View Full Version : A question on applying fixative spray

12-11-2011, 10:24 AM
I'm sure this is dealt with somewhere on this forum, but I can't find it, at least not easily. I'm primarily a landscape painter (oils), but dabble in figurative work too, most recently doing some life drawing studies in soft pastel. I've used a fixative spray for my first couple of drawings without any significant darkening, but the last time I did it, I totally runined the drawing. I think I may simply have applied too much. So my question is this - is there a particular way that such fixatives should be applied, i.e. several light coats rather than one quick heavy one?


12-11-2011, 11:31 AM
So my question is this - is there a particular way that such fixatives should be applied, i.e. several light coats rather than one quick heavy one?

Yes, several light coats rather than one heavy one is the way I would recommend applying fixative. Make sure that you are not holding the can too close as well - I would say about 12 inches, at least, from the artwork. I use a long, sweeping side-to-side movement, going beyond the painting's edges.

Keep in mind that almost all fixatives are pretty nasty stuff and need proper ventilation ( I would never spray indoors, personally - and a respirator is not a bad idea, either.)

The one exception is the fairly new Spectrafix, which comes with a pump-spray and is non-toxic. Because of the pump spray, I do find that I need to spray it heavily to get an even coating - other wise I get little spots of fixative. This could just be me, however.

Because all fixatives do effect the pastel in some way, many folks who do use fixative won't apply any when the painting is finished - only during the early and middle stages. This way the upper layer of strokes will retain their freshness and "sparkle".


12-11-2011, 11:44 AM
this will probably get bumped over to Talk forum , but anyway ,
each type of application has it's results ,
depends on the surface .
> with paper , the fix will not bring up the tooth from
a heavy base layer .
>> some have sprinkled marble dust/pumice
and put another heavy layer of fix to get texture/grab .

- original colour is not likely .

Ed :}

12-11-2011, 12:27 PM
Good answers...and you will find a way of finding more in our housekeeping thread.....AKA Welcome! Meanwhile I'll move this as it is a TALK subject.:)

12-11-2011, 06:10 PM
I switched over to using the new SpectraFix. I'm able to use several light layers because I weight down the paper between them to dry and keep it from cockling. However, it doesn't darken the color, it's beautiful that way. It also smells nicer and isn't toxic.

It's sometimes hard to tell if I put any on with a light layer, so I got a tendency to overdo it for a while. It also takes longer for the layers to dry than the aerosol sprays. For the amount of work that goes into using it though, the results are so much better that I don't bother using the others much for anything.

Donna A
12-11-2011, 06:16 PM
Hi! I agree with DonóDAK723. When I use fixatives, other than SpectraFix, I find that spraying ONCE OVER QUICKLY, then letting that layer dry, which takes about 2 minutes, then spraying again, ONCE OVER QUICKLY---and repeating that again and again as necessary NEVER darkens the pastel I have applied! When I finish a painting, no matter how often I may have applied fixative during the painting process, I will always fix the painting with 8 to 12 layers of fixative. Now---I agree that it's a nuisance to have to keep coming back again and again to add just a little more fixative, BUT I have never had a bit of pastel dust end up inside the frame, even shipping it across the country or even out of the country! It is absolutely worth it! I've seen so many artists ruin their pastel paintings by getting them wet with fixative at the end. Being patient with the final fixative is certainly worth the efforts!!!

BTW, I will spray an area of the pastel painting heavily at one time if I want to darken a certain area. You just have to be careful to spray only enough to darken it and to not create a shiny, hard surface that won't match with the rest of the pastel painting.

I think it's always a good idea to test critical things---so you might lay on some pastel to the same papers that you would be working on for a finished painting---and find what will give you THE results in different the circumstances that you create! Very best wishes---and patience! Donna ;-}

12-11-2011, 06:38 PM
Thanks to all here for the great feedback. I'll make sure to apply my remaining aerosol fixative in several light layers, and when it's gone I'll look into the non-toxic one.


12-12-2011, 06:38 PM
Gee, Donna, in all my years of using pastels, and fixing, nobody has ever mentioned the idea of spraying lightly, ALLOWING TO DRY and going back to spray more. 8-12 layers! Wow! Who knew!

I am well aware that drenching the pastel surface will darken, so I use very little fix (tho am now a Spectrafix convert, great stuff) but I have lots of other stuff to use up, I shall try it this way, thanks so much for the tip. If it works, and doesn't darken, I will be delighted.


12-12-2011, 06:55 PM
Donna: Thanks!! I remember reading this advice you gave a while back and it is the best pastel tip I've had in a long time......It really works you guys.
Thanks again Donna.


12-13-2011, 07:09 PM
WOW......never heard of 8-12 layers......one nice thing....you won't need expensive museum glass .......nothings going to get close to the pastel......

Donna is an expert and I for one will give it a go......I always have used light coats and let them dry between sprays but never that many but we all learn something new every day .....thank you sincerely Donna for the tip.....:wave:

and I prefer Lascaux....:thumbsup:

12-13-2011, 07:29 PM
Hey Blue: I hear ya! but when I buy it my wallet again; is empty.
:o DcamDcam Derek

12-14-2011, 07:17 AM
One thing to bear in mind, however much fix you use (or perhaps, if you intend to use it regularly) is the TOXICITY of most fixatives. The brilliant thing about Spectrafix is that it is made with Casein and is NOT toxic...which for me, outweighs just about every other consideration. I have always hated the idea that my lungs must be taking in toxic stuff, no matter how careful I was being.....so when I was told by Della, who makes Spectrafix, that it is non-toxic, I was absolutely delighted.

12-14-2011, 09:38 AM
Yes Jackie; Spectrafix is wonderful. I do use it for in-between layers of pastel painting. I use Donna's method for the final fix, garage door open and a fan for ventilation. Because the spraying is brief and light, I can hold my breath and get away.
:lol: Derek

12-14-2011, 11:41 AM
good points coming in .

i have found that air temperature , direct sun , and humidity
all have an influence when spraying outdoors , and drying .
> one maker advises not to spray when temp is below 15C ( 59F ) .
>> i've been fixing on paper of 150 gr/m squared or less ( 100# ) .

hope that's useful .

Ed :}

12-22-2011, 06:24 AM
Thanks again for all the great responses everyone. And a particular thanks to Donna, I've been spraying lightly in several coats and it really does works. I've also adopted the " Derek" approach to toxicity concerns - my lungs are getting a great work-out - I managed to hold my breath for almost a minute yesterday!! My cat had the good sense to make a run for it!!:lol:


12-22-2011, 07:30 AM
Donna, thank you! I wish someone had explained that to me back when I first started, since I got used to a heavy hand with pastels. Several articles said "use two or three light coats instead of one heavy one" but didn't mention why or pausing between them. I didn't see any difference so I'd apply in one heavy coat and restate the lights.

Which is fine if I'm intending to darken but I love your description of the process for final spraying! I'll try it the next time I use the other stuff.

I found out by accident with SpectraFix that I had to be patient like that or it'd puddle as liquid. It does reduce cockling a lot to be patient and wait till it's completely dry before the next light layer - usually more than two minutes in my experience. But the results are fantastic - just as you described, nothing falling off, even if I shake it, closing a sketchbook page it won't rub off on the facing page.

It might dry faster outside too when there's a bit of wind to carry the fumes away. Or not, I live in a moist climate now.

Kathryn Wilson
01-01-2012, 10:49 AM
Having just bought my first bottle of Spectrafix, I decided to come here for advice on how to use it and found this thread.

No one has mentioned that they use it on a final layer of pastel - I've always been advised with the regular fixatives to never use it on the final layer - but you all are saying there is no dust coming off, so I am assuming that you fix the final layer with no darkening.

Thanks for any final thoughts on this :)

Donna A
01-03-2012, 01:34 AM
Hi, Kathryn! Enjoy the SpectraFix! Great fixative! Now, as to putting fixative on the final pastel painting, I ALWAYS spray the final painting---BUT I spray once over lightly and let it dry at least two minutes. Then spray again. Drying time. Spray again, etc. 8 to 12 times! I've never had any pastel come off on my linen liners or the glass, even when shipped across country or beyond. Best wishes! Donna ;-}

Donna A
01-03-2012, 01:42 AM
LOL!!! I just reread the other posts on this thread! Sounds like we have all developed great breath-holding abilities while spraying quickly! :-) Yea, team!!! And Happy New Year, everyone!!! Donna ;-}

01-03-2012, 03:21 AM

I have used spectrafix for the final fix. I try to do maybe 4-5 light coats but it is a little difficult to get really light layers with spectrafix. the main thing is to get it on there evenly. If you put too much on and the painting is vertical it will run! so be ready to lay it flat just in case. It doesn't change the color even if you soak it it just takes longer to dry. I have a friend who would lay hers flat and spray the heck out of her painting of course thinking that one good spray was better than many light ones (she is a bit impatient). One thing I noticed when she did this was that she was always too close to the painting because there would be spots of color all over the board surrounding the painting and of course spots on the painting because the color flew off of it. She didn't seem to care. like I said very impatient. I try to do it vertical and stand at least 12 inches away and go back and forth lightly. again, it is hard to do it really lightly because it is a pump spray but it can be done with a little practice. If you decide you would rather do it with the painting on the floor then i would be at least 12 or more inches away from it. i know this sounds like a hassle but it really isn't a big deal and it is nice to not have to worry about the toxicity of it. hope this helps. but that said, i don't spray all my paintings. I've actually just done a few because I knew they were going to move with me and I wanted them better protected.


01-03-2012, 04:58 AM
It may be obvious, superfluous even....but no-one has mentioned that you should never spray direct from the can to the painting....always spray a quick burst first in the air....indoors or out, but away from the painting....this reduces those spurts one often gets when using it for the first time....and should be repeated each time you put the can away then get it out again for its next use.:)

and Michael....to do a search in this or any forum.... use the search feature shown here


01-03-2012, 06:44 AM
Turn the can upside down and spray, to let the nozzle be cleaned by gas or air.

Kathryn Wilson
01-03-2012, 10:07 AM
Thanks Donna - I've seen your work in person and that you trust Spectrafix on those beautiful paintings means I can go ahead with confidence. So good to see you posting again - you've been missed!

Sara - good thing to know about laying it flat - knowing me, I'd probably get runs. I've read elsewhere that you can cover the spots or runs - true?

Charlie - good suggestion - I would never have thought about clearing the nozzle before spraying

I shall experiment on some of my "dog" paintings first before I trying on a good one