Oil Pastel Animal Portraits


Oil pastels are not my favorite. Their smudgeness irritates the perfectionist in me and eventually they turn into a crumbly mess inside their once pristine boxes. That being said, when used the right way, they create beautiful artwork and are fairly forgiving as they can be erased fairly easily. This lesson is a nice one for my 8th graders’ egos as these animal portraits always look lovely when complete and are great for teaching blending, mark making, and creating a realistic animal portrait!

What you need:


Let’s get started!

Step One: 

Pick an animal! I lay out dozens of laminated pictures of animals that I have chosen because they are nicely zoomed in on their faces. I try to choose animals that have intriguing eyes, as this feature is the main focal point of our drawings. Once they have chosen their animals, I instruct my students to choose a color of construction paper that they think will look good with their animal. If you chose an elephant, obviously don’t go with a grey background.

Step Two:

Lightly draw your animal. Start out by drawing general shapes, very light and sketchy, then become more specific, adding details. I demonstrate how to map out your paper by drawing little lines where the top of the head will be and where the bottom of the chin will be. This keeps us in check and helps prevent students from drawing their animal too small.

Step Three: 

Begin layering pastels. I tell my students to select the colors they are planning on using from the pastel set and layering their marks up to create the look of fur. You want to use quick flicks of the pastel and look at the direction of the fur as it tends to change as you move across the animals face. You basically want to draw one hair at a time, blending with a finger or a tissue when you encounter smooth spots on your animals face. Be sure to look for subtle color changes and add shadows where you see them. Below is my example for this lesson, I find it helpful for my students to gather around a table and watch me demonstrate how to make long, smooth marks for longer hair and short, smudgey marks for shorter hair.

Step Four:

The Eye. My favorite part! Just look very closely at your animal’s eye. Choose every color you see in the eye out of your pastel box. Start with a base color and addd lighter and darker colors where you see them on your photo. Leave the pupil for last, as black can smuge into your other colors. The final, and most important step for making a realistic eye is the “sparkle”, the white spec of reflected light that makes your animals eye look wet.

Have fun!

Student examples: