Donna Aldridge, international award-winning master pastelist and oil painter, fine artist, has work in collections in 25 countries and teaches painting workshops nationally and art classes in Kansas City.
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Notes on Fixative
for Pastel Paintings
from a 1999 IAPS Program
on Conservation
by Ross Merrill
Head Conservator of the National
Gallery, Washington, DC

With additional comments and
illustrations on spraying
by Donna Aldridge
©Donna Aldridge 2000
Lemons on Gray Pastel 18.5" x 26.5"
Collection Jeffery Jones, TN

Grumbacher’s Tuffilm Fixative Brown Label (Final) was found to be the best fixative for pastels based on many tests and other research by the National Gallery. LaTour, Sennilier and Rowney are amoung the other fine fixatives.—RM

Most fixatives darken and deteriorate.—RM

Hair spray is thought of as ‘job security’ by conservationists.—RM

Peggy H. Ellis of NYU is considered the best expert on fixative.—RM

Workable and Final Fixative are different in the concentration. Workable is lighter, more diluted and is to be used during painting.—RM

Spray with your artwork in a vertical position so that any large drops of fixative fall to the ground before reaching the pastel as illustrated to the right.—DA

Do not stand too far away or the fixative will dry before reaching the painting.—DA

Nor should you stand too close because you will create small, isolated areas of heavy saturation.—DA

Experiment on scrap papers or cardboard to find the perfect range.—DA

Wear a mask while spraying and either leave the studio for a while after spraying with a HEPA filter fan running to clear the air of spray particals—or you may prefer to spray out of doors, though not on windy or wet days.—DA

Odor is an early-warning system so avoid using odorless sprays.—RM

Always test the spray pattern on a piece of white paper before turning to your painting to spray the fixative.—DA

Nearly-empty cans are more likely to splatter, so they may serve best by using only in those times when you want to darken an area by heavy spraying.—DA

Avoid spraying in an uneven pattern as illustrated in the first picture above to the left, which leaves some areas unsprayed and others saturated.—DA

Spray quickly (so the moist fixative deposit is slight) and steadily back and forth in even, level rows, making the turn down to the next row beyond the artwork as illustrated in the picture to the far right. You may want to spray at right angles to this occasionally. —DA

Begin spraying each time at a slightly different level so that you have even coverage which still remains light and will not saturate the colors to darken them.—DA

Turn the can upside down and spray to clear the nozzle when you are finished fixing your work each time.
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To darken a pastel painting with fixative, it is necessary to spray enough fixative at one time in order to make the pastel moist. By spraying only once over quickly in an even pattern, letting the fixative dry completely for several minutes before spraying again—and again—and again, perhaps as many as a dozen times, you will have given your painting a good 'fix' without allowing it to become wet and to darken. The only places the pastel painting might be in danger of darkening with these measures is in any areas where there is only the sheerest, rubbed-in bit of pastel. This may or may not be altered by the spray. Best to test if you tend to have prominent areas in your paintings like this.—DA

Spraying very lightly as suggested above and allowing the piece to dry in between a series of sprays will prevent the image from being saturated with moisture and therefore darkening.

Completely saturating a paint layer will darken the layer––and some artists use this technique to achieve darker colors. That saturation also turns the pigment into a true paint layer.—DA

Fixative increases the lightfastness of certain pigments which become less
stable when thinned with mixtures of other pigments or additives with little or no binder. This alone is a good reason to spray unless you have researched and removed any of the sticks which include this group of pigments.—DA

The National Gallery Conservation Dept. did a number of high-impact tests with pastel paintings. They found that after a 50-G impact on an unfixed pastel where a great deal of pastel would be knocked off, still more pastel could be dislodged as the result of a 10-G impact. They concluded after many tests that it is very important for the longevity of a pastel painting that it be carefully fixed both during and at the end of a painting.—RM

Fixative lets the artist build more layers on many types of surfaces.—DA

Degas, Cassatt and others would mix fixative or a diluted glue and dip pastel sticks into them and apply almost as paste.—RM

Bill Creevy uses PVA (polyvinyl acetate—which is acid-free) diluted 95% with water as a spray on his pastels as he works to build up interesting layers of color and texture. For more information see The Pastel Book: Materials and Techniques by Bill Creevy.—DA

Steaming can cause the pastel to bunch up which makes it less luminous. Tests at teh national Gallery did ot confirm steaming as areliable way of decreasing the fragility of the pigment layers, thought there are artists who continue to use this process with satisfaction.—RM

Note: I've shipped a great many pastel paintings across the country and beyond, and without exception, those that have returned have come home with their white linen liners unblemished. It is possible to spray fix our pastel paintings without changing them and to have our linen liners or mats remain fresh, even after several shipments across the country!—DA

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