To Fix or Not to Fix

To Fix or Not to Fix

When exploring the vibrant world of soft pastels on sanded paper, the question of fixatives inevitably arises. It's important to understand that the term "fixative" is misleading in this context. Even with their use, soft pastel art remains inherently unfixed. To use enough fixative to glue every particle of color in place would destroy the artwork.

Over my 15-year journey creating soft pastel artwork, I've experimented with various brands. Presently, these three staples grace my studio:

  • Sennelier’s Latour: Packaged in an aerosol can, this fixative boasts a relatively low odor and remarkably refrains from darkening the artwork upon application.
  • Degas’ SpectraFix: Unlike Latour, SpectraFix comes in a pump spray format. It offers a pleasant absence of odor and is casein-based. However, it does possess a tendency to slightly darken the art while leaving behind a delicate spray pattern.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol: Best utilized by pouring it into an atomizer bottle, this fixative provides a DIY alternative to commercial options. However, be prepared for its distinct alcohol scent.

    So, when and why do I incorporate these fixatives into my soft pastel artwork?

    Adjusting Darkness: If the artwork requires a subtle darkening effect, a light application of SpectraFix accomplishes this well. Personally, I appreciate the subtle pattern it imprints on the piece.

    Seating the pigment: Throughout my creative process, I employ a technique I term "seating" with alcohol. A delicate spritz of alcohol enhances the pigment's adhesion to the paper, facilitating smoother progression in my work.

    A final touch: In instances where additional seating is desired without darkening the artwork, a light misting of Latour fixative at the process's culmination aids in securing the layers of pigment, particularly when dealing with heavy applications.

    In terms of application, a couple of considerations come to mind:

    • Lightly, Always: It's imperative to apply fixatives with a gentle touch. Drips signify over-application, leading to potential mishaps. Allowing it to dry before reassessing and potentially redoing the area will work.
    • Frequent Application: Rather than opting for a heavy application at any given point, I find it beneficial to apply light layers of fixative throughout the creative process. This approach allows for better control and preservation of delicate nuances I’ve taken time to create.

      I recommend that you explore the effects of different fixatives on your art. Understanding their nuances will help you to make informed decisions that complement your creative vision. You should experiment with combinations of fixatives to see how it affects your work. I often use Spectrafix and alcohol at different times in the same artwork

      Ultimately, remember that the use of fixatives is not mandatory. I use them as I feel it is needed and not in every piece I create. Some artists prefer to forego fixatives altogether. In the end, it’s really up to you.

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