Painting the Paschal Candle – a DIY guide

In my curacy parish (Houghton-le-Spring) a wonderful artist called Thelma Steel decorates the paschal candle every year, here’s the one she did last year:

I decided in my parishes this year that I’d like to do the same. I rang Thelma for advice and what follows is a guide to painting your own.

Step 1: buy your equipment

You will need:

Acrylic paints and paint brushes

Vodka or meths

Paint adhesion medium or PVA glue

Water based varnish or PVA glue

A chinagraph pencil

Step 2: Sketch out your design.

It should have a cross, an alpha and omega and the current year – anything else is a bonus!

I did a quick Google for images to help me. I decided to add the symbols of my churches – a shell for St James and a lamb for St John the Baptist.

I measured the canvas space and drew a design, adding colour.

Step 3: prepare your candle

Take some kitchen roll and dip it in vodka or meths and wipe down the area where you will paint.

Step 4: draw your design onto the candle

Check first which end of the candle the wick is so that you draw your design the right way up (I made this stupid mistake!)

Draw your design onto the candle with the chinagraph pencil. If you make a mistake, use a ball of blutack to rub it out.

Step 5: mix your paint and paint the candle

Mix your chosen acrylic colour with the paint adhesion medium/PVA glue (don’t panic, the white dries clear). Carefully paint your candle. If you make a mistake let it dry and then peel it off. Layer up for a deeper colour.

Step 6: varnish the candle

This bit is scary, use your water based varnish or PVA glue to varnish over your design. Don’t worry, it will dry clear and leave a vibrant colour that is sealed.

Step 7: prepare the holes for the nails/incense pins

If you are going to insert 5 nails into the candle at the Easter vigil, here is a hack my training incumbent taught me. Heat an unfolded paper clip, twist the heated paper clip into the candle and it will create a small hole making it easier to insert the pin during the Easter vigil liturgy.

Then you’re ready to go. Here are mine ready for Holy Saturday and the Easter vigil service:


  1. I’ve done the OHP one a couple of times. We just painted with acrylic paint straight onto the candle with no problems and it looked good. The design, or at least the cross, was usually drawn on with a sharpie rather than chinagraph pencil, and that was OK too. I do agree that making holes for the incense grains in advance is a very sensible thing to do.

    The last couple of years, OHP has used the ready made transfers. It’s OK to do that, but it does mean that the candle isn’t unique to the location.

    I’ve heard of churches where they have so few funerals or baptisms throughout the year that they’re able to re-use their paschal candles for a few years before needing a new one!


  2. Bryony, we were told that acrylic burns, so it was interesting to see you use this. I take it you had no problem with flammable paint!
    Also, loving the preparing the candle by wiping it with vodka.


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