View Full Version : Fixative Nigthmare!!!

09-20-2004, 11:16 AM

I finished a (i guess beautiful) copy of a Degas "marine soleil" and it was a surprise!! My first pastel ever was really stunning (to me). I got the same color impression, foggy sensation. I just was so happy!!!!

Made on a Canson mi teintes light gray (soft side) with Rembrandt soft pastels....

I finished everything without any need of fixative...and I desired to fix my work for ever. So I took W&N Aerosol Fixative, followed the instuctions and HORROR....

It was like if I had sprayed COAL on the painting...It became like "dotty" and black on those beautifull yellows and cream....It spoiled the whole stuff.

The painting had quite a few layers (without fixative) but i blew the excess and gave some smooth knocks on the back of the painting.

What the heck happened??? Can anybody tell me how to use fixative, what brand would work best and if there is any kind of "end-of-work" fixative that would just keep the painting with less risk of degradation due to manipulation???

I hate myself for pressing that button!!!! I hate W&N, and the entire world....it was my FIRST pastel....snif.... :mad: :mad: :mad:


09-20-2004, 11:23 AM
I totally understand your pain here. I hate the way that fixative can ruin a great painting. A little trick that I have adopted is to always spray the back of the apper and the fixative will soak through without affecting your colours.

There are loads of threads here about how people use fixative, so do a search of the forum for other techniques. I know a general rule of thumb that is applied by those who do fix, is to fix early layers and leave the final layer unfixed. Once the painting is framed behind glass, it will be protected from the smudges that the fixative is supposed to protect it from.

I always use Krylon Workable Fixative andhave never had a disasterous problem like you describe...usually just a darkening of the colours.

So - take a deep breath and see if, once the fixative is dry, if you can touch up the colours a bit. Bring back the amazing beauty you captured originally.

09-20-2004, 11:50 AM
Bless your heart! I can only imagine the horror you felt when the fixatif hit your painting and ruined it! They really SHOULD include a warning on the fixatif can about that!

I only use fixatif very rarely and ONLY in early stages where I need to fix previous layers in order to paint more on top. Early on, I took to heart the recommendations of the pros NOT to fix the final painting at all. I know some folks still do.....VERY carefully....with mixed results, but since your painting will have to be framed under glass eventually anyway and that will provide the ultimate protection against smudging, fixatif on the final just isn't necessary.

For storage purposes of the final piece, I just make a glassine sleeve for the work and store it carefully in a portfolio where it's not exposed to hazards.

Cori is right...if you can manage to go back over the painting and restore the look you had, all is not lost. That's the great thing about pastels...most accidents are repairable with a little care. I hope you can rescue your painting and now you know for SURE to keep that fixatif can on the shelf at the end of a painting process!

Good luck!

Deborah Secor
09-20-2004, 12:00 PM
:eek: Another victim of Canson and spray fix... So sorry this happened to you, Tom. The advice Cori gave is good. Try touching it up over again. Canson needs fixative if you use too many layers of color--and that limits things a lot.

Here's an article I wrote about fixing painting.


There is an interesting and lively debate in the world of pastels over the use of fixatives. Why the controversy? Often it is a matter of conservation, occasionally a matter of taste and definitely a matter of health and safety.
For most of the history of pastels, artists used non-abrasive surfaces as painting supports. The early pioneers of pastel used vellum or paper attached to canvas in a patchwork of squares, which can be seen in museums today. Textured surfaces are an innovation adopted mostly in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Did these pioneers use fixatives? Most assuredly they did. Conservators favor the use of fixatives on papers over the use of abrasive surfaces with no fixative, because they know the damage that fixatives can do and how to handle the problem. Textured papers, a recent innovation made to help artists avoid the use of fixatives, are so new as to be relative mysteries to conservators. What will happen in one hundred, two hundred or three hundred years to pastels on papers such as Wallis, La Carte or Ersta, without fixative, remains to be seen.

Most artists dislike using fixatives because they change the color somewhat, often darkening certain pigments, and add a slight texture to the otherwise dusty-looking surface. Because fixatives are made of solvents, they saturate the particles of pigment and can change the reflectivity of it, matting and deadening the brilliance of the colors.

Many pastelists choose to fix their paintings during the course of their painting, capturing the pastel beneath in a lacquer coat, but adding the appealing dusty layer as a topcoat. This effectively fixes the pastel but defeats the look of fixing.

One consideration is the noxious quality of the fixatives, which are dangerous chemicals that can cause such problems as central nervous system damage if overexposed. Such sprays should be used only in well ventilated areas, perhaps only outdoors with the wind blowing the fumes away. This factor alone discourages many artists from using fixatives.

A couple of simple alternatives exist, ones that predate the chemical industry of today. Artists in the past simply burnished their pastels using a cover paper, effectively burying the pastel in the soft paper. Others used steam to fix the pastels to the paper, carefully spraying it from the back through the paper and avoiding any wetness which could clot the pastel.

Degas fixed his pastels using alcohol and white shellac. Artists in that day applied fixative using a mouth atomizer, blowing the spray delicately over the surface of the painting. Today there are good commercially made alternatives used by conservators in museums. Ross Merrill, Chief of Conservation at the National Gallery of Art for over 15 years, states that Krylon Acrylic Varnish B72 will remain unchanged for 400 years, but does have a tendency to saturate the surface. Grumbacher B77, like the above named product will last throughout the centuries, yet does not saturate. He states that Krylon Workable Fixative and Sennelier Fixative are both good products.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Merrill assures us that every pastel painting that goes into a museum comes out with a fixative applied. Perhaps the past has determined the present. The future is yet to be seen in terms of fixatives.
Whether you choose to fix or not to fix your pastels, you should have a working knowledge of the alternatives. Experimentation is often the best answer. The fragility of pastels demands consideration of all the options.

(c) D. Christensen Secor
originally published in The Pastel Journal


09-21-2004, 03:19 AM
Hi, Tom, you're getting lots of good advice here. I just want to add that I've had the "dotty" experience with fixatif myself, and someone suggested that the fixatif was too cold. Since I always spray outdoors, I kept the can in the porch, right inside the back door, where it got very chilled on winter days. Now I always keep the can inside the house, at room temperature, and I haven't had the problem again. Of course, I always test first, on scrap paper. Like some others, I spray the underneath layers as needed and avoid fixing the final layer if possible, and lately I've been fixing less and less, but I've never tried the steam or alcohol approach. Congratulations on completing your first pastel. I hope you can rescue it and show it to us.

Kathryn Wilson
09-21-2004, 08:12 AM
Awww, so sorry this happened - and on your first pastel too! You've gotten some good advice here and I will say that I try never to fix, but every once in a while there is an area that I will have to use a fixative.

One thing I discovered I was doing wrong was holding the can of fixative too close to the paper - so I have taken my paper outside (always fix out-of-doors for health safety sake) and stand back and gently mist it over the paper from a couple of feet away. I also will first test spray away from the painting to get those globs out of it's system.

Try doing a touch-up - I think you'll find that will work.

09-25-2004, 11:57 AM
I use Canson paper and Grumbacher Workable Fixative (matte). I always take the painting out to my patio to spray. I think any breeze out there kind of helps too much fixative gettign on the painting, too. I always start with a very light coat, and let it rest. If I feel it needs more, I take it back out and give it a very light second coat. I do fix the final layer.

I've never tried fixing by spraying the back of the paper. Could you let me know how heavy of a coating do you give it through the back? I use such a light coat, I don't imagine it'd soak through anything (thought I'm sure the word "soak" was used figuratively).


09-25-2004, 12:45 PM
I've never tried fixing by spraying the back of the paper. Could you let me know how heavy of a coating do you give it through the back? I use such a light coat, I don't imagine it'd soak through anything (thought I'm sure the word "soak" was used figuratively).


Yes it was. But, remember that paper absorbs the moisture quickly, so, I have found I don't need alot. I usually just give it a nice even spray a couple of time as across the back, enough to slighly dampen the paper, and it seems to do the trick.

Of course, my last two paintings, i haven't fixed at all and they are far more vibrant than some of my other fixed paintings...I can see myself not usinf fixative very much from this point forward.

09-25-2004, 01:08 PM
Tom :( Sorry this happened to your painting! I got that splotchy effect the first few times I used fixative. It taught me to use the stuff very sparingly! Pastel paintings seemed so fragile when I first started out with this medium but I found that after a while I sort of chilled out about that aspect of them. These days I only ever use fixative in order to work over part of a painting that I want to correct - I never spray a finished pastel.

The good news is that you now know you can do great things with your pastels! Hope you will jump in and do another and share it with us here :)

10-03-2004, 12:07 AM
This same thing happened on a piece that was supposed to be my most
precious effort too. I posted a new thread, but it was answered on this one. Why in the world would they create such a dangerous thing to
put on a painting. OK for charcoal, but for pastel? I will never use it again.
Your right Tom, it's a horrific feeling and I'm a new pastelist too, so when you
put in alot of time and effort when time is not always available, it makes you
want to put it all away and throw a tantrum. I agree with the person who says they should come with a warning. THEY SHOULD just like they tell you to call the poison center if you swallow clorox!