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What's in a crayon?

I was recently going through quotes I collected last year and one caught my eye: "They're only crayons. You didn't fear them in kindergarten, why fear them now?" (by Hugh MacLeod from 1001 Ways to be Creative by Barbara Ann Kipfer). This past year has shown many of us how quickly life can be diverted into other directions, which made me realize what are the things that are most important to me and that I want to impress upon my children? What are the activities I want to do with my children? Art was one of the first things I thought of. And then this quote popped up. So I started doing some research into the world of crayons and I want to take the a couple of blogs exploring where, when, how, what, and why about crayons.

Where and when:

The first uses of crayons, really beeswax and naturally occurring color pigments, were by the ancient Greeks (about 2000 B.C.) who used this mixture for making their boats water tight. In Italy about 1500 years later, Leonardo da Vinci used a form of wax crayons in some of his art notebooks. Since his time, artists searched for the perfect mix of pigment and wax and different ingredients to add some hardness to the result so it could be used for art.

Our modern crayons were developed in the USA in the early 1900's at the request of school teachers who were looking for chemically safe and inexpensive art supplies. Crayons as we know them today were first developed by two cousins, Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith. They had already earned the approval and trust of teachers by developing slate pencils and dustless chalk several years earlier. Binney's wife Alice was the one who coined the term "crayola" for the newest invention by mixing the words "craie" (French for chalk) and "ola" (from the word oleaginous). Just for fun, Binney and Smith are also responsible for all of us driving black car tires.....


Crayons today are made from a variety of different waxes, such as paraffin, beeswax, oil-wax, and water-soluble wax. The amount of pigment (color saturation) also varies between the intended use of the crayon with artists' crayons having higher concentrations of pigments.


Crayons have so many artistic uses and are even common in children's literature. Crayons can be used of course for drawing pictures and coloring books, but also as a serious art form ranging from pastels to watercolor, sculpture, carving, wax marbling, and quilting.

In children's literature, there are numberless books about crayon characters (The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers; definitely a family favorite in my house!), using crayons (Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crocket Johnson), and many, many others.


Why not? Crayons are commonly available, come in so many amazing colors from the good 'ole primary and secondary colors in a pack of 8 to packs of 100's with every possible hue and tint, with glitter, to scented. They are cheap and easily replaced. I still sit down and color with crayons. Between this blog and the next one, I want to share some fun ways of putting those crayons to use beyond just a coloring book.

Fun trivia:

Lighter-colored crayons harden faster than darker-colored crayons.

Most adults in the USA are able to recognize the smell of crayons.

On average, by age 10, most children have used 720 crayons.

A fun project:

Unwrap the wrapper from any crayons you want to use, this is a great project for getting rid of those little stubbly pieces! Using either a crayon sharpener or pencil sharpener, shave your crayons to pieces.

Lay out a piece of wax paper and sprinkle out the shavings into a even layer. Place another sheet of wax paper on top. Tape down the edges of the top wax paper with duct tape. Using a hairdryer, melt the crayon shavings to create a marbled look. Allow the melted wax to cool for about 15 minutes.

Using scissors, cut out fun shapes from flowers to snowflakes to raindrops or even as bookmarks. You can even tape the cut out shapes to a piece of string and hang from a window to create window art.

For more fun projects: check out "Crayola CIY: Create It Yourself" or visit for more ideas. Happy Crafting!

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