Fixing Pastel

*bjullianpastel copy

Portrait study of J.  Pastel      11″x16″

I haven’t posted very much pastel work on this blog.  I do however, occasionally work in soft pastel.   Unison pastels are my go- to chalks.  They glide and blend like butter.  Mi- Tientes paper supports these pastels nicely. I find that working in this medium can be a lot of fun.  The downside is keeping the pigment where it’s supposed to stay.   Fixative is the only way I know of making that happen.  But, I really don’t like using fixative.  It muddies and darkens color, and even when sprayed outdoors, is hazardous to breathe.  So, I only use workable fix to reclaim traction when my paper becomes so heavy with pastel that I can’t effect any more coverage.   I don’t fix finished work,but instead request extra care from the framer when matting and framing.

Does anyone out there know of  a magical alternative to fixative?

Published by elenacaravela

My world is a wonder of visual candy and foreboding shadow shapes vying every waking moment for my full attention.

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  1. Hi Elena, I have an award-winning pastel artist friend. I mentioned your question. Here is her response: “Have you tried using a sanded paper or under painting to help with the pastels staying on the paper. I really like UArt paper 400.” I hope this is helpful. She paints with the Cape Cod Pastel Society.

  2. Sorry to chime in so late but I’ve been using SpectraFix made of casein, water and denatured grain alcohol. It does the job, but it’s best if you transfer it to an atomizer to avoid large drops–these drops don’t stain–but because of the large amt of water, your paper will buckle/curl if not stretched. Another fabulous portrait for us–thanks!

  3. Love this, which is unusual for me, as the subject is a male… it’s beautiful (:

  4. Ugh, I don’t like fixative either! The fumes, ugh. And yes, they do alter the color. But wow this pastel is amazing! Those eyes! Please report back if you find a fixative solution that works!

  5. wow! it feels as if I am looking at a living person! so, so, so freaking real!
    amazing (as always) 🙂

  6. Your creation and subject…Whoo hoo….and Em and I have always used hairspray (outside as well!!) Xx

  7. I really like J’s intensity and presence. Great drawing, which would be ruined by fixative for sure. I think your solution of applying nothing but care is the best – it’s in the nature of the material to be delicate/ ephemeral. Nightmare to store, though…

  8. This is a truly beautiful portrait. The light you captured in those eyes is so fantastic. I’m sorry not to have any solutions to offer you, but I do indeed wish I could work with pastels the way you do. Wonderful, Elena.

  9. Elena I just enjoy landing in your blg when I can it is music to my eyes.. You probably paint with naked fingers too.. Love your work very much 🙂 x

  10. Such a powerful portrait Elena. I remember these pastel from art classes in school.. I used to love using them and we always used the spray. It’s probably banned in schools now on health and safety grounds.. I don’t know of an alternative unfortunately. I hope you find what you need!.

  11. Such piercing blue eyes ! A wonderful pastel portrait Elena . My … how talented you are x

  12. SpectraFix is a casein based fixative and comes in a non-aerosol pump. I’ve used it in an airbrush for easy spraying. I used it on sanguine and charcoal drawings, though, so I can’t attest to how it behaves on full color soft pastel. Worth a try. A really lovely piece, by the way. I like how your colors are both moody and playful.

  13. Ah, Elena, great pastel portrait work!!! I was going to mention hairspray but I see many already have! I don’t know of any other fixative that won’t interfere in some way with the painting. I think that careful glass [not acrylic!] framing is probably the best solution.

  14. Amazing portrait created, dear Elena. Congratulations!
    I look magical eye color fascinated me!
    Your technique is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing with us.
    Have a wonderful day, dear Elena. Big hugs, Stefania. 🙂

  15. Stunning portrait. Love the blue eyes!- So striking.
    I was also told to use hairspray- and I sometimes do, however it’s not the best (makes your artwork smell of a hair salon too 😉 ).

  16. Mesmerizing blue eyes.
    —– I’m (as always) very impressed how fine (in small details) you can draw using
    soft pastel. (or was it an illusion I’m seeing each hair ?)

  17. Beautiful work Elena. I don’t use fixatives, but have heard many soft pastelists voice the same concerns as you have for using fixatives – mainly that it can change and mute the actual colors. If I hear of something I’ll let you know.

      1. Hi Elena, one of the moderators on Wetcanvas for the soft pastel forum recently posted this w/re to fixatives. Hope it helps:

        That being said, every fixative will alter the painting, which is why many pastel artists don’t spray or only spray during beginning and/or intermediate stages of the painting, but not at the end. Usually it darkens and dulls the colors. How much depends on the the fixative, how lightly you spray, distance, the type of paper, the pastels used, how many layers, etc.

        I have found Lascaux to be a brand that alters the colors minimally. Sennelier’s LaTour is another one that is often recommended. But the fixative I would recommend is Spectrafix. Minimal color change and perhaps most importantly, it is non-toxic. All the other sprays need to be used with proper ventilation (and, in my opinion, a respirator).

  18. actually someone once suggested aquanet hairspray..
    it’s been years and I don’t remember if I tried it, to see what it might do to the pastel
    i can’t be around that chemical stink myself, aquanet still smells blah! 😀

    anyway it’s still between .89 and 1.50 for a can, i think

    I really like this drawing.

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