watercolor and pastels bird art lesson for kids spring project

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.

Teach art from a cart? Learn why this lesson is a great choice by downloading this free checklist and lesson guide! (We recommend using Chrome or Safari for this download!)

Click here to subscribe

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.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


  • 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!

Follow Us

In stores 8/21


The {lesson_title} Lesson is Locked inside of the {bundle_title}

Unlocking this lesson will give you access to the entire bundle and use {points} of your available unlocks.

Are you sure?

No Yes

The {bundle_title} is Locked

Accessing this bundle will use {points} of your available unlocks.

Are you sure?

No Yes



The {lesson_title} Lesson is Locked inside of the {bundle_title}

To unlock this lesson, close this box, then click on the “lock” icon.