Oil Pastel Art Lesson Plan on Exploring Underwater Life

Oil pastels are a fun and easy drawing tool for the art classroom.This oil pastel art lesson plan is a great way to observe and learn about underwater life and teach students pastel techniques.


  • pencils
  • erasers
  • oil pastels
  • green, blue, or black construction paper
  • paper towels (optional)
  • tools for scraping like plastic spoon, pencil tips, safety scissors (optional)


  • images & illustrations of the Great Barrier Reef and other underwater ecosystems.
  • works of art by other artists whose subject matter is underwater life, two examples might be Red Fish by Matisse, The Golden Fish by Klee.


  1. Gauge student interest and motivate by beginning the oil pastel art lesson plan with a story. Some suggestions are: Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister; Swimmy, by Leo Lionni; What’s It Like to Be a Fish? by Wendy Pfeffer
  2. Discuss the things students observed in the story illustrations. (plants, fish, water, bubbles, rocks, etc.)
  3. Show students images of real life underwater scenes including coral reefs, pointing out some of the things they saw in the story.
  4. Also show students some examples of artists who have used aquatic life as a theme.
  5. Students will use oil pastels on construction paper to illustrate their own small part of the ecosystem including plant & fish life.
  6. Have student begin by drawing lightly in pencil on their paper. Let them refer to illustrations and photographs when drawing details.
  7. Using oil pastels, students will fill in their sketches to create a colorful underwater scene.

Oil Pastel Techniques

Before students fill in their underwater drawings with oil pastels, it may be helpful to demonstrate some of these techniques.

  1. Use the side of their pastel stick to cover a larger surface area. (like the background)
  2. Use linear strokes for hatching, cross hatching, making outlines or adding fine details. (this will be helpful for drawing the fish & plants or can be used to show movement within the water, much like Van Gogh’s Starry Night)
  3. To achieve interesting color combinations, have students layer colors and blend with their fingers or a paper towel.
  4. Have students layer colors and using a pencil tip, plastic spoon, or other sharp object to draw into (sgraffito) or scrape away the top layer for details. (this can be helpful with the fish scales, plant or rock details)
  5. To draw air bubbles in their underwater scene, students can make circles with white pastel and outline with another color or draw bubbles with a color and outline in white.

Things For Students to Think About:

As students work & complete their drawings, these are additional things you may want to share and point out to help them complete their underwater oil pastel art lesson plan.

  • Fish, plants, underwater life are not one solid color and made up of different colors, light and dark.
  • Water is not just blue and can be other colors.
  • Outlining can help define an object or make it stand out from the background.
  • When an object is outlined, it does not have to be with black.
  • Overlapping or having items go off the page is ok.


  • Oil Pastel Technique: http://www.explore-drawing-and-painting.com/oil-pastel-technique.html