As you apply layers of pastels, the powder begins to build up to the point when the drawing can’t take any new layers of color. You can use workable fixatives to set the layers so that you can apply new, fresh marks. Workable fixatives give a coating of sealer to protect the artwork and create a more durable surface for adding more layers of pastel; you can apply fixative several times during the development of the drawing. Although not all artists use fixatives because they think the sprays change the color and look of the drawing too much, fixatives are very useful in the application of many layers of color and can be an integral part of the layering process.
So how do you know when your piece would benefit from a coat of workable fixative? Getting a handle on exactly when to spray your artwork takes practice and experience, but as a general rule, you shouldn’t see a lot of dust regardless of whether you’re massing or hatching your strokes. Lots of dust either means you’re pressing too hard or you’ve built up so much powder that the new strokes have nothing to hang on to — the new marks are just dusting off and grinding the previous layers into a muddy mix of colors. If this situation happens to you, you may want to spray.
To apply the fixative, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area, such as a porch, garage, or outside on a dry, calm day. Remember that you’re spraying a varnish and that the overspray adheres to everything around your drawing, so protect your surroundings accordingly. Also be aware of safety precautions using this product and read the directions on the can. Don’t inhale or ingest the spray, and don’t use it near an open flame. The spraying process itself is super easy:
Secure your drawing to a board and set it on a stable surface.
Following the directions on the can, apply light, even sprays from about 12 inches away from the surface of the work and let dry for 10 to 20 minutes before applying more pastel. For a 9-x-12-inch drawing, three light swipes of spray should be enough to do the job. Always apply less than what you think you need — spray fixative changes the color of the pastel surface, making it darker. Err on the side of applying too little. How much spray to use isn’t easy to describe in writing. One analogy is to apply it like you would a natural amount of hairspray (but not enough to secure a bouffant). Use this suggestion as an analogy only — never use hairspray on artwork!
After the fixative has dried (10 to 20 minutes), you can continue to apply pastel.
Although fixatives do settle the pastel layers, they don’t completely protect the drawing. Even final fixatives can’t do that.
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