Tips for Working with Oil Pastels

Oil pas­tels just might be my favorite Art medium for kids! Both set-up and clean-up are quick and easy, and with a few spe­cific instruc­tions, every stu­dent can achieve great (if not totally charm­ing!) results. Here are a few tips to help your stu­dents find suc­cess with oil pas­tels. You will prob­a­bly find your­self repeat­ing these instruc­tions over and over, but even­tu­ally it really does sink in!

1. Hold the oil pas­tel crayon close to the tip and press firmly. If you hold it far­ther up, it will break! (Even when oil pas­tels break, they are still usable. You can keep using them until there is lit­er­ally noth­ing left!)

2. Cover the entire paper with color. I usu­ally use black con­struc­tion paper, but blue works well for projects inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night or Monet’s Water Lilies. The younger the stu­dent, the more you have to keep remind­ing them not to leave any plain paper show­ing. Stu­dents in kinder­garten and 1st grade usu­ally don’t have the atten­tion span for any­thing larger than 9x12 using this technique!

3. Layer your col­ors! You can achieve incred­i­ble, glow­ing col­ors with oil pas­tels by lay­er­ing one color on top of another. This works best using col­ors that are anal­o­gous, or next to each other on the color wheel (ex. orange on top of red, green on top of blue, etc.). Try adding white on top of any color to really liven it up! You may need to coax some stu­dents to put in the extra effort to layer every color, but the fin­ished results are well worth the nagging!

4. Check with the teacher to be sure you have cov­ered your entire paper with at least two lay­ers of color before pro­ceed­ing to the final step!! (They usu­ally think they’re done before they really are!)

5. Final step! Use a black oil pas­tel to out­line around every color change. This makes your col­ors really “pop”. Then sign your name in the lower right cor­ner. Encour­age stu­dents to have a neigh­bor check to make sure they have out­lined every­thing before they come to you for the final check. (Again, they usu­ally think they’re done before they really are!)

A 12x18 project will usu­ally take three 50 minute class ses­sions to com­plete. Any project last­ing three weeks could test the patience of some stu­dents but the reward for stick­ing with it is great! Play­ing some soft music while stu­dents work can help to keep them relaxed and focused. Or, work smaller if you want to fin­ish in less time. At the end of each class, pass out baby wipes for quick clean­ing of hands and desks!

“Van Gogh” flower by Syd­ney, grade 2
“Cha­gall” houses by Nicholas, grade 5


4 Responses to Tips for Working with Oil Pastels

  1. Anonymous October 17, 2008 at 10:41 am #

    Just had to com­ment about our first graders’ oil pas­tel draw­ings — they are beau­ti­ful! Thank you so much for your tips, encour­age­ment and expe­ri­ence. We played soft music and cre­ated amaz­ing art pieces that are frame wor­thy! One stu­dent even pro­claimed “I’m an artist!” Can’t thank you enough!!!!!!!!!!! JoAnn

  2. Charo August 29, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

    Thanks so much for these tips, they are very useful.


  1. Oil Pastel Still Life Inspired by Vincent Van Gogh | TeachKidsArt - April 30, 2013

    […] 5. Now fill in your paint­ing with at least two lay­ers of color every­where. Don’t use any black yet — we’re sav­ing that for last! You can add a layer of white to brighten any color. Try mak­ing your “brush­strokes” look expres­sive, like Van Gogh did. (Fol­low these tips for suc­cess with oil pastels!)  […]

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