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Oil Pastel Cats Inspired by Laurel Burch

Oil Pastel Cat inspired by Laurel Burch

What’s not to love about these whimsical, colorful cats inspired by San Francisco artist, Laurel Burch? This fun project can be adapted to almost any age group…. the examples here were done by my 4th graders.

My students always enjoy learning about the lives of famous artists, and the story of prolific artist Laurel Burch (1945-2007) really inspired them!  Her highly stylized artwork can be found on products from clothing to jewelry to dishes, but her strength of character is what really captured my students’ attention.

Laurel Burch as an inspiration

Laurel Burch is a great example of how a positive attitude can get you through all kinds of adversity.

She was resourceful. As a self-taught artist and single mom in her 20’s, she started a business in her home. Laurel Burch sold her paintings and jewelry made from metal found in junkyards.

She knew how to persevere. Laurel Burch suffered her entire life from a painful, rare bone disease called osteopetrosis. This caused her bones to be so brittle that she endured over 100 fractures in her lifetime. Even still, she rarely stopped working.

She thought of others more than herself. Her life was hard, yet she remained more focused on those around her than on herself. She became known for her generous donations to charities.

Laurel Burch was only 61 when she died, but her legacy lives on through her art and her many contributions to charitable causes.  She viewed her disease as a “gift”. She believed that you could make something beautiful from any situation, and refused to accept any other way of thinking.  Laurel Burch is inspirational far beyond her artwork!

Make a project inspired by Laurel Burch



  1. Use a white oil pastel to lightly draw a border about 1″ from each edge of your paper.
  2. Continuing with your white oil pastel, use simple lines and shapes to make a rough outline of a cat.  Include simple patterns on the cat, background, and border.  There’s no need to draw with a pencil first, as any mistakes can be easily covered up later on.
  3. Now use the side of your oil pastels (the halves with paper removed) to apply the first layer of color to your design.  (Oil pastels give the best results when you layer them, completely covering your paper, so don’t skip this step!)
  4. For the next layer (or layers), hold your oil pastel as you would a crayon, pressing hard to get the most intense colors.  It can be fun to color “every which way” to add a lively “brushstroke” effect. Be sure to hold your oil pastels close to the tip… they’re very soft and will break easily, especially once the paper is removed!  Take care to layer colors that blend well together and avoid layering compliments (colors across from each other on the color wheel, like red and green).  A scrap of black paper is handy for testing possible combinations.  (Hint: Applying white on top of any color will make it brighter!)
  5. Now play “hide the paper” and keep working until your entire paper is covered with at least two layers of color.
  6. The final step is to outline by simply tracing over your original drawing… we usually use black for this, but sometimes a white outline can look great, too!

Oil Pastel Cat inspired by Laurel Burch

Oil Pastel Cat inspired by Laurel Burch

Oil Pastel Cat inspired by Laurel Burch

Oil Pastel Cat inspired by Laurel Burch

Visit Teach Kids Art on Facebook for more charming examples of our 4th grade cats! 

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