Art Therapy: Pastel Print Making

Spending quality time with children can create opportunities for connection, positive role modeling, and generating balance within a family. While spending quality time is valuable for both parents and children, it can be hard to find activities that both generations enjoy. As an art therapist, I have found that adults and children benefit from the art making process and engaging in creative activities. Children are especially receptive to sensory-based art, which incorporates traditional and non-traditional art materials and techniques. This post will introduce a pastel print making technique that is fun for parents and children who want to spend quality time together.

There are a couple of reasons why I like this pastel print making technique. First, there is little room for control over what your image will look like, and I believe this can be beneficial. Instead of creating art with intent and purpose of what you want the final image to look like, the process of making the art becomes more valuable. Focusing on the art making process provides an opportunity for self-expression and decreases feelings of intimidation or anxiety, which are feelings that can be triggered when creating art. Additionally, this technique provides a sensory-based experience that stimulates tactile, visual, and kinesthetic functions of your body.  Sensory stimulation is constructive for all ages because it creates space for self-awareness and being present.

While engaging in this technique I encourage you to ask yourself and participating family members:

  • Be present with the art making process. Where does the pastel dust fall? Does the water move where the pastel dust and water meet? Do the colors blend together or do they layer on top of each other? What temperature is the water? When sanding the pastel, is your hand moving quickly or slowly? Are you standing or sitting?

  •  Think about the rational behind creating your art. What colors did you choose and why? Do the colors reflect your current mood? Are you keeping your image or giving it to someone else? Did you find the art making process relaxing or frustrating?

Supplies and Steps

You will need:

  • Colorful artist chalk or chalk pastels (I like Pro Art chalk pastels because they work well for this task and they are inexpensive)
  • Sandpaper or sanding tool
  • Container or tub filled with approximately 3 to 4 inches of water
  • Watercolor paper
  • Aerosol hairspray
  • Glitter (optional)
  • Paper towels

* I bought my supplies from Pat Catan's.


Step One:

Once your supplies are prepped and ready, pick out three to four pastels and make sure that your watercolor paper is cut to size to be able to fit in your water container. The first step is to sand the pastels over the water container so that the dust created lands on top of the water. The more color you add the better because it will enhance your final image. Tip: Make sure your water is still before starting or the pastel dust will sink to the bottom of the container. Also, if your pastel falls into the water it will no longer sand correctly.


Step Two:

After you feel satisfied with the amount of pastel dust on top of the water, you can choose to sprinkle glitter onto the pastel dust. Tip: Use a small amount of glitter or it will cause large air bubbles on your image.


Step Three:

Gently lay the watercolor paper on top of the water and slowly dunk the paper into the water (try not to let the paper hit the bottom of the container). Once the paper is submerged in water, immediately take it out by pulling the paper at an angle and laying it down to dry on a paper towel.


Step Four:

After twenty minutes, spray an even layer of hairspray over your image. This helps the pastel to adhere to the paper. I recommend adding a second layer of hairspray after your image is completely dry for an added lay of protection.


Final Thoughts

If you participated individually, or engaged with your family, I hope that you found enjoyment and inspiration out of the pastel print making technique. If you are hesitant about trying pastel print making or only feel comfortable with certain art materials and techniques, I encourage you to challenge yourself to try something new!

As an artist, art therapist, and counselor I am always on the quest for creative inspiration and new art techniques to use with clients and incorporate into my personal art making. Through my journey for inspiration, I have found myself frustrated at times because directions I followed became misleading or my final product would not turn out the way it was supposed to look. My hope is to create a monthly blog post about art techniques and ideas that I find therapeutic, unique, and that actually work. These posts are not just aimed at professionals but for anyone who is looking to add a little more creativity into their lives.

Transformation Ideas:

  • Fold your image in half and create a card to send to someone
  • Cut or rip your image into small pieces and use the pieces to create another image (transformation)
  • Collage on top of your image or incorporate your image into a collage
  • Create many pastel images to form a collection or series

Carly Salpietro, LPC, AT, is a counselor and art therapist who believes in the power of therapy and the process of art making to restore, reconcile, and foster a greater understanding of ourselves.