Over here at Project Artwork at Home, we know that messy hands = happy hearts. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen some gorgeous pictures of these pastel hermit crabs… AND some messy, pastel-covered hands! We’ve been involved in an 8-week marine-life unit and had a blast learning about the tiny hermit crab, who isn’t really a hermit at all. These little critters have to shop the real estate market quite regularly since their shells do not grow along with their body!
Eric Carle’s book, A House for Hermit Crab is a crowd favorite among young children, and I love it when literature can provide inspiration and motivation to create art. I recently came across another beautiful book, Pagoo, by Holling C. Holling. This is a wonderful chapter book with detailed drawings and illustrations about the life and adventures of a small hermit crab.
In my Pinterest and online ramblings, I have seen quite a few hermit crab art projects, mostly for preschoolers and mostly involving handprints and paper plates. While I’ve got nothing inherently against that sort of thing–okay maybe a little!– I knew I wanted to take this project more in the direction of fine art and wanted to step it up a notch above just a simple craft. I love the look of soft pastels on dark paper and have also done projects incorporating a glue-resist kind of method so I decided to combine the two for this project.
I worked with kids ranging in age from 5 up to 10, and they all really enjoyed the process of the project and had beautiful results. This project involves, drawing, glueing, and soft pastel techniques. It took 2, 1-hour sessions to complete.
Here’s how we did it:
- 1 sheet 12 x 18 black construction paper; I love Tru Ray, from Dick Blick
- Elmer’s Glue (in the bottle-NOT glue stick)
- soft pastels; A set of Alphacolors have always worked well for my students
- spray fixative for finishing; I use Krylon ‘s Workable Fixative,because it is more cost effective and children can add to or change things in their picture. Be advised this is not a permanent fixative and the artwork will still be pretty smudgy if not handled carefully:)
- tissues and paper towels
~Table or desk covered with a plastic party tablecloth or newsprint paper.
~Kleenex or tissue for “erasing” pastels
~Pictures of hermit crabs from the Internet for visual reference
Step One: Draw Your Hermit Crab With White Chalk
You will be drawing your hermit crab with a piece of white, or other very light colored chalk and using a kleenex or tissue as an “eraser”. Using the chalk, rather than a pencil, makes it very simple for children to draw and re-draw anything they want to change. Pencil lines do not show up well on the black paper, are hard and time-consuming to erase, and leave an indentation in the paper that is hard to color over. While the tissue doesn’t totally erase an unwanted line, it will get rid of most of it, and since the final picture will be done in soft pastels anyway, it does not matter if a white line is showing at this stage in the process.
We first spend a few minutes looking at photos of real hermit crabs and discussing the shapes we see. Then we begin by drawing a spiral shape for the shell, a half-circle, leaf-like shape for the body, and rounded rectangular shapes for each segment of the legs. We drew claws for the two front legs. While hermit crabs have 10 legs, we only drew 4 or five and talked about how the other legs were on the opposite side or inside the shell. We added two eyes on short “stems” and the antennae. Again, hermit crabs have 4 antennae, two long and two short, but we only drew the ones we wanted showing.
Step Two: Outline the Chalk Drawing with Glue
We want to outline the hermit crab in glue so that when the glue dries it creates sort of a hard, boundary between the individual shapes on the hermit crab. This will make it easier to color with the pastels later.
We talked a lot about how to use the glue bottle as a “pencil”, with the orange tip lightly brushing the paper, not held way up high like a waterfall above the paper. Have your child start in the middle of the shell and turn the paper frequently to reach every area and avoid accidental smearing of the glue.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT PICK UP THE PAPER WHILE TURNING IT! The paper must remain super flat throughout the glueing and drying process or else the glue will run down the page!!!
You will need to leave your artwork somewhere flat to dry for 24 hours.
These “glue-drawings” look pretty all on their own! However, after 24 hours, the glue will be clear instead of white. Because the black paper shows through the clear glue, we will maintain nice black outlines for our finished hermit crab!
Step Three: Color with Soft Pastels
Begin coloring the hermit crab, one section at a time. Pastel colors can be combined on the page. My kids love playing with different color combinations on scar paper and then picking their favorite combo to use in their project. When using pastels, you do not have to color every square inch, as with crayons. You can leave a bit of the paper showing through and then use your fingers to spread the pigment thoroughly.
You will get dust while using the soft pastels, but if the amount of dust seems excessive, your child is probably pushing down too hard on their pastel stick OR filling in each space a little too much. Again, just give a light coating of color and spread the pigment with your fingers. It can be tempting to use the tissues to spread the pigment, but that will actually lift the pigment OFF the page–remember our “erasers” from before? And most kids really enjoy the “finger-painting” aspect of pastels. Just keep paper towels on hand for lots of hand-wiping!
I teach the kids to pick up their paper and tap it over a garbage can to get rid of extra dust instead of blowing it which makes everybody sneeze!
After your child has colored in their hermit crab, have them use the SIDE of their soft pastel to quickly color the background, or negative space, around their hermit crab.
They may choose to rub the pigment in or leave some of the black paper showing.
Step Four: Details, Details!
Don’t forget the details! If your child is tired, have them stop for a while and come back to the project before doing Step Four. We used the TIP of our soft pastel to do a bit of mark-making on our hermit crabs to create a sense of surface texture and contour. Curved lines on the shell can help it look rounded.
Step Five: Spray with Fixative and Call it Done!
Pastel projects are super smudgy! While we don’t mind the messy hands, we kind of don’t want the final project turning into one big smudge-fest! I spray these kinds of projects with a fixative. I have found over the years, that I like using workable fixative for my kids’ projects because they often want to add to or change something about their project. Workable fixative helps “set” the pastel but will not make it completely smudge-proof, so I generally store the pastel projects we do between layers of wax paper or other construction paper. The fumes are really stinky with this stuff, so make sure this task is done in a well-ventilated, preferably outdoor space!
Here are some more of our beautiful hermit crabs for your inspiration!
For more ocean-life inspiration, check out these awesome sea-turtle soft sculptures!