How to Paint without Paint

How to use a simple product to paint without paint. So easy to create beautiful paintings without the mess.

What? Paint without paint?

Yes. It can be done with a most humble product: water-soluble oil pastel.

Faber-Castell makes a wonderful Gel Stick in a plastic applicator that looks a lot like Chapstick. These little beauties are really water soluble oil pastels and when applied thickly onto paper, a swipe of a wet brush turns the oil pastel into a puddle of paint.


I experimented with the practicality of using these instead of watercolor or cake tempera for painting projects. The Faber-Castell Gel Sticks are quite soft so a hard plastic applicator is necessary for containing the goodness inside. This makes good sense because the softness of the pastel is what allows it to turn into paint so easily.

I created a little video of a bird that shows how the gel sticks work.

Paper: Card Stock (yes, card stock…works amazing!)

Brush: Aqua Flow Brush from Royal Langnickle

Oil Pastels: Faber-Castell Gel Sticks

The only negative is that because the Gel Sticks are so soft they will wear down fast. Not great f you plan to use these with every class, every day. I think they are best used as just one more option in your painting repertoire.

For my first grade students, I used the Gel Sticks on the last day of art class. We had 40-minutes to create a painting using white paper, a black water proof marker, gel sticks and a paint brush with water.

Using water-soluble oil pastels to create an easy abstract painting--without the mess.

  •  The kids drew a box along the perimeter of the paper.
  • With a Sharpie marker (or any other waterproof marker) they drew a series of lines. I asked the students to start at one edge of the box and draw a curved line to one other side. This helps get the ideas flowing.
  • After creating shapes with the intersecting lines, the kids colored their shapes.
  • Some kids used the oil pastels like oil pastels. Who could blame them? Still, it’s not necessary to completely fill the white space.
  • Use a brush and water to turn the oil pastel into paint. Blending and mixing colors encouraged

Using water-soluble oil pastels to create an easy abstract painting--without the mess.

Using water-soluble oil pastels to create an easy abstract painting--without the mess.

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  • Carol Wiltse

    I’ve been experimenting with these as well and trying to decide if the cost is justified. When I used them with Kinders they smooshed them down so much that they were used up in no time. I also tried Slick Sticks by Crayola which cost slightly less, but they are not water soluble. So……. my conclusion is that I will use the Faber Castel Gel Sticks with 2nd grade on up, for special projects. They are too much fun. I’m glad you found them too!

  • Tammy Hutchinson

    Hi Patty,

    I was organizing my Pinterest board and found my link to your site- it has really changed over the past couple of years! I retired from teaching 2 years ago, prior to that I often used your lessons with children I taught. As a reading specialist I paired your lessons with books we were reading, and you often had lit connections already planned for me. In retirement I’m pursuing my love of color with quilting and I think I will return often because your work makes me smile! Many ideas for bright appliques and more. Thank you for sew much fun and inspiration. I really do miss those kids, after 32 years who wouldn’t? But doing what I want, when I want has its place!

    • Patty Palmer

      “Sew” glad you are pursuing quilting! I love quilting, too. When my daughter was born I hand appliquéd a baby quilt. I love hand-applique and even did squares for a Baltimore Album. When I’m tired of teaching, I’m sure I’ll quilt again.

  • Cláudia

    Thank You for sharing such great projects!

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