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View Full Version : To Spray or Not to Spray, That is the Question.


Bigcaat
02-20-2017, 06:40 PM
Okay. Just finished my first pastel pencil painting. Carbothellos, nupastel, and Great American on Canson paper.

I don't know if I should spray it or not. I have both SpectraFix and Sennelier fixative, but I'm always afraid I'm going to screw it up. What do you guys do?

My reference photo was my own from Lake Murray in San Diego.

DAK723
02-20-2017, 08:45 PM
There are - as one might expect - many different strategies and philosophies when it comes to using fixative. It also may depend on the paper and the types of pastel as various combinations are better or worse at holding the pastel.

Some folks never spray.

Some folks spray in the initial stage or stages as this may make adding additional layers easier - and any change in appearance caused by the fixative will be covered anyway be subsequent layers.

Some folks will spray at any time, including at the end. Even with this strategy, sometimes some touch up is required due to any effects the spray might have.

I would suggest trying out your spray on any practice pieces or on a scrap piece of paper (with some layers of pastel added). See how much it changes the piece. Both your fixatives are among those that are most recommended, so you won't find any better, in my opinion. I would use the Spectrafix myself, as it is non-toxic. For any other brand, you really should wear a respirator - and make sure you spray outside or in a very well ventilated area.

I think the majority of pastel painters that have come through this way over the years do not spray the final piece, but rather, cover it with tracing paper or glassine to protect it (if it is not framed, that is). But it is very much a personal preference and depends on how "dusty" your piece is.

Don

Irishwhistler
02-21-2017, 10:40 AM
Okay. Just finished my first pastel pencil painting. Carbothellos, nupastel, and Great American on Canson paper.

I don't know if I should spray it or not. I have both SpectraFix and Sennelier fixative, but I'm always afraid I'm going to screw it up. What do you guys do?

My reference photo was my own from Lake Murray in San Diego.

Bigcaat,
Nice work Mate.:thumbsup:

Cheers,
Irishwhistler☘️

Bigcaat
02-21-2017, 03:02 PM
Bigcaat,
Nice work Mate.:thumbsup:

Cheers,
Irishwhistler☘️
Thanks, IW! :D

Donna T
02-21-2017, 04:58 PM
Nice painting! I agree with Don about doing some experiments to see if you like the effect of spraying. Try covering half of a row of colors and spraying half. Depending on what kind of spray you use you might find your colors get a little darker and lose their sparkle. Some artists spray to darken the darks on purpose but others find the nozzles clog easily and can spit out fixative in big drops. Spectrafix is nice and has no odor. I always got headaches from the other kinds even when I used them outdoors - it takes forever for that smell to go away. As far as I know there is nothing that will prevent pastel from being rubbed off so it's not really worth it to me to spray a finished piece.

palettetalk
02-21-2017, 05:34 PM
I never spray. Spraying will change colours and, since you have to frame a pastel anyhow, I see little point in using such a product. Do make sure to give the back of your painting a good 'spanking' during work and after you are completely satisfied the piece is finished. It will remove any loose pastel so that, when framed, there is less likelihood of dust getting on the mat.

PeggyB
02-21-2017, 08:32 PM
I've pretty much tried them all at one time or the other. Presently, I might use some Spectrafix at the end if I have an especially thick layer of pastel, but it really depends upon the surface it is painted upon.

Never feel guilty if another pastel artist tells you that they never spray fixative on their work. At the second IAPS convention in 1997 the key note speaker was the head conservator at the National Museum of Art. There was a horrified gasp when one of the first things he said was words to this affect. "If ever you are fortunate enough to have your pastel painting accepted by the National Museum of Art and it hasn't been sprayed with fixative, rest assured that before it will be exhibited it will be given a spray of fixative. Then he went on at length to explain why. Up to that point, we'd all been told it was close to sacrilege to use any fixative. Today there are many very good archival quality fixatives, and not so much stigma about using them. Another way to think of this is if it was good enough for the many old masters to use various types of fixatives and varnishes on their pastel paintings, why do modern day artists resist. If you can learn to use them properly, they won't harm the appearance of your painting. As pointed out by others, those you've mentioned are considered to be "workable fixatives", and they aren't meant to completely seal the work. They do a good job of keeping loose pigments in place though, and that's the reason I sometimes use them.

I know some people find fixatives hard to control; saying it darkens too much or "spatters" and "spits". If you choose to use fixatives, here's some hints to help not have that happen.

First Keep The Nozzle Clean

1. If using an aerosol fixative, the reason for spitting and splattering is most often the nozzle hasn't been cleared after every use. To do this, turn the can upside down, and spray into the air away from yourself of anything else you don't want fixative on. Keep spraying until no more fixative comes out. That clears the nozzle, but you can't forget to do it too often or it won't work. I just make a habit of clearing it all the time; don't even wait a few minutes after spraying your work to clear the nozzle.
2. If using SpectraFix, it is also very important to keep the nozzle clean. If fixative is left over the tiny hole, it will for a "skin" of fixative there, and not work properly. This too is easy to keep clean. After using it, remove the cap and hose from the bottle. I take mine to the bathroom sink, and put a little very hot water in the stoppered basin. Then I just pump the hot water through the whole thing several times. After doing that I look at the tiny hole to see if there's any accumulated fixative there. If there is I carefully scrape it off, and then dry that area. Don't try to clean it out with a pin or any other object as that will just widen the hole and damage the whole thing. You don't have to be in a rush to clean this type of nozzle. I do it at the end of a painting session, and so far it hasn't been a problem.

Some people find the Spectrafix bottle's spray leaves too large of drops. I use spray bottles that other products have come in, and that I like the size of the spray that comes from them. One of those bottles is what my eye glass cleaner comes in.

Now then, how to spray without getting too much on the artwork all at one time, but get enough to do what you want it to do. VERY lightly spray from one edge to the other; going off the surface with each sweep of the can or bottle as you work quickly down the page. (this is why putting your artwork on top of a larger piece of newsprint, paper, or newspaper to protect your counter is a good idea.) Remember to spray lightly! Turn the paper a quarter turn after about a 10 second delay, and repeat the above motion. Do this again, and then one last time until all four sides of the paper have been turned towards you. SpectraFix, Sennelier, Prismacolor, and La Carte fixatives will barely change the value of the pastels if you use this method. If you find the pigments have darken, you probably sprayed that area too long, and gotten them soaked.

One last caution that bares repeating: Don't use liquid fixatives on surfaces that aren't water friendly i.e Canson Mi Tientes. Aerosol sprays work will on those papers though.

Bigcaat
02-21-2017, 08:50 PM
Nice painting!

As far as I know there is nothing that will prevent pastel from being rubbed off so it's not really worth it to me to spray a finished piece.

Thanks, Donna, for both the complement and the information. :)

Bigcaat
02-21-2017, 08:51 PM
I never spray. Spraying will change colours and, since you have to frame a pastel anyhow, I see little point in using such a product. Do make sure to give the back of your painting a good 'spanking' during work and after you are completely satisfied the piece is finished. It will remove any loose pastel so that, when framed, there is less likelihood of dust getting on the mat.

Thanks so much. I hadn't thought of that before. I will put that in my bag of collected tips. :)

Bigcaat
02-21-2017, 08:54 PM
I've pretty much tried them all at one time or the other. Presently, I might use some Spectrafix at the end if I have an especially thick layer of pastel, but it really depends upon the surface it is painted upon.

Never feel guilty if another pastel artist tells you that they never spray fixative on their work. At the second IAPS convention in 1997 the key note speaker was the head conservator at the National Museum of Art. There was a horrified gasp when one of the first things he said was words to this affect. "If ever you are fortunate enough to have your pastel painting accepted by the National Museum of Art and it hasn't been sprayed with fixative, rest assured that before it will be exhibited it will be given a spray of fixative. Then he went on at length to explain why. Up to that point, we'd all been told it was close to sacrilege to use any fixative. Today there are many very good archival quality fixatives, and not so much stigma about using them. Another way to think of this is if it was good enough for the many old masters to use various types of fixatives and varnishes on their pastel paintings, why do modern day artists resist. If you can learn to use them properly, they won't harm the appearance of your painting. As pointed out by others, those you've mentioned are considered to be "workable fixatives", and they aren't meant to completely seal the work. They do a good job of keeping loose pigments in place though, and that's the reason I sometimes use them.

I know some people find fixatives hard to control; saying it darkens too much or "spatters" and "spits". If you choose to use fixatives, here's some hints to help not have that happen.

First Keep The Nozzle Clean

1. If using an aerosol fixative, the reason for spitting and splattering is most often the nozzle hasn't been cleared after every use. To do this, turn the can upside down, and spray into the air away from yourself of anything else you don't want fixative on. Keep spraying until no more fixative comes out. That clears the nozzle, but you can't forget to do it too often or it won't work. I just make a habit of clearing it all the time; don't even wait a few minutes after spraying your work to clear the nozzle.
2. If using SpectraFix, it is also very important to keep the nozzle clean. If fixative is left over the tiny hole, it will for a "skin" of fixative there, and not work properly. This too is easy to keep clean. After using it, remove the cap and hose from the bottle. I take mine to the bathroom sink, and put a little very hot water in the stoppered basin. Then I just pump the hot water through the whole thing several times. After doing that I look at the tiny hole to see if there's any accumulated fixative there. If there is I carefully scrape it off, and then dry that area. Don't try to clean it out with a pin or any other object as that will just widen the hole and damage the whole thing. You don't have to be in a rush to clean this type of nozzle. I do it at the end of a painting session, and so far it hasn't been a problem.

Some people find the Spectrafix bottle's spray leaves too large of drops. I use spray bottles that other products have come in, and that I like the size of the spray that comes from them. One of those bottles is what my eye glass cleaner comes in.

Now then, how to spray without getting too much on the artwork all at one time, but get enough to do what you want it to do. VERY lightly spray from one edge to the other; going off the surface with each sweep of the can or bottle as you work quickly down the page. (this is why putting your artwork on top of a larger piece of newsprint, paper, or newspaper to protect your counter is a good idea.) Remember to spray lightly! Turn the paper a quarter turn after about a 10 second delay, and repeat the above motion. Do this again, and then one last time until all four sides of the paper have been turned towards you. SpectraFix, Sennelier, Prismacolor, and La Carte fixatives will barely change the value of the pastels if you use this method. If you find the pigments have darken, you probably sprayed that area too long, and gotten them soaked.

One last caution that bares repeating: Don't use liquid fixatives on surfaces that aren't water friendly i.e Canson Mi Tientes. Aerosol sprays work will on those papers though.

Wow, Peggy. Thank you so, so much. What great information. And with that last line you have explained to me why I messed up one of my other paintings, a landscape, which makes me so fearful of spraying. I was using Canson Mi Tientes (as this one is) and had just gotten the SpectraFix. It really messed things up. This is great info. I really appreciate it. :)

stapeliad
02-22-2017, 02:33 PM
I do not spray.

I used to spray and I am one of those people who is incapable of spraying without messing up the painting. Even with a good fixative (Sennelier) and a light touch.

Also, even if you spray the dust will still rub off.
It provides a little bit of protection but the painting really still needs to be behind tracing paper, glassine, or framed behind glass.

Bigcaat
02-22-2017, 02:35 PM
I do not spray.

I used to spray and I am one of those people who is incapable of spraying without messing up the painting. Even with a good fixative (Sennelier) and a light touch.

Also, even if you spray the dust will still rub off.
It provides a little bit of protection but the painting really still needs to be behind tracing paper, glassine, or framed behind glass.
Thanks, Stapeliad. I seem to be one of those people as well. I am intrigued by Peggy's post on how to do it, so I may try that on one I don't care much about first, to see how it works.

Thanks for your input. :)
Caat

Bigcaat
02-22-2017, 02:43 PM
Now then, how to spray without getting too much on the artwork all at one time, but get enough to do what you want it to do. VERY lightly spray from one edge to the other; going off the surface with each sweep of the can or bottle as you work quickly down the page. (this is why putting your artwork on top of a larger piece of newsprint, paper, or newspaper to protect your counter is a good idea.) Remember to spray lightly! Turn the paper a quarter turn after about a 10 second delay, and repeat the above motion. Do this again, and then one last time until all four sides of the paper have been turned towards you. SpectraFix, Sennelier, Prismacolor, and La Carte fixatives will barely change the value of the pastels if you use this method. If you find the pigments have darken, you probably sprayed that area too long, and gotten them soaked.

Peggy. In looking this over again, one quick question. I understand going from off one side past the painting and going off the other side. Are you saying that you do the whole painting that way before turning? IOW, do you do several passes from top to bottom before the quarter turn? (I hope I asked that right.)

So, IOW, I might do 3 passes ... top, middle and bottom of a 9x12 painting, then do the quarter turn and repeat, quarter turn and repeat, until the painting has been sprayed in full, actually 4 times?

Sorry if this is a silly question, but I want to make sure before I attempt it.

Thanks,
Caat

stapeliad
02-22-2017, 03:00 PM
Let it dry thoroughly between spray coats.
Maybe don't zig-zag the bottle.
Go left to right for each spray.
Hold the can far away.

PeggyB
02-25-2017, 04:36 PM
Peggy. In looking this over again, one quick question. I understand going from off one side past the painting and going off the other side. Are you saying that you do the whole painting that way before turning? IOW, do you do several passes from top to bottom before the quarter turn? (I hope I asked that right.)

So, IOW, I might do 3 passes ... top, middle and bottom of a 9x12 painting, then do the quarter turn and repeat, quarter turn and repeat, until the painting has been sprayed in full, actually 4 times?

Sorry if this is a silly question, but I want to make sure before I attempt it.

Thanks,
Caat

Sorry for the delay in response Caat; I've been on a time schedule to start and finish a painting by tomorrow. I think it's done now. I did use SpectraFix on the MultiMedia Pastel board a couple times to seal the under layer somewhat the first time. Later I used a very heavy spray to seal almost completely another area. I got it so wet the liquid started to run a bit at the bottom! No worries though as I had only a couple more layers I wanted to put lightly over that area. I'll post it later.

Yes, make as many single pass "sweeps" of fixative as needed for the size of paper you are using. Top, middle, bottom should do it in three sweeps for a 9x12. Move across at a medium slow speed (it may take a bit of practice to get the speed right). Lay the paper flat to do this. Hold the can or bottle about 10 to 12 inches from the surface. Since this is a very light spray at least the first time, it won't take more than about 10 seconds for it to dry enough before turning the paper. I don't often use Canson Mi Tientes, and when I do I use few layers and a soft touch so using fixative isn't necessary. However, I have students who have used a heavy touch, and want to add more layers but can't because the tooth is full. An aerosol fixative will add a bit of texture so they can continue working. The painting you've posted here is lovely, and probably doesn't need fixative.

ArtistMelinda
03-01-2017, 09:23 PM
NOPE. It spatters and darkens the colors. And I don't care how clean or how many times you pre-pump, it will spatter at some point and it will always be on the most important part! And yes the pastel can still smudge.
Fixatives are fine for early and mid work when they will be covered, but not worth it at the end.

Unless you use Spectrafix, it also smells and is toxic - usually toluene or something nasty.