In 1794 a French man called Nicolas-Jacques Conté invented the modern pencil by mixing together graphite powder and clay, before pressing it between two cylinders of wood. Later on, Nicolas-Jacques created the company now known as Conté à Paris, who’s pencils I’m writing about today. Nice story but are these pencils good? Let’s continue on with my Conte a Paris graphite Pencil review to find out.
What do Conté à Paris graphite pencils feel like to draw with?
Conté à Paris graphite pencils don’t feel very much larger in diameter than most pencils you will have owned before, though to me they feel just a tiny bit thicker. The main difference with the Conté à Paris pencils is that they’re round instead of hexagonal. These round pencils aren’t any more difficult to grip than hexagonal pencils. The round shape means it’s easier for them to roll and fall off desks however, which could lead to broken leads. Those who also use colouring pencils regularly might prefer this round barrel shape because that’s what most colouring pencil brands use.
The graphite inside the Conte a Paris pencils has a nice texture and feels like soft chalk as I drag it across the page. Faber Castell’s graphite feels like polished stone and Derwent’s feels chalky, Conté à Paris is more halfway between the two in texture. It’s easy to draw with and feels exceptional in quality.
The tin of the Conté à Paris graphite pencils is like Derwent’s and a few others, it has no hinges. As I’ve mentioned with other pencil tins like it, this is good storage for a studio but it makes them more difficult to carry in a bag because unless you tape the tin down, it’ll open up and spill the pencils inside. As you can see in the first of the two images above, it’s easy to pick pencils out of the tin. You just press the ends of the pencils and they pop out.
History on the pencils of Conte a Paris
Conté à Paris has a big selling point for any artist who wants to create graphite artwork. The man behind their company was one of the people who invented the pencil as we know it today. Before 1794, pencils in France were made with pure graphite. The main source of graphite at that time was Great Britain, whom France was at war with. Thus the French could no longer import graphite from Britain (the old way of making pencils was with pure graphite imported from the UK).
Nicolas-Jacques Conté mixed graphite powder with clay, fired it in a kiln and encased the resulting rods inside wooden cylinders. This process began the graduated pencil grades (more clay means harder pencils and lighter tones – less clay means softer pencils and darker tones). The added advantage of using graphite powder and clay is that it’s far more affordable than using pure graphite too.
Even though Nicolas-Jacques Conté is often credited as “creating the modern day pencil”, it’s also worth noting that the graphite powder and clay combination was earlier discovered separately by Joseph Hardtmuth (creator of the Koh-i-Noor company) in 1792. It is therefore more fair to say that Joseph Hardtmuth was the first person in recorded history to make these pencils. It’s difficult to say whether Nicolas-Jacques Conté took the idea of Joseph Hardtmuth without crediting him, personally though, I think that’s likely. It doesn’t matter anymore if one copied the other, it’s been 230 years since this kind of graphite pencil has been around and practically every company has copied the idea since! If you’re interested, reviewed the Koh-I-Noor graphite pencils here.
What do drawings with Conté à Paris graphite pencils look like?
I have a set of 12 Conte a Paris graphite pencils that go from 3H to 6B. This time I decided to draw a closeup of an owl, which was actually quite a challenging task for both the pencils and me! The Conté à Paris pencils blend very easily and laying down solid flat areas of graphite tone (like the sky in the picture) is fairly easy too. The reason I mention blending and solid tone is because it’s the mark of a good quality pencil for me (not all graphite pencils are as good as these Conte a Paris ones).
The Conte a Paris graphite pencils are described as highly lightfast by the manufacturer (another marker of the pencil’s high quality) and therefore drawings like mine above will keep their tone for a very long time. I haven’t got information on exactly how many years the lightfastness is rated to but there are so many variables that go into that, including how you store the drawings that this doesn’t really matter too much. You can rest assured that your drawings will last a long time with these pencils. If they’re described as highly lightfast by a company as established as Conté à Paris, the marks are probably going to last at least 100 years in good conditions.
Conté à Paris graphite pencil swatches
Each grade of graphite pencil from Conté à Paris is well balanced and feels distinctive. I think it’s a shame that the darkest pencil is 6B, because some people like to draw with darker pencils occasionally. For my art, it doesn’t matter that I can’t go darker than 6B, because I rarely reach for 7B – 9B pencils in any case.
The Conté à Paris graphite pencil range goes from 3H in hardness (lightest pencil) to 6B in softness (darkest pencil). That’s a somewhat limited range in comparison to other brands like Derwent, which have a way bigger range. I’d argue that Conté à Paris makes life easier by limiting the range of their pencil range, however. There is only one 12 pencil pack for Conté à Paris, which means you don’t have to think too much when picking these artist quality pencils up. 3H – 6B is a very good range. Like I mentioned before, the only disappointment might be for people who like drawing really dark (eg folks who like drawing Manga or graphic novel style).
Another thing I like about Conté à Paris’s graphite pencil range is the lack of the F pencil (fine pencil). Hardly anybody knows what F stands for anyway and I think leaving it out makes life simpler for artists. For those of you who don’t know, the F pencil in most pencil ranges sits between the H (hard) pencil and the HB (hard / black halfway) pencil.
Concluding my Conté à Paris graphite pencil review
- Excellent quality graphite.
- Easy to shade, smooth etc.
- Easy to control tone.
- Long history.
- Easy choice because there’s only one tin.
- Only goes up to 6B in darkness.
- Doesn’t have the F pencil (most people don’t need it).
- Round pencil shape means they can roll off desks more easily.
- Tin will open in your bag unless taped down.
My review of the Conté à Paris pencils is finished and they now hold a safe place among my favourites. The tactile sensation while drawing and the ease of tone control is what I like most about them.
The range of graphite pencils you get in the 12 pencil pack of Conté à Paris is the whole range and in my personal experience, that’s more than enough range for most artists. People who want to achieve near black effects will want to buy a few darker pencils from another brand too. The main weakness of Conte a Paris pencils is that they only go to a darkness of 6B. It’s for that reason I recommend buying an additional 8B Faber Castell or Derwent 9B pencil to get a darker tone for when you need it.
Is it a big deal that Conte a Paris graphite pencils don’t go above 6B in darkness? I don’t personally think so. It isn’t really important to use the same brand for absolutely everything you use in art. If you like Conté à Paris as a brand, just buy a 8B or 9B pencil from a different brand to go with them.
The other advantage with Conté à Paris as a brand is that they do a lot of other excellent drawing/sketching materials. For example they sell other clay based sketching pencils that hold different pigments such as orange/sepia and brown. Another useful thing they sell is a fixing spray, which you’ll need for finished graphite pieces to stop them smudging.
Thanks for reading my review of the Conté à Paris pencils! If you’ve used them or want to leave a message, go leave a comment below!
Where to buy Conté à Paris graphite pencils
Conté à Paris’s graphite pencils aren’t in every art shop in the world but they’re still pretty easy to get hold of! I’m affiliated to these shops so if you use my links I really appreciate it, because I put whatever pennies are thrown to me towards my growing coffee fund.
Jackson’s Art (UK / Europe)