Fixatives for pencil drawings

A reader wrote to me a week ago (apologies for the delay) and asked:

What exactly is a fixative for pencil/graphite drawings? How and why should it be used? Is there a special kind?

There definitely is a special kind! So forget the use of hairspray as championed by a few artists. Why use a product designed for gluing hair together, with its unknown future problems, when you can use a product carefully formulated by scientists for just the purpose in hand.

I am by no means an expert on this matter but I do always use a fixative on my drawing on completion. In my case I use Winsor & Newton’s “Fixative for Pastel, Charcoal and Pencil”.

A good fixative not only fixes the loose graphite to the paper to prevent smudging, it also contains a UV filter to help to prevent yellowing (or aging) of the paper by sunlight.

I would always recommend its use…

…and here’s how…

    * Place scrap paper at either side of your drawing
    * Spray on one sheet until you are certain it won’t spit
    * Pass the spray across your drawing
    * Repeat in the other direction.
    * Many light coats are better than one heavy coat.

The most immediate effect is that the sheen will disappear from the drawing and your blacks and darks will noticeably deepen in tone. They are not actually altered but just retuned to what they should have looked like had the flat plate-like graphite grains not reflected stray light.

One thought on “Fixatives for pencil drawings”

  1. Mike’s right, things do change some when fixative is applied – I’ve had notable disasters when spraying chalk on black matboard. It’s best to practise and get used to using it on rough work.

    Another excellent use for it is to give a paper back some ‘tooth’, that is, some surface for graphite/charcoal to adhere to once you’ve filled up an area and no more’s going on. Just remember that there’s no going back…

    As with everything else, different brands work differently. There’s also glossy and matte finishes available, as well as something called ‘Workable Fixative’, whcih i’ve never been able to get to work. Ostensibly, it’s a fixative that you can erase adn work through. Bah!

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