Degas Dancers: Preschool Art Study of Models & Pastels

by Meghan

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Big M is my little bunhead.  She began taking ballet at age 2 and has been tutu obsessed ever since!  I knew she would be beyond fascinated by the next artist in our Preschool Art series, as we studied the Degas Dancers.  Unlike many Impressionists who painted landscapes outdoors, Degas spent years at the Paris opera house, studying ballerinas at endless hours of practice, sketching in charcoal, and returning to his studio to combine his sketches into marvelous paintings, and in later years, pastels.  For our study of Degas and his Dancers, we read Degas and the Dance and Lili at Ballet. Then, we created our own simple ballerina models to inspire our own dancer sketches with pastels.

Degas Dancers Preschool Art Study of Models and Pastels

Degas Dancers

To introduce Degas, the girls and I first sat down to read Degas and the Dance.  Big M would have sat and studied the pages of his brilliant paintings for hours.  She pointed out the different positions she recognized, and ooohed and ahhhed over all their tutus and costumes.  Lil’ M had less patience for it, but did enjoy Lili at Ballet, with it’s more basic outlining of ballet poses and accessories.

Degas Dancers Preschool Art Study

Making Dancer Models

After reading the books, we created bendable Dancer models to pose and use as inspiration for our own pastel sketches.


2 pipe cleaners (per model)
2 white cupcake wrappers
Scotch tape
Crayola oil pastelsPastel paper
Fixative (optional)

Cost: Less than $5
Prep Time: Less than 5 minutes
Clean-Up Time: Less than 5 minutes

For each Degas Dancer model, you will 2 pipe cleaners and 2 white, cupcake wrappers.  Follow the pictured steps below to create your flexible model.

Degas Dancer Model

First, in the center of the first pipe cleaner, create a small loop for the dancer’s bun, and twist twice to fix in place.  Next, create a larger loop for the head, twist twice, and leave remaining ends outstretched for the arms.  Third, fold the second pipe cleaner in half.  Place it around the neck of the dancer and twist twice to fix in place.  Fourth, create a small opening for the body and twist twice to fix in place.  Last, poke legs through cupcake wrappers.  I found using two wrappers together made it a bit sturdier.  Fix tutu in place with a small piece of tape on the underside of the wrapper.

Big M began posing her model straight away!

Degas Dancers - Preschool Art - Posing Ballerina Model

Introducing Pastels

With our models created, it was now time to sketch our own dancers just like Degas! This was the first time introducing pastels to the girls.  They loved them – while they work like crayons, the colors they produce are vibrant without requiring much pressure.  They can and will smear, so I recommend putting down a trashable layer, like our favorite Dollar Store table cloths, to protect your work surface.

Big M began with long dancer legs, and carefully added shoes to her feet!  Lil’ M was more interested in coloring her model.

Degas Dancers - Preschool Art Pastel Dancer Drawings

Degas Dancers - Pastels on Dancer

Big M was quite proud of her finished work…

Degas Dancers - Preschool Art with Models and Pastels

Do you have a favorite Degas painting?  I think after this, I may have to find some prints to put in Big M’s big girl ballerina bedroom!

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to catch all the posts in our Art History for Preschool series here, as well as our most recent: Monet Water Lily Sensory Bin and Picasso Portraits for Preschoolers.  Next up in our series?  Van Gogh and his sunflowers!

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