If you buy Conte crayons in a set (portrait set, landscape set, "assorted" set, or etc.), they come in clear, hard plastic hinged containers, and the Conte crayons are side-by-side, each in its own little indentation in a (thin and brittle) plastic insert. If you have them a long time, and if you're not very fastidious, you may start putting those crayons down here and there and never get them back in their proper order. I confess, I'm not that fastidious, though I try at first -- every now and then, especially then, I try to put them back in order. I never get them back the way they were, especially in the larger sets.
I finally just gave up and started storing them in plastic containers with lids (the kind you get in the grocery store -- with cottage cheese or bean salad or many other yummy things possibly inside; we keep all these containers and they are very useful). I have blacks, grays and browns in one; blues and greens and purples in another; whites, yellows, pinks, oranges and warm reds in another -- and recently when I had too many to fit in the little containers, I started using a compartmented cardboard gift box that previously had packets of different flavors of coffee in it -- I have the same assortments in each compartment (blues, greens and purples in one, etc.), as I have in the deli containers.
I add a little dried (uncooked) barley or rice (whichever we have extra of) to each container or compartment -- not enough so that I have to dig to find the colors, but enough to cushion them and to absorb Conte crayon dust.
When I first started using Conte crayons again, I used them as I had done in life drawing classes - making diagonal strokes while holding the crayon as if it were a short pencil. .Along the way, I've learned a lot, by accident and by experimentation, about how I can use Conte crayons in other ways, too -- For instance, almost right away I learned that I almost always had to break them before using them (ouch!), so that I could use the sides to cover more area (I work on small surfaces, so full-length is too long).
TIPS FROM OTHERS - WAYS TO HOLD CONTE CRAYONS
ONE READER SUGGESTS SHARPENING CRAYONS
"You should sharpen Conte to draw with it. That's what I was taught, and draw holding it between the thumb and the index and middle fingers so you can keep the angle of the Conte low against the paper. This works well if you're using a drawing board on a drawing horse or an easel." - D.J.T.
COMMENT FROM JEAN ON D.J.T.'S SUGGESTIONS: Sharpening is a really good idea that I hadn't mentioned because I forgot about doing that since I personally don't sharpen Conte crayons. It seems to me that whether or not you want to sharpen them, though, would depend on what kind of Conte crayons you're using and what kind of marks you want to make on the surface. I think that probably the original Conte colors (dark earth reds and black) can take sharpening better than the "colorful" Conte crayons I use most -- They do seem to be harder and the particles more firmly held together -- they don't disintegrate as easily as the "colorful" color sticks, in other words, or so it seems to me. I tried sharpening the "colorful" ones and that sharp edge disappears in an instant...You just end up losing a lot of Conte crayon in a hurry that way. Yet, I do agree that with the harder crayons, it can really be helpful to sharpen them as they'll take the sharpening without disintegrating immediately. The pictures I do are so small that I am not able to get much detail into them because I can't keep the crayons I use sharp.
THIS MAY BE OF INTEREST:
The above link will get you to short post by Richard McKinley on his Pastel Pointers blog where he suggests how you might want to hold the pastel stick, what direction(s) to make the marks (and what kind of marks to make), and so on.
I learned that I could use my fingertips to give an area a smoother look, and to blend colors and soften edges, etc. (I have since started using torn-off pieces of thick, soft paper towels to do this same thing - It saves a lot of handwashing, but often I regress and use my fingers anyway.)
THE PAPER TOWEL SOLUTION
I have learned that all is not lost when Conte crayon builds up so many layers that no more can "stick" to the surface -- I've tried several things to help when this happens, and have finally found that the very best thing to do is to use pieces of soft paper towel (I tear off just the amount I think I'll need for each swipe) to wipe an area off (a fresh piece for each color area or you make a real mess). After you've wiped off the area that's too built up, hold it sideways over a trash can (or do it outside), flick the back of the paper to knock off excess particles, and immediately blow on the surface where you wiped off the color; then quickly remove the picture from where you've done this so the particles don't float back onto it. If it's really thick, you may have to do this several times, but it works!
VIRTUALLY "STARTING OVER"
There is another thing you can do, if you really have a built-up mess on your hands and you want to virtually "start over" in some area - But first, before you begin, be sure you blow off as much of the Conte crayon particles as you can. What you do after you blow off the excess "dust" is to use the same kind of thick, soft paper towels mentioned above...Tear off a larger piece than you would use just for wiping things off "dry," fold it over two or three times, and just dip it quickly in water (I keep a small margarine tub half-filled with water at hand).
BE CAREFUL NOT TO GET IT TOO WET
Don't soak it so that it drips, but just barely get it damp; then blot the area where you want to remove a build-up of Conte crayon particles -- push against it with this damp, folded piece of paper towel, and lift it right off again, then blot it again there, but with dry paper towel, to absorb as much moisture as possible...to make sure the paper doesn't stay wet and "buckle." I recommend doing just a small area at a time, no more than a couple of inches wide. You may find that when you do this, some dry particles of Conte crayon will be displaced and fall to the surface of your paper, or onto the surface your drawing is lying on -- so be prepared for that...But it works, and when you are at the point where there really is nothing you can do to save your work other than by removing part of it, then you have no other choice as far as I know.
USING PAPER TOWELS (ETC.) AS SMOOTHER AND BLENDER
By the way, sometimes when you're wiping off excess Conte crayon, you find that just doing that has improved the picture, and you might even begin, as I often do, to use the paper toweling as an instrument -- a smoother and blender -- even while cleaning off the excess build-up.
A GREAT PLACE FOR MORE TIPS
You can read what lots of artists who use pastels (Conte crayons are hard pastels, of course, and they do mostly talk about "soft" pastels - though not entirely) have posted in the Wet Canvas pastels forums. Here's a great place to start - When you get to this page, there is a long list of subjects that posters have given to their questions/information/suggestions,etc. about working with pastels:
SEARCH THIS SITE