)

Actually, clay and chalk can be considered as pigments. Sometimes it may give stronger clearer tints when mixing in clay/chalk instead of more opaque white stuff.

Enjoy your research, and confusion (it will be a permanent state) ;-D


01-23-2015, 07:49 AM
A long time has passed since the last comment was posted on this thread, but it has been very useful to me even today! I am trying to use pastels (carré) from the first time, and it is quite messy (I usually paint watercolors), I was looking for some explanation and found this thread.... now I understand something more about the topic!

01-23-2015, 01:54 PM
Conte' the brand has two textures now. The classic sticks or crayons have clay in the binder (and some pastels do too), also come in a lot of colors. 48 is the biggest set I can get in the USA but I think there are actually more like 80 if you're in France where they're made. They also now have round soft extruded pastels that I presume are softer than the neat little Conte sticks.

I love color Conte as hard pastels, they're good for sketching and underlayers and as themselves if I want to work with hard pastels. Their colors tend to be very saturated and good mixing colors. The soft pastels seem to have the same colors. I like it that even a small set has enough good mixers to paint or sketch anything.

It can get confusing with so many different brands and textures of pastels, but it's still great. I finally decided to group them by texture type and just use all of them. I rarely meet a brand I don't like.