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

To Spray or Not To Spray…chalk pastels


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.

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

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.


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.


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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?

What do you think?

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  • Jeanette Nyberg

    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

      Yup…Final Net spray. Works pretty well.

      • Cynthia

        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.

      • Victoria

        Aerosol? Where do u find it?

        • Patty Palmer

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

      • Crystal M Foth

        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! 🙂

        • Patty Palmer

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

        • Angela

          Hi what brand hairspray do you use please

    • Megan Mckenzie

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