Hi - Can someone please recommend a fixative for soft pastels?  My son was given a drawing by a friend in college and she did not seal the drawing with a fixative.  Just transporting it home has already smudged it a bit.  I know zero about pastels, so want to make sure I do the right thing to protect this artwork.

Thanks!

Ann

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Hi Ann! One thing to keep in mind about fixatives, before you buy a can and before you use it, is that fixatives can change the color of the pastel artwork.  Fixatives are known to either darken the colors, or dull/deaden the colors, which is why many pastel artists choose not to fix/spray their pastel art and instead, just have the artwork carefully framed behind glass.

With that said, in the past I have tried a couple different fixatives for soft pastels and the best one I had found is Lascaux Fine Art Fixative: http://www.dickblick.com/products/lascaux-fine-art-fixative/ When I sprayed it finely over my pastel artwork, there wasn't too much color shift. The key might be to spray it lightly from a distance, and then after it dries, test it lightly with your fingers. If it needs more fixing, you can try spraying a bit more closely. If possible, it's always best to try it on a test piece first, because if it changes the colors of the pastel artwork, the effects are irreversible.

The best way to prevent smudging without altering the colors of the pastel piece are to frame it behind glass - but be sure not to frame with plexiglass or acrylic. Plexi and acrylic attract the pastel particles, which causes 'ghosting', a term describing what happens when the pastel particles stick to the acrylic and form a 'ghost' image inside the frame.  But if a pastel painting or drawing is framed behind glass, the colors can stay vibrant for years to come!

Best of luck whatever you do!

Glad I could help! :D

And thanks so much for your kind words about The Art Colony - I am glad you like the site and I am excited at this fun new way to share information and inspiration with everyone.

If you ever have any more questions all you have to do is ask. :)

I don't use a fixative for my soft pastels. Never have. When I learned how to use them, I was told never to add a fixative to soft pastels; just oil pastels. I just display them behind glass. They have kept their gorgeous vibrancy for years!

I know this may sound crazy, but when we were in school and used pastels, ( not oil ones ) we would spray lightly with final net hairspray to "set" it so we could get things home... it worked and it didn't do anything to the art.  I know it is nuts!! lOL

I also use hairspray. But be careful not to spray it too much or else it may leave 'drops' on the artwork. Even though I use the hairspray, it may come off a little on your fingers if touched, but it doesn't seem to mess of the artwork. If you are putting them in storage always put a piece of paper between it and the next piece of artwork because a little of the color could still come off  a little bit.

We were given the tip to use hairspray in uni too - for both pastels & charcoals.  It works out a lot cheaper than the art-specific fixatives & is definitely a useful tip when you're just sketching or playing around & you don't want your pictures to smudge but they're not the 'finished product' either so you don't need them to be perfect.

I don't know that it would be a good option for final pieces that you spent ages on, I'd probably use the 'proper' stuff on those. Though the above posts seem to suggest that the hairspray works just as well for those too.

SpectraFix is available at Blick or Jerrys Artarama or Dakota Pastels... it is more expensive immediate outlay but not compared to Archival museum quality fixatives.

It has the least darkening problem of all the fixatives I've used. It's the environmentally safe non toxic one. Based on casein, it's transparent, clear, clean and mixed with drinking alcohol. The stuff has no toxicity for you to use spraying it and no spray can aerosols. 

I didn't realize till I had it that it also meant that tons more product was in the bottle when you buy something that's a bottle of liquid in a mist sprayer instead of a spray can. Much of the spray can is pressurized gases. It comes either in a large premixed bottle or as a concentrate solution that you mix with three parts vodka, everclear or other white high proof drinking alcohol. This means you can take the concentrate on airplanes and fill the small mister bottle when you're there in another country, when your normal fixatives would be flammable and not allowed along (and may not be for sale in your destination country.)

It smells nice, a very faint fresh odor like someone poured a drink. My cat doesn't jump up and leave the room when I spray it. And it does not darken the pigment nearly as much as all other fixatives, archival or not.

Now for the tricky bit. It's different to use and takes some patience! It takes longer to dry. It's best to use several very light layers and let them dry thoroughly between applications, or it will create puddles that may move color around. I had a learning curve of trying it a dozen times on sketches before I finally got how to do "light applications" with the misting bottle and how far away from the art to hold it. Also be prepared to spend ten minutes to a half hour per application for the stuff to thoroughly dry instead of the "moments" a normal spray fixative does.

It is archival and one of the top quality preservation fixatives. It has the least change on the art. It is slightly more labor intensive and much more health and environment friendly. It is extremely cost effective because the spray cans of Krylon or Sennelier or whatever do not last very long and I have yet to use up the first large bottle of it I bought, it's not even half way down, while I've done hundreds of 9 x 12" and smaller sketches, pages in sketchbooks that routinely get fixed (charcoal, conte and pastel), oh tons of uses. And it just has not come close to running out. I think I've saved up to a couple hundred dollars in cans not bought since I made myself switch for environmental reasons. 

The concentrate-and-booze version works just the same. I bought both because I thought I might travel and then did move by flying, so I had the little one with me on the plane and used it before getting my big one back. It was fine, just the same, now the little one bangs around in my going-out kit and the big one sits by my usual painting area. I have refilled the little one exactly once since I bought them both.

If that's too much hassle, I recommend paying a little more to get a good archival spray fixative. There is also a third alternative, liquid fixatives that get applied with a mouth atomizer. I bought the atomizer because a little bottle of it came with a gouache set I bought, but haven't tried it yet because I've been distracted by drawing. That is what people used before the spray can ones came out for convenience.

Do not use hair spray as fixative. It will yellow, darken and ruin the art over time. Hair spray is formulated to last between an application and a shampoo, at most maybe a few days. It's not formulated to be non-yellowing over months and years. It may be cheaper but it's not as good for the purpose it wasn't designed for. I used to think it was the same thing and it's not, it's not good for the paper at all and impossible to remove if it darkens.

Delinda, uni told you that about your just playing-around sketches, but stop and think of something. Once you've learned, your sketches and early works and workshop exercises may be worth a lot for someone to see how you learned. You may want to save pieces that came out particularly well. It's also great to be able to look back at old sketchbooks and see how much you've learned. It's probably cheapest to use SpectraFix because of how much product you get for the money, because even dollar cans of hair spray start to add up when used that way. 

Then you don't have to worry about it between final pieces you worked on for a long time or that beautiful sketch that came out as a piece of finite perfection simply as a sketch. The same product does for both and when you don't have to keep buying it, would just take longer to pay for itself in cans of hairspray not bought.

I wouldn't recommend using artist's fixative on hair though. I don't know if it comes out with shampoo the way hair spray is formulated to. Things are designed for different purposes and you wouldn't want permanently glued hair even if it didn't change the color. 

The other thing about hair spray is that spatter is a bit more likely. I used Krylon alternating with hairspray years ago and the hair spray cans caused spatter a lot more often. Unfortunately it means about half the pastels I did back then are probably ruined by now, darkened to brown and wrecked.

You do have to watch for spatter on using SpectraFix, I got it often till I got enough practice using SpectraFix. The up side is that the spatter drops discolored the paper less and often vanished after they were completely dry, which is not true for either hairspray or Krylon or Blick (house brand like Krylon) or any workable fixative.

Jennifer Riggs said:

I also use hairspray. But be careful not to spray it too much or else it may leave 'drops' on the artwork. Even though I use the hairspray, it may come off a little on your fingers if touched, but it doesn't seem to mess of the artwork. If you are putting them in storage always put a piece of paper between it and the next piece of artwork because a little of the color could still come off  a little bit.

If I am using sanded or coated paper, I don't use fixative. It really depends on the surface for me and how heavy an application I've done. I like using it when it's in a sketchbook though because pastel or charcoal always marks up the opposite page if it's not fixed.

Lori Rose said:

I don't use a fixative for my soft pastels. Never have. When I learned how to use them, I was told never to add a fixative to soft pastels; just oil pastels. I just display them behind glass. They have kept their gorgeous vibrancy for years!

There are times when that darkening effect can help a painting. I used to use Krylon for that back when I was a street artist and worked the darkening into how I plan my colors. Sometimes it's good to restate the lightest highlights over the workable fixative and use the darkening for the final colors. If I want that, I will use Sennelier or another archival spray fixative so that I'm not going to get yellowing or paper degradation from the fixative. The museum ones do darken pastels just like the cheaper ones do.

Thaneeya McArdle said:

Hi Ann! One thing to keep in mind about fixatives, before you buy a can and before you use it, is that fixatives can change the color of the pastel artwork.  Fixatives are known to either darken the colors, or dull/deaden the colors, which is why many pastel artists choose not to fix/spray their pastel art and instead, just have the artwork carefully framed behind glass.

With that said, in the past I have tried a couple different fixatives for soft pastels and the best one I had found is Lascaux Fine Art Fixative: http://www.dickblick.com/products/lascaux-fine-art-fixative/ When I sprayed it finely over my pastel artwork, there wasn't too much color shift. The key might be to spray it lightly from a distance, and then after it dries, test it lightly with your fingers. If it needs more fixing, you can try spraying a bit more closely. If possible, it's always best to try it on a test piece first, because if it changes the colors of the pastel artwork, the effects are irreversible.

The best way to prevent smudging without altering the colors of the pastel piece are to frame it behind glass - but be sure not to frame with plexiglass or acrylic. Plexi and acrylic attract the pastel particles, which causes 'ghosting', a term describing what happens when the pastel particles stick to the acrylic and form a 'ghost' image inside the frame.  But if a pastel painting or drawing is framed behind glass, the colors can stay vibrant for years to come!

Best of luck whatever you do!

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