To Spray or Not To Spray...


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.

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Yup…Final Net spray. Works pretty well.

      • Cynthia says:

        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.

    • Megan Mckenzie says:

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

  2. Phyl says:

    I did an annual favorite project with my students using chalk pastels on wet bogus paper. I blogged about it here: It’s a lot of fun, not so dusty as working dry, and we sealed the resulting artwork with ModPodge.

    • Charmaine says:

      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.

    • Patty Palmer says:

      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!

      • Phyl says:

        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!

  3. Kathwell says:

    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!

    • Patty Palmer says:

      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.

  4. Ying-ya says:

    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.

  5. Erica says:

    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!

    • Patty Palmer says:

      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!

  6. Renee Adams says:

    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!

  7. mary rogers says:

    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.

  8. Rosa Haynes says:

    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!

  9. Sarah says:

    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. :-)

    • Patty Palmer says:

      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.

  10. Rina says:

    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 :)

  11. Emily says:

    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 :)

  12. ArtLove says:

    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.

    • Judy pollard says:

      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.

  13. reba says:

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

  14. Karlee says:

    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

  15. Moira Dempsey says:

    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).

  16. Carrie says:

    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!

  17. Piet Gibson says:

    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.

    • Patty Palmer says:

      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!

  18. Jenny Boyd says:

    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.

  19. Carrie says:

    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.

  20. Roy Cisneros says:

    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)

  21. Debbie says:

    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.

  22. Tammy says:

    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.

  23. Erika says:

    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?

    • Patty Palmer says:

      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.

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About Patty

I teach art to 400 school children in Goleta, California. My art library contains hundreds of free art lesson ideas. My shop has art lesson plans, videos and resources to help you teach art to kids. It's a whole lot easier with Deep Space Sparkle.

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