Pastel Fixative

To use, or not to use pastel fixative, is often debatable among many pastel artists.

One theory said that to be a 'pure' pastel artist, one had to stay from using fixative. Because of that statement, I did not further explore its potential as a painting tool for a long time.

Later on as I learned more about pastel fixative and started to experiment with it in my works, then I realized what I have missed!

So, what is fixative? Fixative contains a large amount of alcohol and diluted damar crystals that, when sprayed onto a surface, can hold (“fix”) pastel pigments onto it. As a result, it protects the drawings and prevents smudging.

pastel fixative

The controversy over fixative for pastel arises because it tends to darken and dull the colors in the painting. This can be a problem for some artists as the overall look of a painting may be noticeably different after the pastel fixative is applied.

If used wisely and creatively, however, fixative is a very useful tool in creating your pastel art works. There are two different types of pastel fixatives: workable fixative and final fixative.

Workable Fixative

This type of fixative is very light compared with final fixative and is excellent for a work in progress. Pastels require a surface with “tooth” to catch and hold the pigments.

When you use pastels, you can easily fill up the tooth, and then it is necessary to spray workable fixative to allow you to build up more layers, make impasto or create scumbling textures.

You can spray the fixative on only a small area or over your whole painting. If you want to spray it heavily (and really darken the colors) hold the can as close as 5 inches (13 cm) from the canvas. For a lighter spray, hold it about 18 inches (47 cm) from the painting.

Do watch out for unwanted splatter or drops (although they can add an interesting texture to the work). Always spray fixatives outdoors, because of the toxic chemical odor.

Fixatives dry fast, but the odor will take a while to leave the surface if the odor bothers you. Consequently, you may want to wait a few minutes before taking it back to your working space.

I often use Krylon Workable Fixatif because it is both inexpensive and acid free. You can also use Blair Workable Fixatif for the same purpose. One or two coats of it is sufficient to seal the area and then you can continue to build up pigment there.

Be careful not to spray too much in any location, because the area is likely to harden and form a crust that is hard to build upon.

Blair Spray Matte Fixative

Final Fixative

When you are done with your pastel art works, you may need to protect them and keep the pastel pigment from smearing or falling off because of friction and rubbing. However, keep in mind no amount of fixative can completely protect pastel paintings until you frame them under glass.

I suggest Lascaux Spray Fix for this purpose. It is the choice of many of my fellow pastel artists. It does not darken the colors as much as workable fixative does and is light fast(it means the colors will not fade.) To apply it, I spray the entire surface from a distance of 18 to 24 inches (46 to 61 cm).

Two coats should be enough to protect the surface. If you get too close or apply more layers than you should, the painting will get uncontrollably dark!

You will have to experiment with the range and the amount you apply to find a combination that protects your work but does not excessively distort the colors.

Hair Spray as A Fixative?

Have you ever wondered if it is alright to fix pastels with hair sprays? My advice is "Don't!" unless you know what is in it.

Don't you like to know your pastel paintings will last for a long time, and using archival quality products will ensure your art will be well preserved. Granted, there are probably some hair sprays that are not so bad, but with so many hair products out there, it isn't worth the effort to find the good ones, and you don't want to be second guessing the quality.

Take some time to familiarize yourself with the many uses of pastel fixative. Experiment with it to achieve different effects. You will be amazed at how much artistic horizon is opened for you when you learn to properly use fixative.

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