Your K-8 students can create stunning works of art by following these secrets to success for using oil pastels.
Kids love the clear, bright colors of oil pastels and their creamy consistency. They can cover a large area quickly, which makes them ideal for the shorter attention spans of early elementary students.
Parents and teachers love that oil pastels are inexpensive, long-lasting, low-mess, and widely available. But perhaps the best reason to love oil pastels is the impressive results that kids can achieve by following these ‘secrets to success’.
Secrets to success for using oil pastels
1. Choose the right paper
A paper with a little bit of “tooth” or texture will yield better results than paper that is smooth. Pacon Tru-Ray Heavyweight (Sulphite) Construction Paper is the best and is very inexpensive. I like the 12×18 size because kids can be free to work large but it can easily be cut to a smaller size, like 9×12, when needed.
Using oil pastels on black paper is my favorite because it really makes the colors ‘pop’! But white paper can also work well if that’s what you have.
2. Avoid using pencil to sketch your design
Show kids how to sketch their basic design (no details) using the pink eraser on the end of their pencil. This helps them sketch quickly, working large and loose. Any parts they don’t like can be wiped away and quickly redone – without the risk of unwanted pencil marks showing.
Have students use a white oil pastel to lightly trace over their eraser sketch. Then wipe away any eraser debris.
3. Layer your colors
Next, have students layer 2 or more colors of oil pastel everywhere throughout their design. This will yield a richness and vibrancy that can’t be achieved using just a single color. The Pentel 16 color set (or the 25 color set, which only costs a few cents more) is my personal favorite.
When layering, it’s important to avoid using complementary colors or the result may look muddy. For example, red, orange, and yellow are from the same color family and will look vibrant when layered together. But red layered with green (its complement) would look dull and drab.
Using white as a second layer or as a final layer on top will brighten everything up! You could also give students a smaller piece of the paper they’re working on to use for testing color combinations.
Remind students to press hard, holding their oil pastels close to the tip to keep them from breaking.
4. Cover your entire paper
Kids often think they’re finished before they really are! Have them check with you to confirm that they’ve covered their whole paper before going on to the final step.
5. Final step – outline!
To really make their oil pastel designs ‘pop’, have kids outline each separate shape with a black oil pastel. This is optional, but in most cases, it will add a powerful effect!
6. Clean-up tips
Instruct students when it’s time to carefully put their oil pastels back in the box. Each oil pastel should go into its own space in the tray, before sliding the tray into the box. Check to make sure the top of the box is flat and not lumpy.
Then pass out a wet wipe (my students prefer this term to ‘baby wipe’!) to each student. Have them use it to first clean their hands and then wipe off the top of their desk. A single wet wipe should take the oil pastel right off hands and desk, saving a line at the sink!
7. Get the most from your supplies
Everyone loves getting a brand new box of oil pastels, but remind students that broken ones work just as well as whole ones! If a piece of oil pastel is big enough to pick up, it’s big enough to use.
When the pieces are too small to hold onto and colors are missing, it’s time to replace that set. Then you can pour your “retired” sets into shallow containers (I use box lids) for use with younger students. These are perfect for sharing at table groups in kindergarten!
A FREE download
Try out these secrets to success for using oil pastels for yourself with my free download! You can find “Oil Pastel Sunflowers Inspired by Vincent Van Gogh” for FREE in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
MORE oil pastel projects inspired by famous artists
Use oil pastels to teach art history with these projects inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe, Marc Chagall, and Laurel Burch.
Mimi Richman says
Sakura Cray-Pas is great for kids, their size makes it easier for young kids to hold and use. However, even older folks, particularly those who have trouble with their grip strength, find these oil pastels a lot more comfortable and easier to use.
Cheryl Trowbridge says
Thanks for your comment, Mimi! I agree… oil pastels are fun at any age!