Cathleen Lengyel > Scribbles > Artist Help > Fixatives – What, Why, When

Fixatives – What, Why, When

Today we’re going to talk about fixatives.  What they are, why you should or shouldn’t use them and when to use them.  I will be discussing the ones I use and one I am planning to use.  

What are fixatives and why use them?

Fixatives come in two distinct types, workable and final. Definitions From Dick Blick:
Workable Fixatives allow you to continue your work on a piece. Use workable fixatives between layers, or apply them when you want to protect an unfinished piece and return to work on it later.” “Final Fixatives are non-workable, and should be used only when the artwork is completed. Apply the fixative lightly, without wetting or soaking the paper. Once the fixative has been applied, it provides some protection against smudging and ultraviolet light.”
I might also add that workable fixatives not only protect between layers, but can also help add some tooth back to your paper for continued layering.

When to use fixatives:

Used for my graphite work.


I have used Krylon Workable Fixatif for years.  I really like it.  I have also begun to use the Blair low odor as well.  The Blair works nicely for finished pieces as a final fixative, something I learned from another graphite artist. I use the fixatives to reduce graphite shine and to also add tooth back to the paper if I am not getting enough layers or the depth of dark I want in a drawing. Once completed I do the final sprays ( a few layers dried between applications) to finish and protect the drawing.  Kyrlon’s new Gallery series Fine Art spray has been highly recommended to me and I will be purchasing some in the upcoming month and giving it a try.
What I use for colored pencil work.

Colored Pencil:

Thanks to Alyona Nickelsen there are brand new products for use with colored pencil!  Alyona Nickelsen is a world renowned colored pencil artist and author of  “The Colored Pencil Painting Bible.”  She has created some incredible products specifically for use with colored pencil.  I have tried three of her products, the Textured Fixative, the Final Fixative and the Powder Blender.  I am hoping to purchase her touch up texture and titanium white powder very soon. The Textured Fixative:  This is a life saver!  If you’re too heavy handed, can’t get any more layers but need more or need to add some light over areas you accidentally got too dark, this is for you!  Spray a light coating on your work and let it dry.  When it’s completely dry (about 15 mins) you can add a second coat if needed or simply start working.  It gives tooth back to your paper as if you never laid down any colored pencil at all.  It’s absolutely amazing!  The amount of layers you can achieve are unlimited when using this spray.  During testing they stopped around 70 layers, but could have kept going! When you are satisfied with your work and ready to protect it simply spray the final fixative.  Here’s what her website says: Advanced Colored Pencil Final Fixative (9 oz. aerosol can)
  • Provides long lasting protection for colored pencil artwork.
  • Non-toxic, non-yellowing, non-darkening, acid free with no odor.
  • Dries and hardens in minutes.
I think that pretty much says it all!  With other fixatives there was a risk of color change, but not with this incredible product.  I highly recommend both if you work or want to work in colored pencil! Here’s her website where you can learn more:  Brush and Pencil  Go check out her wonderful products, you won’t be disappointed!    


Ah pastels.  Here is a tricky area when it comes to fixatives.  In my limited experience with pastels I have spent a good deal of time researching fixatives for this medium.  While some pastel artists do use fixative sprays, many do not.  Pastels with their chalk like feel can easily be ruined by moisture, including that of a fixative spray.  Fixatives have also been known to cause severe color changes to pastel.  Not something you want to have happen when you have a beautiful finished piece.  I have heard that the Krylon Gallery Series Final Fixative works on pastels, but I won’t recommend it until I try it myself on a few test pieces.  I will keep you posted on what I find. So what’s the best way to protect your pastel work? The BEST way is to immediately double mat and frame it behind glass.  That is by far the safest way to protect your pastel painting. The next best way is to purchase a clamshell archival box.  Place your work inside the box and cover it with a piece of glassine.  You can stack many pastel pieces into a clamshell box with no problem, just don’t forget to cover each piece with a sheet of glassine.  For more information on clamshell boxes check out my post:  How to Protect Your Art   I hope this has helped you understand a little more about what fixatives are, why they are important and how to use them. Until next time, Keep Creating!
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