by | Apr 9, 2020 | Blog | 6 comments

If you find yourself house bound and stir crazy, here are three family-friendly, not-too-messy, non-toxic painting ideas to stay creative even if you can’t get to the studio. Use these ideas to paint at home, along with children and friends of any age and art experience. You can even use these for an online painting party!

Oil Pastels

Great medium for quick working times and small working spaces. Oil pastels are similar to crayons, but richer color, in a wider range of colors, and offer the option to layer. They work best for small size paintings. Non-toxic and easy clean up. Scroll down to read more.

Still Life

Paint a still life in five steps, using acrylic layering. I teach this technique for beginning painters, and still use it myself to take a break from my abstract painting. It is fulfilling to paint like this because it’s simple and fun. Scroll down to read more.


Bring Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings to a whole new level! Pouring usually involves chemistry, expensive mediums and makes a mess. This approach gets similar effects WITHOUT the mess and expense using pouring mediums. Scroll down to read more.



Oil pastels are my go-to medium when I want to work in small sizes, with non-toxic materials, and am limited with time and space. You can substitute crayons, cray-pas or other wax-based drawing materials if you don’t have oil pastels. Please note, these are NOT the same as soft or chalk pastels.

Birds, 8″ x 6″, oil pastel on paper

Pear, 16″ x 14″, oil pastel on paper

Idea 1: Free Form
On a smooth surface like bristol paper, or sketch book paper, apply any color oil pastels using a variety of pressure. Gentle pressure gives a light touch, and looks more like a drawing. Heavier pressure applies richer color in a thicker layer, and looks more like a painting. Use a photograph for reference, or an object like a piece of fruit, to inspire your image. Add designs around the object, as in the example below, for an abstract background.

Idea 2: Layering
Use the same surface as above, and start with a light color like yellow. Apply the pastel all over the surface with heavy pressure. This is your first layer. Next pick another color like orange, and apply with equal heavy pressure all over the surface covering up the yellow completely. This is your second layer. Tip: If the orange won’t apply easily over the yellow without picking up the yellow, let the yellow layer dry for a couple of hours so it isn’t so gooey before applying the next color. Different brands of oil pastel layer better than others. My favorite brand is Holbein. Repeat with several colors. Now comes the fun part. Using toothpicks or a knife, scrape into the layers using a variety of pressure, to create lines in the underlying colors.

Clean up: Clean pastel off your hands and any surfaces with baby wipes, or baby oil and paper towels. Wash off the oil with soap and water.

Read more about oil pastels



Instead of using expensive pouring mediums, add heavy amounts of water mixed into paint, AND apply it over a glossy surface, for very interesting effects.

Use a rigid surface like wood panel, or something strong enough that won’t curl up when water is applied. Make the surface glossy by applying a gloss acrylic medium with a brush over the whole surface. When dry it it isn’t shiny, apply a second coat. Using Elmer’s Glue is OK if you are not interested in making it fine art quality. Knife applying an acrylic gloss gel instead of a medium will allow for interesting textures. Let dry at least one day.

In a plastic plate or cup, add 1/2 cup water and up to a tablespoon of fluid acrylic paints or inks. In that tablespoon include at least 5 colors. Prop your glossy surface up with cups, make sure it’s level, then pour the mixture over the glossy surface. Leave it alone to dry. When dry the colors will all separate from each other creating interesting patterns.

Below: It’s a dark puddle while still wet

Below: Patterns form when dry

Tips for Best Results Using this Water Pour Technique

1. Add TONS of water to very little paint.
2. Add at least 5 different colors, but only a few drops of each!
3. Level the surface before applying the washy paint
4. Leave it alone to dry. This is the most important part. The more you play with it the less it works.

Image of the marble effect once a wash pour dries.

Patterns formed when wash pour dries


Here are the steps to create a still life. This process uses five steps, each step constitutes a separate layer. Keep it simple by using a small size surface, about 10″ x 8″ or 12″ x 16″. Include only one object that will be pictured on a surface with a background. This means there are a total of three areas to paint – object, foreground and background. By keeping it simple, it will be easier to concentrate on the layers, colors and blending, and make the object feel like it has volume, is real or 3D.

Step 1:

Start by pre-mixing two colors – one for the foreground and one for the background. To make these colors,  select a primary (red, blue or yellow) or secondary color (orange, green or purple) then using a small plastic cup with a lid, mix the color along with some white and some black. This addition will make the color more opaque and a bit more neutral, and will allow good application coverage. It will also brush out smoothly without streaking. If using thick acrylic add some water so it applies smoothly without too much brush texture. Texture is nice to add to paintings, but this technique works best with smooth applications of paint.

Step 2:

Using an opaque white acrylic paint, like Titanium White, apply it with a brush, in the shape of the object you are painting. Here I’ve painted a white area in the shape of the lemon. If using thick paint, add some water to thin. The white should be applied smoothly, and avoid heavy texture. If using the fluid paint, apply several coats to cover.

Step 3:

Pre-mix the main color of the object you are painting. In reality, the object’s color will vary because of the way light hits it, and will have highlights and shadows. Seek to find the middle quality of that color so it is not too dark and not too light. Mix that color as close as you can, making sure to add some white and black to make it opaque and a bit more neutral (and more natural) in color. Be careful to not add too much white and black into the color or it will get too dull.

Step 4:

For this next step, do each of the three areas one at a time. Start with the background, then foreground, and lastly the object. For each area, pre-mix six versions of that area’s color. For example, in the purple foreground here, I pre-mixed six versions of purple in seperate cups with lids. I mixed a light purple, a dark purple, a redder purple, a bluer purple, a bright purple and a dull purple. Once mixed, I applied them in brushy “patches” onto the purple area using a “strategy”, placing each of the six color versions in one place choosing the left, right, top, bottom, middle, and up against the background. Repeat all the above for the background, then again for the object. Once all three areas are “strategized” with their variations of color, you can decide to keep it as is and call it finished for an abstract style. Or continue to the next step for a more realistic look.

Step 5:

For this final step, blend the colors wherever there is a hard edge, for a smoother look. Work in very small areas at a time. Start with one section where one version of a color meets another version. This will appear to be a hard edge – a distinct line where the two color versions meet. To soften that line blend the two colors by re-applying both colors, then while still wet, use a clean dry brush and go back and forth with the brush to smooth out the edge where they meet. Repeat this for all areas. If desired, add more details like highlights and any textural qualities.

Read more about acrylic layering


Special Offer

Complete Painting Instruction

Learn everything you need from your first brushstroke to the finished painting. Acquire techniques and ground breaking concepts to shape your artistic vision.

Special Offer

Complete Painting Instruction

Learn everything you need from your first brushstroke to the finished painting. Acquire techniques and ground breaking concepts to shape your artistic vision.



    Again I am amazed at how simply and effectively you explain things. Thanks for this one. I have been struggling with it for years.

  2. Melinda Fay

    These are GREAT suggestions. Thanks so much!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Melinda, thank you for your comment! Glad you like the ideas.

  3. Lynda Pogue

    YAY NANCY!!!!??‍♂️?️?️??️

    • Nancy Reyner

      Thank you Lynda!! Love your emojis!

    • hana

      wow i wish i that good

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 5 MB. You can upload: image. Drop file here

About Nancy

Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

Join Mailing List



Painting Courses



Free pdf



Watch Painting Videos

Left Menu Icon