Try out this oil pastel candle art lesson for illuminating and expressive results! My intermediate students have loved creating this artwork because there is something so mesmerizing about the glow of candlelight. Throughout art history, candlelight creates drama, mystery and contrast.
My husband is a painting professor at a small university, and he is obsessed with Caravaggio and De la Tour. He even saved his money in graduate school to travel throughout Italy, Sicily and Malta on a self-guided Caravaggio painting tour. #goals.
I told him about our candle light artwork and he excitedly spouted off his favorite chiaroscuro paintings like the art encyclopedia that he is.
I love having students write observations and reactions to paintings. The first six years of my career was at the high school level, and I am always refreshed at the open and honest conversations 10-12 year olds can have about art.
My personal favorite is The Penitent Magdalen by Geores de La Tour. It was painted in 1604 and sparks fantastic conversation. It’s a good reminder for 21st century kids that we didn’t always live in a world with iPhones and electricity.
You can also zoom in and do a detail study of the candle.
Techniques: Oil Pastel Candle Art Lesson
Because this lesson builds on prior skills, this lesson worked really well for my students. We have practiced oil pastel gradients for an Oil Pastel Donut Artwork as well as Expressive Cardboard Masks. Their excitement and confidence when we began this artwork made my art teacher heart proud.
If this is a new skill for your students, have them try out oil pastel gradients in a sketchbook. This is one of my favorite practice activities because it builds confidence in a technique before nervous students embarks on an artwork.
Oil Pastel Candle Classroom Ready Tutorial:
If you are at home, I highly encourage you to set up some candles, turn the lights off and try to capture the light from direct observation.
Because I teach this in a classroom setting, obviously a lighter and candles are not the most responsible choice. You can have students watch this in the background for inspiration. It includes music, which can be muted if it doesn’t fit your vibe. I like to play Chillhop as students enter the classroom and get their materials ready for the class period.
Oil Pastel Candle Steps:
I have students sketch out their candle size and shape first with guided drawing. I like to sit down at my old trusty document camera and sketch along with them. My students used blue pastel paper, but this can be done on any color or type of paper.
Once the idea is sketched out, we move on to gradients. I have students pick three colors (plus white!) that go from dark to light. My demo video shows a progression of yellow, orange, and red; so if I am doing this along with them I show a different set of colors.
I remind students to blend each color together and not just block them in separately. Also, to keep their lines organic and curved. Some students want to block colors straight across the candle shape, which provides a great opportunities to talk about form looking at cylinders.
Once the gradient has been blended on the candle itself it’s time to move on to my personal favorite part- the FLAME! There is something so satisfying about adding that little blue mark to the edge of my bright yellow flame.
The background is the final part of this artwork and I love how students creatively add color, line and rhythm to their backgrounds. It can be very simple and dark or filled with movement and color.
Due to the small size of the paper, this artwork took only a couple class periods. It helped that my students had already practiced and mastered oil pastel blending. I would like to try this on larger paper and add multiple candles and light sources. Because of all of the opportunity for color blending and brush stroke variety, this would make a great subject for an acrylic painting.
What is your favorite oil pastel lesson to teach? Let me know! If you try this out in your own classroom or at home, let me know how it goes and what you changed to fit your style. I’d love to hear from you!