Crayola Crayons – a love affair

Bob Borson —  January 6, 2011 — 32 Comments

You’ve probably heard the expression “the greatest thing since sliced bread” – right? Everybody has this wrong, it should be “the greatest thing since Crayola crayons”.

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There are few things as entrenched in the experience of being a child as much as crayons – specifically Crayola brand crayons. To say we have a lot of crayons in our house is an understatement; I still draw and “render” almost daily (FYI – architects don’t “color” once we receive our license), my wife Michelle has a position of prominence with Michaels (only the greatest craft store in existence) and I have a 6 year (you all know who she is – Kate, the cultural prodigy). I am sure we have thousands of Crayola brand crayons in our house – thin ones, thick, thin, broken, lightly used, short and nubby. We have 8 packs, 32 packs, 64 packs (with the sharpener built into the case) and the almighty 120 box. Yes, there are 120 core colors available, although over their history, 12 colors have been retired to make way for new colors, and several have been renamed. Remember “Indian Red”? In 1999 is was renamed to “Chestnut”.

The time spent working with all these crayons isn’t limited to my daughter. There are times when we all sit down in front of coloring books and just go to town. I might be the only person who has recently “rendered” a picture of Scooby Doo and the Gang in front of the Mystery Time Machine van … but I doubt it. Something tells me that there are Mom’s and Dad’s, architect’s and artist’s everywhere that have moved beyond puberty but still love their crayons.

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I thought that I would spend my lunch hour looking up information on Crayola crayons to quench my thirst for knowledge … that and I have to stop going out to lunch all the time. On the Crayola Crayons website, there is a timeline of interesting and notable events –  I have culled through it and pulled off bits of their history:

• In 1903, noticing a need for safe, quality, affordable wax crayons, the company produces the first box of eight Crayola  crayons, selling for a nickel. The Crayola name, coined by Edwin Binney’s wife Alice, comes from “craie,” the French word for chalk, and “ola,” from “oleaginous.”

• In 1958, the 64-color assortment of Crayola  crayons – with the built in sharpener – debuts.  Binney & Smith takes 100 percent ownership of the Cosmic Crayon Company in England and Canada.

• In 1984, Binney & Smith becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Hallmark Cards Inc. of Kansas City, Mo., the world leader in social expression.

• In 1990, Eight traditional crayon colors retire to the “Crayola  Hall of Fame.”

• 1996, A colorful and historic milestone is recorded as the 100 billionth Crayola  crayon rolls off the production line in Easton, Pa.

• 1999, To help alleviate consumer confusion, the company announces it will change the name of indian red.  This is only the third time that the company has changed a crayon color name; prussian blue was changed to midnight blue, and flesh was changed to peach.

• 2000, Also in 2000, more than 25,000 Crayola fans recorded their color preferences in the first-ever online Crayola Color Census.  The favorite? Blue.

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Fun Facts about crayons

By the age of 10 the average child will use up about 730 crayons. That adds up to about 11 boxes of 64 crayons.

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Crayola crayons get their names from a U.S. Commerce Department’s National Bureau of Standards book called “Color: Universal Language and Dictionary Names.” Many crayon names are also borrowed from traditional artists’ paints.

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25,000 crayon users voted on their favorite colors and the number one favorite color is blue. In fact there were 7 shades in the top 10 favorite colors. Some other colors in the top 10 were purple heart, Caribbean green, and cerise.

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Crayola crayons and art products are sold in more than 80 countries around the world. They are packaged in 12 different languages: English, French, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Japanese, Swedish and Norwegian.

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According to a study completed by Yale University, the scent of crayon is in the 20 most recognizable to American adults. Coffee and peanut butter are in spots number 1 and 2. Crayola crayons are number 18 on the list.

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During the Great Depression, Binney and Smith hired local farm families to hand-label crayons. Over time, each farm became associated with a different color name.

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In 1996, ninety-three years after the first crayon was made, the 100 billionth Crayola crayon came off the production line at Binney and Smith world headquarters in Easton, Pennsylvania.

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Red and blue are kids’ two favorite colors of crayons.

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Paraffin wax has to be heated to 240 degrees Fahrenheit to start the process.

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Who here remembers making crayon candles and crayon pucks? Melting crayons into a Styrofoam cup to make a candle?

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What about working with the Crayola colors? Somebody named Aaron at ColorSchemer.com created a list of all 120 Crayon Colors with their hex codes and RGB values. This is just a partial of the entire list but it’s still pretty sweet. You can also find all these codes on Wikipedia.

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During my lunchtime exploring, I found some pretty interesting grown-up images of crayons as well:

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Christian Faur is an artist based in Granville, Ohio and I stumbled upon his site when I was conducting “research” on crayons. I found this quote:

Looking for a new technique, he experimented with painting with wax, but he didn’t feel the results were satisfactory. Then, at Christmas in 2005, his young daughter opened a box of 120 Crayola crayons he’d bought her, and everything clicked into place…

“My earliest memories of making art involve the use of wax crayons. I can still remember the pleasure of opening a new box of crayons: the distinct smell of the wax, the beautifully colored tips, everything still perfect and unused. Using the first crayon from a new box always gave me a slight pain. Through a novel technique that I have developed, I again find myself working with the familiar form of the crayon.”

The pieces above are actually made with hand cast encaustic crayons (c’mon, he is an artist after all, control over the media is important). A visit by his website is worth your time for many reasons, there is more to his work than what I am showing here.

I can appreciate that the ease at which I have access to crayons might have extended my admiration for the product. Despite the fact that I do have them laying about everywhere, I use them for more than just coloring rendering Spongebob Squarepants. I use them when I am checking construction drawings instead of highlighters; a little Cornflower Blue for HVAC, maybe Goldenrod for hardware sets … I might even go crazy and use Vivid Violet for … something. As long as it is Crayola brand and not some sucky knockoff brand – I hate the knockoff brands, everybody hates the knockoff brands. I would think it a safe wager that if you asked 10 architects to name one color of crayon, 7 would say “Goldenrod”.

Am I right?

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  • Luna

    Very cool post. It’s exactly how I feel about Crayola crayons. I’m sure by now you’ve seen and probably bought the 150 crayon set. Right? 

    http://moonlightandhershadow.blogspot.com/2010/08/all-colors-i-am-inside-have-not-been.html 

    Luna

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  • Mary007h

    Hey, a dad who colors?? In coloring books?? That.. is awesome.

    And crayola is the only way to go. Undisputed.
    Roseart and those other brands are for people who don’t give a shit about their lives or their children.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dfergie62 David B. Ferguson

    Wonderful post, Bob.

  • Kerrie

    Remember, you were the cool kid if you had the 64 box w/ the sharpener??? I would settle for nothing less when school supply shopping! Lol

    Food*Sparks

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1040194832 Becky McGraw

    Yes, yes — exactly! I have loved Crayola crayons (and despised the knock-offs) for quite literally as long as I can remember. The scent of a new box of crayons is still one of my favorite smells. Oddly…I found a 24-box of lightly used crayons in a local thrift store, and upon opening it was hit hard by a wave of scent-triggered childhood happiness. That was an old box; it dated from my time in elementary school, by the packaging and labeling, and the scent was just enough different from modern Crayola crayons that it hit those old triggers -exactly.- That old box came home with me, of course…)

    Interesting note: I actually have a “Flesh” crayon (foraging in Grandma’s arts closet was productive!), and it is really not the same color as Peach. The Flesh crayon I have is a bit cooler, a bit more beige, and much less translucent than any Peach I’ve ever found.

    I’ve kept the joy of coloring, and coloring books, continuously; it was such a simple and inexpensive pleasure, and readily available no matter where I was. Just the feel of crayon sliding over textured paper, and watching vibrant life come into a simple line drawing. I’ve also snatched up every new crayon color Crayola’s produced since they retired the Eight (and thereby deprived me of several Really Useful colors, darn it!). And I remember with awe the brief time in which Crayola crayons were available in open stock at the local art store…ALL of the colors, with black and white versions of the 8 and 16 boxes you filled yourself. None of the histories seem to mention that. Hmm.

    Oh yes, I remember melting crayons! For me, it was partly just the joy of something melty and swirly, and partly the realization that I COULD MAKE MY OWN COLORS and fill in the crayon-box color blanks!! Here’s the way:

    Use an old saucepan — one you won’t ever use for food again — with some water in the bottom and a clean, de-labeled tin can to make an improvised double-boiler. Simmer water in the pot, use kitchen tongs to hold the can in the water but away from the bottom. Crayon bits — shavings, whole bits, whatever — go in the can. Once they are melty, use tongs to lift can from pan and carefully pour liquid crayon wax into a mold. (Long ice cube molds — the sort made for water bottles — work beautifully.) We do this with my children whenever the old-crayon-bits threaten to take over the drawers. It’s a nice lesson in color theory, as well as a way for them to play with molten stuff without burning themselves (crayons melt at a very low temp).

    • Mary007h

      I can almost guarantee that your grandma had apricot.

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  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    I only recently learned that I wasn’t supposed to be signing all my legal documents in Burnt Sienna. Some people are such sticklers…

  • http://buildipedia.com/community/profile/64-ryancarpico Ryan Carpico

    Burnt sienna is the color name I remember most as a kid, probably because that color never got used and we ended up with them in bulk.

    Mom: “Reach into the bucket and grab a color.”
    Me: “Oh, great, it’s another burnt sienna.”

    Great post and nice find on the link to Christian Faur’s artwork.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1040194832 Becky McGraw

      Burnt sienna is the best color for rich auburn hair, and considering the amazing amount of hair they gave Barbie in those 80s and 90s coloring books (and my refusal to make her blonde like 98% of the dolls), I was spared that difficulty. For my family, it was always those stupid yellow-oranges — they came in EVERY box from 16 up, and unless you were coloring macaroni and cheese, there was no use for them at all. (And then Crayola came out with “macaroni and cheese” as a separate color, rendering those horrid crayons truly obsolete! I now melt them into make-it-myself browns…)

  • Brenda Lynn

    I love, love, love this! I feel the same way about Crayola Crayons, too. Accept NO substitutes! I have 3 cultural divas in the form of 3 granddaughters, each in a different stage of their own love affair with CC. They are 6, almost 4 and 2-1/2 years old. I always wind up “rendering” with them. Our favorite subjects for the past few months have been “princesses” so like any good Nana, I got them what my younger daughter referred to as “coloring billboards” instead of coloring books when asked to wrap them. Thanks for this great post and the trip down memory lane, Bob!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Brenda!

      Pretty nice grouping of ages there for your to work with – and coloring billboards, that’s awesome!

      Getting your hands on some really big pieces of paper would be perfect for this group – one massively large drawing banner. That sounds like a project worth doing doesn’t it?

      Cheers

  • http://www.buildingmoxie.com jb @Building Moxie

    so much to comment on here. ‘nother fantastic post bob. and I am right there with you (you know two cultural prodigies myself). I will render with them occasionally myself (sense of ease, calm and peace in this) and can find practical uses for them, i.e. great for marking certain surfaces (removal of which can be easier than say graphite — and yes thank you magic eraser for *ermmm* mishaps).

    I really want that thingy they were advertising at xmas last year made to melt them down. good stuff.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      When I was writing this, I remembered that during my time in second grade, I must have melted hundreds of crayons on the radiator behind my desk. Who cares about learning cursive? I was creating a waxy masterpiece one crayon at a time!

      Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it.

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  • http://www.wood-and-light.com David Mathias

    Knock-off brands or not, I don’t think I’d have been able to eat in a restaurant in the past decade if not for crayons.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I thought of this post while watching a few tables of grownups go crazy on their paper tablecloth the other day. They weren’t artist’s I can promise of that but they were clearly having fun.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1040194832 Becky McGraw

      Too true. Immediate thought: Family of four (littles aged 3 years apart, and young) goes to eat at Any Chain Restaurant…
      Host: “How many children’s menus will you need?”
      (willful glare from Eldest Little)
      My husband: “Do they come with crayons?”
      (hopefull face on me)
      Host: “Uh…yes. Did you need…more?”
      My husband: “Nope, just two. One’s for her.” (thumb to me, now displaying my best impression of the Happy Dog Face) “…and do you have any extra colors?”

  • http://www.lifeasanexperiment.com James D. Burrell II

    Bob – I’d appreciate it if you dared to share the Sponge Bob rendering. Haha. What an interesting look into such an iconic part of American culture. I work part-time with a local elementary school’s after school program, and I’ve rekindled that love of coloring that disappeared somewhere around the 3rd or 4th grade. Such a simple yet rewarding activity. It’s amazing that when we were young, we more than anything yearned to be older, but as we get older, we realize that some of the simpler pleasures of childhood are truly the ones worth living for.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      James,
      You nailed it. They are simple things, casual activities, readily available, and immensely satisfying. I big piece of paper and a big pile of crayons and everybody is in. Let’s hope we both hang on and keep remembering the value of the all-mighty crayon.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1040194832 Becky McGraw

      Would like to see Sponge Bob as well! I have some Little Mermaids to offer up in trade…

      With two creative boys of short attention span, I’ve found that insisting on Finishing The Background of any picture — original art or Golden Books Special — forces experimentation with shading and colors. Most of us color the main scene first, right? If you tell children that they need to -finish- the picture — usually parts they don’t care about and have no preconceived idea of coloring — they just start…randomly experimenting with colors, blending, shading, and exploring the wax crayon medium.

  • smalltown

    Oh how bad the knock-off brands are (given freely by chain restaurant hostesses and quickly turned to mush on the floor of the minivan).

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      totally – they break too easily, or the amount of color they leave behind is crap (not to mention the actual color is slightly off). Pony up the extra 4 cents people!

  • http://twitter.com/DESIGNSTUDIO26 DS26

    I LOVE CRAYONS… wonderful colorful post bob!

  • http://twitter.com/Splintergirl Amy Good

    Love…great post. You should check out the Crayola Factory if you’re ever in PA…very cool.

  • http://twitter.com/cogitatedesign Keith Palma

    the jumbo crayons are a tool of the devil…colorful post!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      the devil of awesome!

  • http://enchiladasblog.blogspot.com Greg

    Great post! You only failed to mention the wonderful waxy smell….

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Greg –
      The smell is evocative isn’t it? #18 on the list of most recognizable smells to American adults. Cracking open a box and using a brand new crayon is always a good feeling.