View Full Version : Steam as a pastel fixative

03-02-2006, 03:24 PM
Hi everyone-
I have heard that it is possible to use steam as a pastel fixative. Has anyone ever tried this? There is supposed to be less darkening of the light colors with this method.

03-02-2006, 03:54 PM

I've heard about it, but never tried.
But I've also heard that if one takes one of those hard pastels (I'm talking about soft pastel lines like Schminke and Sennelier that have those hard blues, for insteance), and place them over vapour, they will blend better; but still have to try it.



03-02-2006, 04:42 PM
evidently it darkens the colors but then after the moisture caused by the steam dries, the color goes back to normal, so there really is no darkening. I heard you can use a fabric steamer to do this.

03-02-2006, 05:17 PM
Okay, i have to try this!

03-02-2006, 05:21 PM
I read about and tried it. It was okay as a final go at the painting. It really popped the colors.

03-02-2006, 06:14 PM
Never tried it Marie. If you do, make sure to update this thread and let us all know how it went. Hopefully you'll have good results like Diane did.

Donna A
03-03-2006, 07:14 PM
ALLLLLL I've ever heard is from Ross Merrill----head curator of the National Gallery in Washington, DC----where they spent some of our tax-payers money on actually researching something for US!!! Yea!!!!

They tested sooooo many things!!!!

I was fortunate enough to enjoy his program at the IAPS Convention in 1999 when he talked about consevervation of pastel paintings. I took notes madly!!! Great information!!!

Ross said that they tested Degas's method of steaming to set a pastel painting. But found it did not work. Nothing but actually applying fixative really worked.


I've written up my notes from Ross' comments as well as some comments of my own (which is which, noted!) from my own experiences. There are some illustrations about applying fixative, as well. Take a look. There is some interesting information.

Best wishes!!! Donna ;-}

Laura Shelley
03-03-2006, 11:51 PM
I've mentioned before that Mary Cassatt's steamed pastels are extremely delicate and have suffered a lot of losses. :( The problem with steam is that it tends to make the pastel particles stick to each other rather than to the paper. If you get the paper itself damp, it will swell and then shrink again, which dislodges pastel. What you may end up with is a fragile, crackly crust that detaches from the surface and shatters!

I've also mentioned that this unfortunate side effect seems to occur right away--it doesn't take a hundred years to develop. I've seen brand new professional work with the highlights crumbled in little shards all along the bottom of the frame and more color visibly ready to bust loose and fall. As far as I know, only steam can do that to a pastel. A light application on thin, rubbed-in passages might not hurt, but lots of steam on thickly applied color looks like a big no-no to me.

Degas got away with using steam because he also used a heavy load of fixative on layer after layer, probably shellac in alcohol. He could rub his fingers all over the surface of his pastels and not dislodge a thing!