Inspiring children one color at a time

To Spray or Not To Spray…

By on Sep 4, 2013 in Chalk Pastels, How to Teach Art, Teaching Philosophies, The Best Art Supplies | 41 comments


Chalk pastels are one of my most favorite products to use. They are so easy to prep: just haul from a drawer or cupboard and place on the tables. No one can argue with that! I think using chalk as a medium is frightening for some because of the dust and the difficulties little kids have with applying the chalk in a neat manner.

Truth is, it’s very hard to keep clean with chalk as it’s impossible to apply chalk neatly. Once you embrace this, I think you are on your way to some pretty amazing art lessons. So if you are past this and you have just created a chalk lesson with your kids, you might be wondering what’s next?

There are a few things that you can do to ensure that chalk art gets home safely:

  1. Newspaper: Before beginning a chalk project, lay a double spread of a newspaper down on the table. Not only does it help the children color evenly (a double layer provides some padding against a hard table) but you have an instant chalk protector on hand. Simply fold the newspaper over the artwork (tap excess chalk into a trash can) and place in a child’s portfolio. When you work on the artwork again, the children already have their “placemats”.
  2. Hairspray: You may have noticed that when you sprayed chalk pastel artwork with hairspray, the spray tends to discolor/lighten/darken or even pixilate the artwork. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking spraying as you never know what’s going to happen. The only advice I have is to use the brand with the finest spray. For me, Final Net Hairspray is the best.
  3. Fixatives: Quite honestly, I have tried a few fixatives over the years and I haven’t found one that works better than hairspray. They are expensive and I suspect aren’t meant for cheap school-grade chalk.
  4. Pastels: The best way to ensure that chalk will stay put is to use good chalk. In the past, I have always bought the most inexpensive pastels. They have always served me well but this year I splurged a bit and have purchased Alpha Color Pastels. I’m excited to see if they stay on the paper better. Perhaps you have tried them?

Do you experience trouble with chalk pastels? Do you “Spray”? Share your best chalk advice here….


  1. Wow! I haven’t heard the old hairspray tip before – very interesting. We haven’t done a chalk pastel project in a while; I think it might be time.

    Jeanette Nyberg

    September 4, 2013

    • Yup…Final Net spray. Works pretty well.

      Patty Palmer

      September 5, 2013

      • I laminate all my chalk projects. I leave an outer edge for it to seal correctly and the chalk stays in place. I have my students keep the chalk dust on the paper and it gives an extra sparkle with the lamination.


        October 4, 2013

    • hairspray also works with charcoal and pencil drawings – anything that smudges really. Oddly I’d not thought to put it on chalk, great hint

      Megan Mckenzie

      October 29, 2013

    • Phyl, I just linked to your lesson plan with wet bogus paper and chalk pastels and can’t wait to try it! The colors are so vibrant and I know it will be a great change from my usual fondness for oil pastels. I can also see this technique being good for my middle school students who are so reluctant to use chalk because they say it is “too messy”.

      Patty, I’ve always used hairspray to seal chalk pastels, usually whatever brand is cheaper at the dollar store. If I hold the can up high enough over the work it minimizes the spotting and usually dries with little or no change to the look of the colors. I have the students put their finished work on drying racks and do the spraying after school, then leave it on tables to dry overnight.


      September 5, 2013

    • What a great project, Phyl! I have never heard of bogus paper but I’ll look into it. The idea of wetting the better is great. I wonder if wetting the chalk would work in the same way?
      Oh, and the comment about Mars was hysterical. So perfect!

      Patty Palmer

      September 5, 2013

      • Patty, yes, you can dip pastel chalks in water for a quick dash of vibrant color, as long as you have a nice toothy or absorbent paper. Or, even cooler, try dipping the chalk into white tempera, and then draw with quick hard strokes. The color will OUTLINE with white! Of course, no matter hitch process you use, you still have the same dilemma when they are dry and back to their chalky state. An idea: maybe dip them in ModPodge or acrylic gloss or tempera varnish when you draw? I’d be interested to see if hat works-! Actually I’m amazed I never have tried it!


        September 5, 2013

  2. When I have used chalk pastels, I have the students use their finger or a q-tip to rub in the chalk dust. They make an outline with the chalk and then rub the dust toward the middle. This eliminates too much dust and leaves a shading effect on their art work. This looks really great on black paper!


    September 5, 2013

    • This sounds great. What brand of chalk do you use? I’m going to experiment with different brands this year to see what works best with the kids.

      Patty Palmer

      September 5, 2013

  3. This may produce some reflection glare, but we use contact paper on both side to form a seal on the art work. The chalk doesn’t smear off when kids touch it and it is easier and cleaner to store them.


    September 5, 2013

  4. Wow – great timing – we just finished a pastel chalk project yesterday! We did Arthur Dove inspired journal covers for our trip to the museum today. I used a spray fixative because I didn’t know about the hairspray. I wish I had read this before — what a mess! Even our white cat had pastel chalked paws by the time we were finished! I used white (Teton text) paper I had on hand. Next time I won’t. It was too textured and so left a lot of white and didn’t absorb the chalk as well. It also created a lot of dust. Thanks for another great post!


    September 6, 2013

    • It’s interesting about the textured paper. I think it helps for the paper to have some texture but perhaps not as textured as watercolor paper. Sounds like a great project!

      Patty Palmer

      September 6, 2013

  5. Yep, we have tried many different brands of fixative on our pastel drawings, we came to the conclusion that hairspray works best, and the cheaper the better. I like AuqaNet myself & it costs about .99 here in Texas. The bonus is the nice smell in the art room after you have sprayed 20 drawings! Lol!

    Renee Adams

    September 10, 2013

  6. I always have my students use a piece of brown paper toweling wrapped around their pointer finger. We put a light layer of chalk on the picture then rub it into the paper using paper towel. Students can use finger to rub chalk up to a line or to fill in an area without using a thick layer of chalk. If they feel the chalk looks too light they do another thin layer and rub that with towel, building up layers until they achieve the value they want. I seldom have to spray anything using this rubbing technique but if I do spray a project or two I use a light coating of hair spray.

    mary rogers

    September 11, 2013

    • Great idea! Thanks Mary.

      Patty Palmer

      September 12, 2013

  7. Kids love to rub chalk! I did this with my grade 1s last year. I told them to always use the same finger for the same colour when rubbing. As we were making peacock feathers, they could only use as many colours as they had fingers. Most stopped after 4 or 5 colours. Spraying not needed after rubbing chalk. During clean-up, they marvelled at all the liquid colours created while washing their hands in the sink. Love your site!

    Rosa Haynes

    September 11, 2013

    • I agree. Chalk is the most underrated art supply out there. Love your technique, too!

      Patty Palmer

      September 12, 2013

  8. I do this, but I have to keep the hairspray and fixatives at home except for the day I do use them. These contain chemicals that are highly flammable in a fire and could be harmful to children if they got a hold of them since they are toxic.
    Patty I think you are the absolute best art teacher ever. Keep up the good work! Thank you so incredibly much for your work with this site! I recommend it all the time. :-)


    September 12, 2013

    • Great point about the flammable hairspray. I never think of those thing. And thank you for the lovely compliment. I love this site and don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have it. So much fun.

      Patty Palmer

      September 12, 2013

  9. Hi Patty
    I use Aqua Net (always sprayed outside) to fix our chalk pastel artworks. It fixed the chalk, but I found out the paper curled as it dried. A reader suggested I pin the paper to cardboard before spraying. It worked! This takes a lot longer, but at least I don’t need to worry about the artwork blowing away :)


    September 15, 2013

  10. This post is the kick in the pants I need to do more soft pastel. My school is in an urban setting, and my room isn’t well ventilated (no access to open windows!!) so spraying anything is a challenge. I, myself, have a tactile aversion to chalk/pastel, so I rarely use it with kids, but that just doesn’t seem fair. Thanks for the inspiration! I’m off to make something colorful :)


    September 19, 2013

    • Yay! I’m glad you will try them. I love them…messy but not as bad as paint.

      Patty Palmer

      September 19, 2013

      • i’ve never really minded paint, i use acrylics with k-6!


        September 20, 2013

  11. Hairspray is best! I don’t use it indoors but I stand in the doorway so I can still be technically in the classroom and stand to the side where I can see them. then as they finish they bring me their artwork and I spray it. I don’t let them use it at all and all the fumes go outside. The cheapest hairspray from the 99 is best.


    January 16, 2014

    • Hairspray definitely works but i found it doesnt fix all the chalk. I have the kids paint a light coat of mod podge over top and it works great. It also gives the piece a shiny finish. I would imagine if you dont spray first you will have some smudging so make sure you blow off the extra dust first. Btw. I love your website. Keep up the good work.

      Judy pollard

      January 24, 2014

  12. thanks for the tips
    try papel amate
    dip chalk in milk and sugar solution and apply to wrinkled paper bag (simulating bark)


    February 9, 2014

  13. Looking for tips to seal my daughters chalk mural on an outdoor board for a exhibition? So it’s only really required to be viewed outdoors for 4 days….but obviously if it rains we’d like to preserve it for duration of exhibition….any recommendations….has to be a spray as a brush would wipe of the picture


    March 1, 2014

  14. I love using chalk pastels, but unfortunately, all art supplies that are dusty have been banned from the art classes. Bummer (and I had just ordered enough chalk pastels for 3 schools).

    Moira Dempsey

    May 8, 2014

    • The fact that an art teacher or institution running an art class finds it at all appropriate to ban traditional art materials is profoundly backwards in my opinion and quite counter productive. I can only fantasise it being mentally ill health driven, by anxiety and xenophobia…. of what colourful dust or not being able to make things clean enough… this is an oversight for progress, encouragement and creativity which all need ease to be freely expressed- otherwise whats the point of art…. anyway i dont want to offend anyone or imply they should do anything different i just get sad when i think of people trying to get in the zone and create and make and feel express live and someone comes, inspired to show them their adorable little drawing only to be told, “NO” to have banned the use of pencils so we don’t have to make messy shavings… How sad does that kids face look in your mind…. anyway dont know why i shared that but i did….


      September 22, 2015

      • Totally agree Claire.

        Patty Palmer

        September 22, 2015

  15. I didn’t have any hairspray on hand or foresight to get some before I finished a piece and needed to carry it out, so I gave it a very light coat of rustoleum clear enamel and it didn’t curl the paper or distort the colors as much as hairspray which I’ve used in the past. Of course it has to be done outside and smells like toluene for a while after!


    September 17, 2014

  16. Thank you Patty,
    I haven’t used a sealant since school art classes 60 years ago. We then used a mouth blown laqueur atomizer to cover our pastel and chalk drawings. Finding my soft graphite drawings smudging badly in transit I sought a more ‘modern’ solution. Fortuitously your wonderfully informative site was the first I opened, problem solved– the cheapest ‘hairspray’. Truthfully I was unaware that it was still available.
    So glad I found your class,
    probably your oldest Student in the UK, Piet.

    Piet Gibson

    September 28, 2014

    • I Piet,
      I’m a bit surprised that aerosol hairspray is still around as well, and perhaps even more surprised that I still use it! So glad that my site is useful and can provide some new solutions to some old problems. Thanks for your comment!

      Patty Palmer

      September 28, 2014

  17. I have a chalk pastel project that I do with my fourth graders. I tried a fixative last year and it made the projects lighten and pixilate very badly. Then, I tried Aqua Net Hairspray and the hairspray worked much better than the fixative.

    Jenny Boyd

    November 4, 2014

  18. Thanks for the hairspray tip! I am in the middle of my first chalk pastel project with 3rd and 5th grade. I went to use the many cans of spray fixative that I found in the cabinet ordered by a former art teacher and it says in huge letters that it is know to cause birth defects! I’m pregnant so I don’t want to even touch the stuff.
    So far their projects haven’t smudged much but I worry about them hanging in the hallway and getting rubbed by the kids walking by.


    December 16, 2014

  19. Patty, I’ve taken up a hobby, chalk. I’m using cardboard as my canvas. Using 2 or 3 colors to create a backdrop then writing a name on top. The “rubbing it in” technic smears the chalk. I’m brand new at this art. Need help. (But I did know about the hairspray)

    Roy Cisneros

    February 7, 2015

  20. Have you ever tried BF Hirm-Austria, Cretacolors … they are so beautiful and smooth. You can get them at finer art stores. They are costly.. but if you like chalks, these are 5 star all the way.


    May 20, 2015

  21. I took a mixed media class last year and the instructor swore by a mixture of NONFAT milk mixed with 70% alcohol applied with a very fine sprayer. The fumes are non toxic, dissipate quickly and generally dry quickly without spotting. I’ve had fairly good success with it. Definitely test the mixture and your sprayer before trying on the kids’ work – I hope it works for you. The mixture lasts a while on the shelf too.


    June 2, 2015

  22. I am doing a large art piece on wood and am using chalk. How can I preserve my drawing? Varnish makes the chalk disappear, and Daily Defense hairspray is not much better either. I am stuck , can you suggest something?


    June 16, 2015

    • Chalk by nature really isn’t permanent. I would use a spray designed for chalk but nothing will cover completely. I would suggest going into a art store (not Michael’s) and showing them your work or ask about sprays. They will better be able to answer your questions.

      Patty Palmer

      June 16, 2015


  1. Picasso’s Le Coq Pastel Project | Deep Space Sparkle - […] Read how to work with chalk pastels here. […]

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *