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Sunday, March 25, 2012

What I Like About Fixative on Pastels

'The Magic of Spring' 8x10 pastel ©Karen Margulis

To Fix or not to Fix.....that is the question I am often asked. The answer is that I never use fixative on a finished painting. When I am finished with a painting I give it a good whack on the backside which does a great job of removing any pastel dust or loose pastel. I tend not to be too heavy handed with my pastel application and the sanded papers I work on do an excellent job of grabbing onto the pastel. I have not experienced any problems with pastel dust so I just prefer not to spay fixative on my work. I have found that fixative tends to darken and dull my colors.

I have heard that the relatively new SpectraFix fixative doesn't alter the colors but I haven't used it myself so I can't really say. I welcome your comments if you have tried SpectraFix or any other fixative that doesn't darken colors. So you can probably tell that I am not a big fan of fixative. But I actually do LOVE fixative just not on a finished painting.

My Fixative Choices...Blair Workable Fixative and SpectraFix

I do like to use workable fixative during the painting process. I don't use it for every painting but it does come in handy sometimes. My preference is Blair Very Low Odor Workable Spray Fix (it still has a pretty strong odor so if I am working around others I take it outside)
  • It is very useful to restore some tooth to an area of a painting that has been overworked. I brush out the area I am not happy with using a stiff brush then spray a little fixative.
  • I love using fixative to create texture in an area of a painting. I will often build up some layers, spray it and let it dry and add more layers. The pastel over the fixative will have a grainy, textured look. I will repeat this process building more layers until I get the effect I want. See the close-up of today's painting below. The greens are applied over a fixed area and notice how the green pastel skips over the darker pinks creating texture.
  • Fixative can be used like a glue to fix dusted areas of pastel in place. For today's painting, I sprayed the trees with workable fixative then shaved some pale value pastels on top. This pastel dust was rolled in place with a rolling pin and glassine paper.

close-up detail of azaleas

I'd love to hear your experience with fixatives. Do you fix or not? What other uses have you found for fixative?


Carol Engles said...

Hi Karen! Great info. I am going to try SpectraFix. I don't like to use fixative either for the reasons you mentioned, though, sometimes I have to especially with my charcoal drawings. I like the idea of the pump spray SpectraFix, that it is non-toxic and Degas, I believe, used a milk casein product as well. So we'll see. P.S. Love your pastel Siamese cats! Outstanding!

MarilynW said...

I feel the same way you do, Karen. I never use fixative on a finished pastel. But love it for beginning layers and texture. Love what you did with the green with that green with the rolling pin. I need to try that. Thanks for the suggestion. Your painting looks magical.

Karen said...

I don't always use fixative but when I do it's Spectrafix. and I lay my pastel flat and give it a good coat and then let it dry and then give it another good coat after turning the pastel 1/4 way so that I have two good coats going each way. It hasn't changed the colors on the ones I did. I often don't use any at all as i mostly use sanded surfaces that i can layer and don't need it. but I have used it on a couple of small ampersand boards. i have a friend that went through 3/4's of a bottle of the stuff, because she fixed every pastel and soaked them with the fixative every time. i don't think it darkened any areas after it dried though. She really believed in fixing. She also loved to blend everything with her fingers or with packing peanuts as I save those for some blending. But mostly i blend with the sticks, so i taught her how to do that. i guess to each their own. i will have to try fixative between layers. The spectrafix doesn't have a bad odor at all, so can be used inside without a problem. I've used the blair workable fixative in the past and it really changed the colors. that was before I knew I didn't need it. And I used it outside when I did use it. but it is often pretty windy here in s. AZ and when I lived in New Mexico too, so I had to wait for days when it wasn't windy.
( I accidently deleted your post Sara but it has such great information I pasted it in my comment. I appreciate your feedback about the Spectrafix I will have to try it!!)

Karen said...

Thank you Carol!

Karen said...

Thanks Marilyn, I'd love to hear what you think about the rolling pin technique after you give it a try!

deni said...

I'm pretty new to your blog and loving it. I am a "graphite" person, so the switch to color is a brand new endeavor. I've been following threads on Wet Canvas and came across a thread on using steam to fix a pastel painting and it sounds interesting. I've not tried it yet, but I'm going to. I don't know if one needs to belong to Wet Canvas to see the threads, but here is the link:


I love your work and am so happy to open your post each day. I'm learning a lot. :)

Sara Mathewson said...

Karen, it looks like my long comment came out as your comment--weird. Anyway, that one was from me about using SpectraFix and not using it all the time.


Cindy Michaud said...

I have tried the steam method...got a steamer at a garage sale. couldn't tell much difference but i was not very scientific, and i am impatient and the steamer takes some time. I like the pump spray but use it mostly to restore tooth partway thru the piece. Love to try anything once!

liz read said...

I tried Spectrafix for a few months - it fixed, it did not change colors too much but it DID if there were layers. And it had no odor so was great for indoors. More disturbing was that it "spotted" the surface with "drops" of Spectrafix - so it resembled a mat surface with drops of high gloss varnish. I tried everything, nothing prevented it. So be careful. Discussed this at length with artstore and it seemed to be happening to others using it. I DID HEAR that if a special mister attachment was used in place of one on bottle, the problem was solved. Spotting was too much of a problem. Now I just tap and then press down pastel using paper and force!

Karen said...

Thank you for weighing in on your experiences. I know it is always helpful to read what others are using. Liz, interesting info about the spotting. I am going to see if my bottle does the same thing!

Anonymous said...

I just started using the SpectraFix in a completely new application of pastel on canvas. I first apply grit to the canvas, then a watercolor under painting, then pastel in layers with fixative between. When all is done, I spray with varnish so no glass is necessary. The result is lots of texture and surprises but I'm very pleased with it.

Karen said...

I am fascinated by your process with Spectrafix. I would love to give it a try. Would you mind sharing what kind of varnish you use. I once had someone share a similar process with me but I couldn't remember the kind of varnish she used so I never did give it a try.
Thank you for sharing!

tarastephanos said...

Hello I've had issues with fxative and color change as well. I do fix my work as I sometimes send it through the mail and I need durability. So I recently came up with a solution literally. It's about 5 parts water to one part rubbing alchol and one part clear liquid acyrlic glaze. You mix it up put it in an atomizer or fine mist spray bottle spray very lightly paper may act rumbly so I stretch the paper by putting heavy objects on top. Once dry there is little to no color change and it works better and cheaper then store bought fixative. I got the idea from extensive research and from memories of what my great aunt would do way back in the day before fancy store can sprays. Lots of old masters had to make there own well of them did really. There are other recipes too!