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The Fixative Challenge

  • The Fixative Challenge

If you are into soft pastels, crayons, charcoal, graphite or simple pencil work, then you would have used a Fixative spray. 
If you haven't, then you would have wondered why your work literally keeps falling off the paper. In all these kinds of media such as soft or dry pastel, charcoal, chalk, pencil, graphite or oil pastels, you would have observed that the adhesion between the media and the paper or surface is unstable. A slight shake and the entire work gets disturbed, shaking off the flakes from the paper.
Now the properties of the media cannot be altered, if you desire to increase their adhesion to paper. Nor can paper be modified to hold the media onto itself.
Instead, a layer like a lamination is spread over the media to protect it from falling off. The 'lamination' or veneer like protective is actually a fixative spray that is sprayed onto a work after its completed. The fixative forms a transparent layer and keeps the flakes from falling off.
How is this achieved?
The fixative is a sticky aerosol that  keeps the flakes down to the paper. 
The directions on how to use the fixative are on the can itself. However, as a caution, the spray is best used on Soft Pastels, Charcoal or pencil works only. Do not use them on acrylics, water, poster or oil colours.
A few tips on how to use a fixative:
8 tips for using spray fixative
1. Take your piece outside, and prop it up if possible. Stand a couple of feet back, making sure the can is at least a foot away from the painting. Shake the can and give it a light, even spray, working from left to right.
A fixative is used to ‘fix’ the work to the surface-either paper or card. Soft pastels, charcoal, chalk or pencil have a tendency to ‘shed’ their grains over time. The fixative helps in keeping them glued to the surface.
You can also use the fixative sprays to separate layers of pigment. This allows you to start a new layer without the pigment blending with the one below.
If you choose to transport your drawing before fixing it, or if you choose not to fix it, place it between acid-free, transparent sheets to protect it. 
Recommended products with the Fixative:

  • Camlin Soft Pastels,
  • Charcoal Pencils,
  • Staedtler color pencils
  • Staedtler paper Stumps for blending
  • Sudha Dry pastels
  • Derwent Charcoal and Graphite products

2. Remember, you can always add more fixative as you need it, but if you over-spray it, your pastel painting it can quickly turn into a sticky mess.

3. Be mindful of wind as you spray, as this will affect where the fixative lands.

4. You can let the pastel dry in place or gently wave it to help it along . If you have time, leave it outside for a while to let it completely dry—this will help reduce the odor when you bring it back in to work on it.

5.Often a spray fixative works best on toothy surfaces made for dry media (such as textured pastel paper) and becomes difficult to use on surfaces made for wet media (such as watercolor paper). It can also be used on a canvas, as long as it was done sparingly.

6. Be careful if you are using a spray fixative on mixed media. When combining pastel with acrylic, painting mediums such as oil pastel and oil paint need to breathe, and will suffer under a spray fixative.

7. Fixative tends to stain watercolor, so its not recommended it if you’ve painted pastel on top of watercolor. In general, if you’ve combined pastel with the mediums listed on the can of fixative (charcoal, pencil, etc) it will probably work fine.

8. Remember that a spray fixative will not “seal” your work. Fixative is made to hold the pastel in place so you can continue to paint, or to prevent some of the dust from easily rubbing off when you handle the painting.

There are some options out there for spraying a pastel painting to seal it (such as those done on canvas), but spray fixative that comes in a can is really just a quick tool to help “control” your pastels. It may help your painting process, but expecting more of it than that will probably just leave you disappointed.


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