I doubt very much that when my children’s teachers required them to bring crayons to class that they expected what followed—the creation of the first set of crayons made from Canada’s soils, rocks and plants!
For many years now I’ve occasionally taken the opportunity to share at schools, universities and artist centres how to take a bit of local landscape and create paint and crayons from it. These events are a wonderful chance to share what I’ve learned over the years and collaborate with artist of all ages. During our time together we usually focus on possibilities and techniques, because my focus is on giving to everyone what they need in order to bring local colour into their own practices … so, most of the time, what we create is incidental.
So, when the required school supply lists arrived at our home, I saw in it a chance to dig a little deeper into that “what”, which in this case was crayons. That’s not to say that my little apprentices didn’t create their own colours … each one chose some bit of earth that they liked from my pilgrimages and worked on creating a pigment from it. But a lot of our three days together was also spent trying to figure out what made a good crayon.
In all, we tried close to 50 different combinations of waxes, glycerine and oils to narrow in on what we all agreed made that crayon (of course, decided what was desirable in a crayon was a discussion in its own right). I can’t tell you what the winning combination was—I’ve been sworn to secrecy—but it turns out that the traditional combination of a few waxes and a little oil is still a good way to go …
In choosing our colours we ended up with—
- “Adèle’s Gold”, an yellow ochre from Trois-Rivières, Quebec.
- “Eby Orange”, an orange from Conestogo, Ontario.
- “Bluff Red”, a red from the Vermillion Bluffs in British Columbia.
- “Fool’s Gool”, a green from Kettle Point in Ontario.
- “Woad Blue”, a blue from our garden in Conestogo, Ontario.
- “Elk Black”, a black from an elk’s antler from Saskatchewan.
Each crayon draws beautifully, and each one is unique … the Fool’s Green crayon from Kettle Point is noticeably heavier, for instance!
The creating of their own crayons has left each child a great story with which to regale their friends, but this investment into their artist’s materials has also had an effect on the way they make art—each one of them is now colouring with something that they’re proud of, and I can see it in the way they draw their lines. This is perhaps my favourite result of our crayon making adventure because it resonates so deeply with my own art practice. I feel that we’ve connected in something that drives so much of my work … and, I’m excited to see how that experience informs what they do as they grow up, in whatever field that might be.
As you can read, it was great to spend this time with my children but I can’t say that my motivation was totally altruistic, either. I’m currently creating a new body of work in which this type of crayon is necessary … you can watch for images of that on my site in the near future.