To Spray or Not to Spray: Working with Chalk Pastels

To Spray or Not To Spray…chalk pastels

Spraying 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 bear pastels. They are soft, glorious and come in every color imaginable.

To Spray or Not to Spray: Working with Chalk Pastels

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 chalkly, 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.

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.

To Spray or Not to Spray: Working with Chalk Pastels

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.

To Spray or Not to Spray: Working with Chalk Pastels

Tip #3

Draw first with a black oil pastel or waxy black crayon. The trick here is to encourage a child (especially on 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 simply 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 in this Underwater Jellyfish lesson. It’s just so pretty.

To Spray or Not to Spray: Working with Chalk Pastels

Bonus Tip

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.

To Spray or Not to Spray: Working with Chalk Pastels

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

Spraying Oil Pastels

So if you are past this and you have just created a chalk lesson with your kids, you might be wondering what’s next?

To Spray or Not to Spray: Working with Chalk Pastels

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 prayed 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?

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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

  • Phyl

    I did an annual favorite project with my students using chalk pastels on wet bogus paper. I blogged about it here: http://plbrown.blogspot.com/2012/02/abstract-fun-with-chalk-pastels.html. It’s a lot of fun, not so dusty as working dry, and we sealed the resulting artwork with ModPodge.

    • Charmaine

      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

      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

        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!

  • Kathwell

    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

      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.

  • Ying-ya

    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.

  • Erica

    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

      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!

  • Renee Adams

    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!

  • mary rogers

    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.

    • Patty Palmer

      Great idea! Thanks Mary.

  • Rosa Haynes

    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!

    • Patty Palmer

      I agree. Chalk is the most underrated art supply out there. Love your technique, too!

  • Sarah

    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

      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.

  • Rina

    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 🙂

    • Joulesnewton

      I have found that when the paper curls,I turned it over and ironed the backside. Does not harm the design.

  • Emily

    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 🙂

    • Patty Palmer

      Yay! I’m glad you will try them. I love them…messy but not as bad as paint.

      • Emily

        i’ve never really minded paint, i use acrylics with k-6!

  • ArtLove

    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

      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.

  • reba

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

  • Karlee

    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

  • Moira Dempsey

    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).

    • Claire

      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….

      • Patty Palmer

        Totally agree Claire.

      • Moira

        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.

  • Carrie

    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!

  • Piet Gibson

    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

      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!

  • Jenny Boyd

    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.

    • Lisa Baisner

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

  • Carrie

    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.

    • Lisa

      Laminate their work or use watered down glue.

  • Roy Cisneros

    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)

  • Debbie

    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.

    • Bunny

      Are these Archival?

  • Tammy

    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.

  • Erika

    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

      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.

    • Lisa

      Maybe watered down glue… 🙂

  • Barbara Loyd

    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.


    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…..

    • Patty Palmer

      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.

    • Bunny

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

  • Rose

    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

    • Patty Palmer

      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!

  • Betsy Dierlam

    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!

    • Patty Palmer

      Roofing felt? Who knew! Thanks!

  • Betsy

    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.

    • Patty Palmer

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

  • Shellie

    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!

  • Nicole

    Dear Patty,
    I have done a picture with willow charcoal on a canvas. It was sprayed with a fixatif. Then we added pastel chalk for color. We now have a problem because the fixative will take all the color away. What can we use on a canvas. Do you think cheap hairspray will do or is rustoleum clear enamel would be better.
    Second solution how can we frame the canvas with a glass?

    Thanks Nicole

  • Cecilia Wauschek

    I do scrapbooking can I use chalk on cardstock and will it smudge if I put it in a page protector if so what can I do so it won’t smudge I greatly appreciate ur info on it.

    • Patty

      Chalk will definitely smudge. Which is the reason why we use it in art class. Try it out to see how it works with your photos. 🙂

  • Diane Hall Wright

    I used hair spray on my charcoal drawings from my studio drawing classes in college in the ’60’s. My drawings were large, usually 40″ x 60″”, Kraft paper. I recently enrolled them to show to the brand-new nieces and nephews, no worse for wear! They still look like they did almost 50 years ago.

  • Diane Hall Wright

    I used hair spray on my charcoal drawings from my studio drawing classes in college in the ’60’s. My drawings were large, usually 40″ x 60″, on Kraft paper. I recently enrolled them to show to grandkids, no worse for wear! They still look like they did almost 50 years ago.

    • Patty

      Great tip!

  • Alice

    Good tips for a beginner like me! Thanks??

  • Shelley Schoby

    I really enjoy your lessons and helpful hints!

  • Julie Stimson

    I am looking for final net hairspray and only see non-aerosol versions. Is this what you use or is their an aerosol? Also, does it keep pastel colors vivid?

    • Patty

      I would buy any inexpensive aerosol. You’ll want the finest mist possible. And yes, it does discolor the art a bit but depending on the quality of chalk pastels, it isn’t that noticeable. I would def try it on a sample before using it on your kid’s art 🙂

  • Aimee Bonham

    Hi patti- I suggest using KOSS brand pastels. I’m a street painter and participate in the festivals like at the one in Santa Barbara at the mission. KOSS is a company located in LA. They sell lots of chalk to festivals street painting festivals all over the country.

  • Sharon M Herther

    Try 400 grit sandpaper. Wet or dry sand paper is a dark grey. Regular is tan. Just like the expensive stuff and you can really layer the pastels!

  • Sasha Roberts-Levi

    How did the Alpha chalk work out? I have given up on chalk pastel as they are VERY DUSTY. If I use chalk I do use fixative. It’s beautiful on black paper, but you have to apply it during and after drawing! I would love to find a good school grade chalk!

    • Hannah

      Hi Sasha!! We will be doing a follow-up tutorial VERY soon that will go over the best ways to work with chalk pastels 🙂 -Hannah(Team Sparkle)

  • jessica marie saenz

    thank you for the advice and information

  • Kandi

    Need need of an expert guidance I have a chalk drawing of me that was at a fair 45 years ago. I just noticed that it has started to faded out. I don’t have a clue of what to do, any and all your opinion will be greatly appreciated! Thanking you in advadance for your help!

  • D

    Very helpful.
    Much appreciated.

  • Ryan Radford

    I’ve done a picture on canvas, to do the background I mixed acrylic and watercolour paint and on parts of the picture I used coloured chalk pastels on top of the painted background. What can I use to seal it

  • Jess

    Thank you for sharing these very inspiring tips! Excited to get started.

  • Mary Eliza

    Pump or Aerosol hair spray????

    • Patty

      Aerosol 🙂

  • Kellie Whitten

    To transport chalk pictures home I cut a paper towel tube into rings , write the child’s name on the ring and roll the chalk picture up to make it home without getting all over their backpack. No one flings a tube at a friend like they want to with a rubber band.

  • Cristina Kaisserian

    I am an artist…also um *laughing* yeah trying to find a way to ‘fix’ pastels..once I used so many products on a portrait that I couldn’t sign it ’cause it was too shiny…I had to collage my signature to the piece

  • Jennifer Graham

    Does it matter if the Final Net Hairspray is aerosol or non-aerosol?

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