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To Spray or Not to Spray: My best advice for working with chalk pastels in children's art

Chalk pastels are one of my favorite products to use in the art room. They allow a child to lay down a lovely layer of color with just their fingers. No paint, brushes or water necessary to create a colorful work of art. And if you’re into color-mixing, you can’t beat pastels. They are soft, glorious and come in every color imaginable.

So why do they have a bad rap in the art room?

Well, they are dusty for one.

And pretty messy.

And some kids (okay, me) don’t like the chalky, dry feeling on their hands.

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.

5 tips for working with chalk pastel in kid's art

 

My 5 Top Tips for Working with Chalk:

TIP # 1

If you are working with a new set of pastels, go ahead and break the long sticks in half. Yes, you heard me right. You don’t need perfect, unmarked sticks of chalk to create beautiful art. In fact, the smaller the piece, the easier it is for a small child to work with.

TIP # 2

Use black paper instead of the white. For many of my projects that feature chalk pastel, I set out colored paper (black is my favorite) for the background base of the drawing. The dark background allows the vibrancy of the chalk pastel to really pop. This Rainforest Chalk Art lesson is a great example of how the chalk really pops on the darker paper.

TIP # 3

Draw first with a black oil pastel or waxy black crayon. The trick here is to encourage a child (especially one that is 10 and under) to draw large. Larger drawings are far easier to color, especially when you are using chalk. Color right up to the black line and smooth the chalk. This lesson on drawing Modigliani-Inspired Portraits shows how effective outlining can be.

TIP # 4

After drawing with an oil pastel and coloring with chalk, outline the good drawing lines with a black oil pastel. This really makes the piece stand out.

TIP # 5

Use chalk pastel over dry paint to add highlights, contrast and extra details. There is simple no better way for a child to add layers of interest, contrast and texture to a piece of art than using chalk over dry paint. Hands down my favorite art technique. One of my favorite examples of adding tints and shades to a painting using chalk pastels is this Underwater Jellyfish lesson. It’s just so pretty.

BONUS TIP

Paint like Van Gogh's Starry Night

Ready for more fun with chalk pastels? A really cool technique for chalk pastel is to dip the chalk into white paint. Here’s the thing. If you dip the paint into a liquid-whether it’s water or paint- the chalk gets wet, too. And it starts to smudge on the paper and blend with the paint color. I used this technique in my popular art project, Van Gogh Starry Night project.

It creates a very texture, and beautiful piece of art.


 

DOWNLOAD A FREE LESSON:

This colorful, chalk iguana lesson has been one of my favorite projects to do with kids. You can download it by clicking the red banner below, entering your email address and it will be delivered to your email.


 

Should you spray a child's chalk art project?

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:

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”.

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.

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.

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?

 

READY TO GIVE PASTELS A TRY? Click the button below to receive a FREE art project and video tutorial….

    61 Comments

  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.

        Cynthia

        October 4, 2013

      • Aerosol? Where do u find it?

        Victoria

        February 17, 2016

        • Do you mean hairspray? You can find lots of inexpensive brands at Drugstores.

          Patty Palmer

          February 17, 2016

      • Yep – hairspray is the best – I’ve been running art studios teaching 2000+ kids art classes every week and all we ever use is hairspray and trust me we’ve tried everything! :)

        Crystal M Foth

        May 8, 2016

        • 2000+ kids is insane Crystal! You are super woman!

          Patty Palmer

          May 9, 2016

    • 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.

      Charmaine

      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!

        Phyl

        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!

    Kathwell

    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.

    Ying-ya

    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!

    Erica

    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. :-)

    Sarah

    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 :)

    Rina

    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 :)

    Emily

    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!

        Emily

        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.

    ArtLove

    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)

    reba

    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

    Karlee

    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….

      Claire

      September 22, 2015

      • Totally agree Claire.

        Patty Palmer

        September 22, 2015

      • The reason it was banned was due to health issues for children with breathing problems like asthma. Evidently, our new school’s air vents are intertwined with every classroom. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I just use a bit of chalk it will be ok, like the jelly-fish project.

        Moira

        April 4, 2016

  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!

    Carrie

    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

    • Same here, I like to do a rainforest with chalks and Hairspray works…but curls paper…

      Lisa Baisner

      January 6, 2016

  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.

    Carrie

    December 16, 2014

    • Laminate their work or use watered down glue.

      Lisa

      January 6, 2016

  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.

    Debbie

    May 20, 2015

    • Are these Archival?

      Bunny

      March 14, 2016

  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.

    Tammy

    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?

    Erika

    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

    • Maybe watered down glue… :)

      Lisa

      January 6, 2016

  23. A friend who teaches high school art used hairspray, but she said to put the pastel art work on the floor then spray, allowing 4-6 feet. That keeps colors true. Also, if sprayed too closely and work turns too dark, add light colors on top of dried work, then spray again from the 4-6 feet recommended.

    Barbara Loyd

    February 28, 2016

  24. I was shocked several years ago when I finally dove in and tried chalk pastel with K-2 classes. We spent a lot of time talking about how to blend colors. We used q-tip swabs for details and cotton balls for larger areas, like backgrounds. I was amazed at the way even the Kinders slowed down and worked QUIETLY on this project. Since that day chalk pastels have been our favorite art medium to use. I also found that a layer of tissue before stacking unfinished work and a spritz of AquaNet hairspray when finished kept everything nice and neat. Now if I could just find a way to like working with clay…..

    PAULA

    February 29, 2016

    • Love this Paula! Sometimes it’s the tiniest detail that can transform a class. You obviously introduced your little ones to chalk in the right way.

      Patty Palmer

      March 1, 2016

    • Try porcelain clay. Much cleaner. Takes colors nicely. Only a little more expensive. But has nice silky like qualities.

      Bunny

      March 14, 2016

  25. I have a chalk drawing on a black sheet that was stretched like canvas.according to the previous comments, it sounds like hairspray will change the colors. Should I use hairspray or rustoleum clear enamel spray or a fixative to seal. I am going to put it under plexiglass. It is very large

    Rose

    March 22, 2016

    • Oh, I’m not sure about this one. it doesn’t sound like the stuff we do with kid’s art. I would head to an art supply store to see what they would recommend. Good luck!

      Patty Palmer

      March 22, 2016

  26. Patty, I just tried chalk pastels on roofing felt and it is BEAUTIFUL!!! After tapping off the loose chalk, it’s not nearly as messy as using card stock. I was inspired by your color mixing fish exercise and used a black oil pastel and then chalk followed by black oil pastel to make the colors pop. My students are thrilled with their projects!

    Betsy Dierlam

    April 16, 2016

    • Roofing felt? Who knew! Thanks!

      Patty Palmer

      April 18, 2016

  27. I love chalk pastels and have always used the cheap ones from Micheal’s “Artist’s Loft” – their store brand. I also love using them on black roofing felt.

    Roofing felt also makes for nice templates for clay work or for support for clay work. I always keep a roll of it handy. Want to try acrylics on it.

    Betsy

    May 8, 2016

    • Roofing felt? Wow! Love this thread and the ideas. Can’t wait to try it.

      Patty Palmer

      May 9, 2016

  28. Just tried hairspray on my sons Art project he used chalk pastels on board. It made small dark spots everywhere. I will try and find a finer cheaper misting spray.. I have my degree in Art and we were taught not to spray our pastel drawings anymore if you are framing or selling them. The framing place has a special way of placing them in the frame without hurting it. However a kids Art project is different, especially if they have to transport it. Great post, thank you!

    Shellie

    May 16, 2016

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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