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m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

13 Colorful Facts About Crayola

m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Crayola is pretty deeply embedded in popular culture. In one study, 99 percent of polled households recognized the brand name. Despite the occasional drywall and nostril mishaps, Crayola has remained a childhood staple for more than 100 years, fostering creativity and keeping children calm in theme restaurants the world over. In honor of National Crayon Day (today), check out these 13 facts about secret ingredients, fine art, and how to plan your next vacation around the world's biggest crayon.

1. THAT DISTINCTIVE CRAYON SMELL? IT’S BEEF FAT.

In a 1982 study conducted by Yale University Professor William Cain, Crayola crayons were among the top 20 smells most frequently identified by subjects. That unique odor is created in large part by stearic acid, which is a derivative of beef tallow—more commonly known as beef fat. The ingredient is used to deliver a waxy consistency.

2. THE FIRST BOXES WERE SOLD DOOR-TO-DOOR.

Crayons are believed to have been invented in the 1880s, but manufacturers Binney & Smith are credited with popularizing them: sensing they wouldn’t have long-term appeal with artists because of poor paper adhesion, the company decided to market to children and educators. The first eight-packs of Crayolas in 1903 were sold door-to-door for a nickel. That “Gold Medal” logo on the packaging? That refers to a win at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis for the company’s dustless chalk innovation. Jack Daniel won the same award that year for his booze.

3. EACH CRAYON USED TO BE HAND-ROLLED.

Most people assume the Crayolas of today are wrapped in their distinctive labels via industrial machinery, and they would be correct. But for the company’s first 40 years, no such technology existed. Employees (and farm families) had to hand-roll each label. Luckily, carpal tunnel syndrome hadn’t been invented yet, either.

4. THE AMERICAN GOTHIC ARTIST ENTERED A CRAYOLA CONTEST.

American Gothic is one of the most recognizable paintings in the world, and its artist might be indebted to Crayola. When Grant Wood was just 14 years old, he took third place in a Crayola-sponsored drawing contest that offered up to $600 in prizes. Wood would later say placing in the contest inspired him to continue his art career.

5. ONE OF THEIR TOP EMPLOYEES WAS COLORBLIND.

m01229, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Emerson Moser was with Crayola for 35 years before he decided to let the press in on a fun fact: he was colorblind. The diagnosis came during a company physical in 1953; Moser said his colorblindness wasn't severe, but he did have trouble discerning between slight variations in colors. He molded over 1.4 billion crayons for the company before retiring in 1990. Crayola asked him to donate his wax-covered work boots for their Hall of Fame.

6. THEY USED TO SMELLED GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT.

Always looking to offer variety, Crayola released a line of food-scented crayons in 1994. Dubbed Magic Scent, the wax sticks came in coconut, cherry, and licorice. But by July 1995, Crayola had taken them off the market. Parents feared kids would eat them—and indeed, roughly 10 of them did. Despite that statistically insignificant number, Crayola changed the scents to be less appetizing. Brown, for example, went from smelling like chocolate to smelling like dirt. Because “kids love dirt,” a company spokesperson said.

7. YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO USE THEM AS MAKE-UP.

In spring 2014, Crayola had to issue a statement warning consumers not to use their colored pencils as eyeliner. Why? Several beauty bloggers had promoted the utensils as a cheap alternative to expensive make-up. But the pencils have been approved for illustrative purposes only; none have been designed or tested to use on one’s face.

8. THEY SELL TOOTHPASTE, THOUGH.

How's that for a mixed message? Crayola partnered with GUM in 2013 to offer a line of multi-colored toothpastes shaped like crayons.

9. THERE’S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO CREATE ART WITH THEM.

Herb Williams

Artist Herb Williams is a Crayola loyalist, but not because he likes drawing with them. Williams buys the crayons in bulk and melts them down to create some dizzying, colorful sculptures. Some pieces have required up to 250,000 crayons, which means Williams actually has an account with the company. The White House was so impressed with his work that they commissioned several pieces for their permanent collection.

10. OPRAH GOT A CRAYON. (BUT YOU CAN’T HAVE THE CRAYON. AND YOU CAN’T HAVE THE CRAYON …)

In 2006, talk show host Oprah Winfrey invited Sally Putnam Chapman, a relative of founder Edwin Binney, on her show to discuss the storied history of Crayola. Not wishing to come empty-handed, Chapman gave Winfrey a 64-count box of an exclusive, one-time-only Crayola variation: "The Color Purple."

11. THEY ONCE HAD A BOOGER-SCENTED CRAYON.

If Crayola knows one thing, it’s kids. And if kids know one thing, it’s how to be gross. In 2006, the company launched a line of Silly Scents crayons and markers intended to appeal to the Garbage Pail Kids demographic. One crayon was dubbed the "Booger Buster"; another was called "Alien Armpit." Another, equally appealing offering from the line: a pencil sharpener that belched.

12. LEFTOVER CRAYONS ARE CALLED “LEFTOLAS.”

Kids and smokers have one thing in common: they’re not sure what to do once their object of choice is down to a nub. Crayons too small to grasp or too flat to draw with are usually cast aside for a fresh box. In 2002, the company debuted the Crayola Crayon Maker, which allowed children to create new crayons from their cast-offs using a 60-watt bulb, Easy-Bake Oven style.

13. “LEFTOLAS” WERE USED TO MAKE THE WORLD’S BIGGEST CRAYON.

Crayola

During their 100th anniversary in 2003, Binney & Smith asked children around the country to send in their unwanted blue Leftolas. The mission: to create a crayon so big it would practically write its own press release. Crayola got the equivalent of 123,000 crayons, which they fused together to create Big Blue, a 1,500-pound monster that measured 15 feet long and was 16 inches in diameter. Crayola fanatics can visit the monstrosity at the Crayola Experience tour in Easton, Pennsylvania. Why blue? It happens to be Crayola’s most popular color. Eat it, Magenta!

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Google Launches World's Largest Digital Collection of Frida Kahlo Artifacts
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YouTube

Fans of iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo have a lot of new material to sift through, thanks to Google’s launch of the largest-ever digital exhibition of artworks and artifacts related to the painter. As reported by Forbes, the “Faces of Frida” retrospective and its 800-item collection were the result of a collaboration between the Google Arts & Culture platform and 33 museums around the world.

A screenshot of Google's digital archive of Frida Kahlo artworks
YouTube

Visitors to the website can peruse rare artworks from private collections that had never been digitized until now, including View of New York, a sketch Kahlo made in 1932 while staying at the former Barbizon-Plaza Hotel. There are also personal photographs of Kahlo, as well as letters and journal entries that she penned.

Using Street View, you can even see inside the “Blue House” where she lived in Mexico City. Another feature lets visitors zoom in on high-resolution paintings, which were created using Google’s Art Camera, according to designboom.

For Google executives, the decision to celebrate the life and work of Kahlo was a no-brainer. “Frida's name kept coming up as a top contender when we started to think of what artist would be the best to feature in a retrospective,” Jesús Garcia, Google's head of Hispanic communications, told Forbes. “There's so much of her that was not known and could still be explored from an artistic perspective and life experience.”

An original artwork by multimedia artist Alexa Meade was specially commissioned for “Faces of Frida.” Photographer Cristina Kahlo, Kahlo’s great-niece, aided in the process. Check out the video below to see how she brought Kahlo's artwork to life in a living, breathing painting.

[h/t Forbes]

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15 Secrets of Caricature Artists
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iStock

The word caricature likely conjures up images of street artists on boardwalks or outside museums working up quick, humorous sketches of visitors, to the delight or dismay of their subjects. But the exaggerated illustrations of caricature include a lot more than what you see on the boardwalk—and can be more art than kitsch. We spoke to three experts in the field about the subjects caricature artists love and hate to depict, the best way to make their job harder, what they do if you don't like their drawing, and how they can tell when you really don't want to sit for a portrait.

1. THEY WANT YOU TO KNOW IT'S OLDER THAN YOU THINK.

Caricatures by Leonardo da Vinci
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Some of the greatest artists in history practiced caricature as a means to develop their skills. Eileen Owens, curator of "Biting Wit and Brazen Folly: British Satirical Prints, 1780s–1830s" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, says Leonardo da Vinci was one of the first artists to use caricature, in the “grotesque” sketches of unusual faces and heads that populated his notebooks. (His 16th-century biographer, Giorgio Vasari, wrote that Leonardo was “so delighted when he saw curious heads, whether bearded or hairy, that he would follow anyone who had thus attracted his attention for a whole day.”) Many other well-established Renaissance artists dabbled in caricature on the side, as breaks from their rigorous training: "It was a lot more huge noses, big hair, ways to poke fun at faces. You had to be adept at drawing to know how to exaggerate," Owens says.

The form gained momentum in late-17th century Italy, when Pier Leone Ghezzi “started making funny little drawings that poked fun at well-to-do Romans and tourists,” according to Owens. From there, it spread to Britain, where it became so popular that publishing companies sprung up for the sole purpose of printing caricatures. Publishers also rented out portfolios of caricatures by the day, and hung prints in their windows, to which crowds flocked to see the latest depictions of a buffoonish Napoleon and laughable upper-crust fashions. Owens says, “This was your chance to keep up with the gossip—kind of like People magazine today.”

2. MANY OF THEM ARE SELF-TAUGHT.

A street artist paints a caricature of a girl in Prague
iStock

Lots of caricature artists learn on the job, in part because there's not a ton of specific training available. Illustrator Tom Richmond, who spoofs movies for MAD Magazine (among other gigs), says, "Only a handful of art schools teach cartooning or caricature as a major part of curriculum, so it's hard to find instruction on how to do it. Caricature is such a specialized sort of thing, and diverse; you can’t teach it like you teach people how to draw comics, where [there's] storytelling technique and sequential art tricks and a science behind it, so to speak." Overall, what Richmond and others strive for is to “translate [your] art skill [into caricature], really lean into it—no matter how you practice.”

3. IT CAN BE GREAT TRAINING FOR OTHER ART FORMS.

Richmond says that when he teaches at workshops around the country, he always recommends—no matter what facet of the industry they are interested in—that students try their hand at live drawing, "maybe even volunteer at the local homecoming or draw for free at a daycare center." Having to work quickly with a model in front of you develops a sensitivity to gesture, to how the body leans and how weight is distributed, that's different from the skills you get "shading something for hours," Richmond explains. When you "go back to doing longer pieces, you've got an inner eye that sees things you missed before. It's great discipline for the developing eye."

4. THEY’RE NOT (NECESSARILY) OUT TO MOCK YOU.

Caricatures have been defined as "portrait[s] with the volume turned up." But that doesn't mean they have to be mean-spirited. Richmond says, “Caricature is a depiction of someone in a humorous way, but at its best it has a narrative behind it—you’re pointing out something about their presence, not just making fun of their features.” He explains that he’s not examining someone’s face to find a nose or a chin or dimples to blow out of proportion, but "trying to understand who you are as a person and exaggerate that.”

"I want to make [clients] smile or laugh," says CeCe Holt, who sketches at events and amusement parks, and is also business manager for the non-profit International Society of Caricature Artists (ISCA). "I never want to make anybody cry."

5. THEY DON’T SWEAT IT WHEN SOMEONE DOESN’T LIKE THEIR LIKENESS …

Just because caricaturists strive to capture your essence doesn't mean you're going to like it. People can be in denial about their appearance, with a radically different idea of their weight, for instance, or even whether they have freckles. In Holt’s experience, party guests usually don’t make a fuss about their caricatures, since they haven’t directly paid for them. But when the occasional amusement park patron kicks up a fuss, “I just say I’m sorry and move on to the next person.”

Richmond is similarly blasé, pointing out that when a caricaturist is drawing a quick sketch for $15, the occasional bad portrait is bound to sneak in. "Sometimes they refuse to pay, or come back later and want their money back. Live caricature can be hair-raising, which is why I prefer working with art directors."

6. … BUT SOMETIMES CUSTOMERS RETALIATE.

Christopher Walken's caricature in the foreground at Sardi's following its unveiling in 2010.
Christopher Walken's caricature in the foreground at Sardi's following its unveiling in 2010.
Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Occasionally, customers do try to turn the tables. Ipecacxink, a caricature artist at a Midwest theme park, writes in a Reddit AMA about a boy she accidentally made very upset with her drawing. "I went to lunch right after I did it. Apparently while I was gone, he came back and drew a circle with spikey hair, glasses, and frowny eyebrows and a note that said, 'How do you like someone making fun of you?!' under it. He then placed it on my chair. It was hilarious. I saved it."

At Sardi's—the Times Square tourist destination known for its wall of caricatures—some of the celebrities depicted have gotten mad enough to take down their pictures, the restaurant's owner told AMNew York. It used to be that the in-house caricaturist (who's paid in meals instead of money) would hand over unfinished versions to the subjects first, to get the seal of approval, before going on to later exaggerate their features. That's stopped, but these days the caricatures have become less humorous, and more like regular portraits—which helps keep the peace between the restaurant and its famous clientele.

7. THEY CAN DO PORTRAITS IN AS LITTLE AS THREE MINUTES.

When she’s sketching guests at amusement parks like Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Missouri, Holt aims to churn out a black-and-white portrait in three minutes. Working at a wedding reception, where she might add color, six minutes is the max. Much of this has to do with fitting in as many guests as possible—“You have to be fast to get through the crowd or they’ll leave,” she says.

For Holt, the need for speed means she has to “go with her instincts; there isn’t time to second-guess” a depiction. For Richmond, working quickly means caricaturists develop a "sixth sense" for how to capture expressions: “You develop an instinct for people, whether they’re energetic and outgoing, or more quiet." Some of that means honing in on their signature details: "Friends behind will be going, 'It’s the smile! That's exactly how he looks!'" Richmond says.

8. BORING-LOOKING CUSTOMERS ARE THE HARDEST.

Man's hands with pencils drawing a woman's portrait
iStock

The caricaturist's worst fear is the customer who comes in looking exactly like the girl (or guy) next door. "Most people are surprised to hear that what I consider to be the most difficult sort of person to draw is one that is completely average looking," caricaturist GertrudisSlugworth, who works at a theme park, wrote on Reddit."I will get a bland looking individual every once in a while, and when it happens I usually try to focus more on things like clothes, hair, or jewelry to get a decent likeness."

On the other hand, people who are naturally distinctive-looking are often artist favorites. Richmond says he particularly loves drawing Slash, the guitarist from Guns N’ Roses. “He’s already funny looking, with no features, just glasses, hair, and a big top hat, so you don’t have to work that hard,” he says. “You can just do him standing there with his guitar by his ankles, like he plays it, or exaggerate how he puts his head back, which shows a lot about him as a player.”

9. THEY MAY CHANGE THEIR TECHNIQUE TO SUIT THE WAY YOU LOOK.

When she first started in the business, Holt says she dreaded drawing people who weren’t thin; she was afraid they might take offense at her portraits, although she didn’t intend any. Over the years she’s honed a technique in which she draws faces using a soft line that thickens toward the bottom. The result is “Cute, but they still feel like it looks like them,” Holt says.

GertrudisSlugworth writes that for people with obvious deformities, she may forego exaggerations, even though those are normally the hallmarks of caricature: "I find the best way to handle it is to go more realistic than exaggerated, depending on their attitude. Sometimes if it's an easy fix (e.g missing an eye), the customer will just ask to be drawn as 'normal.' For the most part though, people recognize any obvious deformities they have, and accept your portrayal of them."

10. STREET ARTISTS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE.

Tourists look at caricaturists in Rome
PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images

Richmond says that artists "sitting in front of a museum while the subject is in front of them have more of an advantage" than he does when it comes to creating an expressive caricature, since he often has to work from photos, which don't show gesture and personality in the same way. "When I'm working from 2D photos, all you’ve got is what the photo shows you, and it's basically superficial. It doesn’t really do it."

Holt agrees: "Working from a picture is different from getting your first instincts from a person." When a freelance client wants her to draw someone from photos, she says she'll at least ask for multiple photos to work from, especially body shots, which help to show posture—yet another indicator of the subject's personality.

11. THEY'RE INCREASINGLY IN DEMAND.

Richmond says that although staff cartoonists may be disappearing at newspapers as that industry shrinks, editorial cartooning—which often relies on caricature—“is experiencing a boom right now." Some of this is thanks to the heated political climate, he notes. But there's a deeper reason, too: "Most media stories, TV shows, or articles are, at bottom, about people and need images of people to illustrate [them]," Richmond says. "Caricature is one thing you can’t do with a camera, so when you need a humorous touch, caricature is a great solution."

12. THERE'S A CARICATURIST CONVENTION.

The ISCA hosts an annual convention each November that draws hundreds of caricaturists from around the world. Aside from a week of guest speakers, seminars, and demonstrations, the main attraction is a days-long competition in which the artists draw each other for prizes in categories like best color technique and most humorous. (The big award there is called the Golden Nosey.) Richmond says, “The variety of styles [there] is crazy: acrylic painting, pastels, airbrush, sculpture, and everything in between.” Holt says there's even an artist who spits ink out of his mouth.

13. THEY MIGHT HIDE THINGS IN THEIR PORTRAITS.

Artwork by Al Hirschfeld on display at The New York Botanical Garden in 2011
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Richmond says that a favorite stylist of his is the late Al Hirschfeld, who for decades hid his daughter’s name, Nina, in his cartoons of cultural icons for The New York Times. (Hirschfeld would append the number of Ninas to his signature, creating a kind of game for readers). Ipecacxink says she "used to draw a picture of my face in [subject's] pupils sometimes. Really tiny. Or, I used to draw a little radioactive symbol somewhere in the drawing. We had to wear these god-awful neon yellow shirts to work, and I always felt we were radioactive."

14. THEY CAN TELL WHEN YOU DON'T WANT A DRAWING.

Occasionally, parents, friends, or partners will purchase a drawing for someone who just isn't interested. In that case, the caricaturist can probably pick up on it: "They either wouldn't look at you, wouldn't smile, or just sit down funny," ipecacxink writes. "I tried to handle it professionally. I would talk, if they wouldn't talk, I'd be quiet, but smile like an idiot when it was all said and done ... I always tried to be friendly to lessen the likelihood of them leaving without paying."

15. THEY MIGHT BE SWAPPING THEIR PENCILS FOR A TABLET.

Some contemporary caricaturists paint portraits, like Owens’s traditional satirical masters once did. They may also be adept with other analog media, like bullet-tip markers, color sticks (basically colored pencils with no wood casings), pen and brush, and paper. But thanks to the changing needs of publications in an online age, which want all files submitted electronically, caricature artists working in their studios have also gone digital. Holt sometimes works on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil in Procreate. Richmond now does all his coloring on a computer or a tablet. “[A tablet’s] so convenient, because it’s like having unlimited amounts of paper, and your pencil never needs to be sharpened, and all your tools fit in a tiny bag,” he says. “But it’s still about the creativity behind it. Computers can’t do it all on their own.”

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