Using Fixatives During and After Drawing

Using Fixatives During and After Drawing

A lot of artists have questions about using fixatives during and after drawing. Do fixatives really work? Is there any advantage to using them during any part of the drawing process?

So it was no surprise to get a fixative-related question. This question comes from a new reader, and he has a different spin on this subject. Here’s his question.

Hi Carrie!

Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question!  I am new to this group and appreciate your thoughtfulness in helping us. 

Would you please go into some detail regarding the use of fixatives both when working on a picture and after it has been completed?

Thank you so much!

Using Fixatives During and After Drawing

Opinions differ on the use of fixatives during and after drawing. Some artists swear by it, and some artists avoid it at all costs.

Artists who use fixatives use them in a number of ways.

Some artists use workable fixatives to restore tooth to the paper when it becomes too slick. Fixatives can also be helpful in preventing wax bloom if your preferred pencils are soft and waxy like Prismacolors. And there are artists who prefer sealing their finished drawings with a final fixative of some kind.

But the truth is that most of the time, I’ve found fixatives of limited use for my particular drawing methods and the papers I use. More on that in a moment.

Using Fixatives While Drawing

For most of my art life (over 50 years,) I was an oil painter. Even then, I didn’t make much use of varnishes. There were two reasons.

The first (and most important) was that most of my work was portrait work. As soon as it was dry, it was on it’s way to the client. Since oil paintings usually need to cure six months or more before varnishing, I never had the opportunity to varnish them.

So when I made the switch to colored pencils, that non-varnishing habit made the transition, too.

The primary reason for using a workable fixative is to restore tooth to the surface of the drawing.

Since I use such light pressure and so many layers of color, I rarely had problems with the paper surface getting slick. So I had no need of workable fixative.

The few times I did try it, the results were minimal.

As a result, I just never saw the need to use a workable fixative during the drawing process.

If You Do Find Workable Fixatives Useful….

There are a some things to remember if workable fixatives work for you.

Number 1: Make sure you use a workable fixative. These fixatives are specifically made to be drawn over. Final fixatives (often called varnishes) are not made to be worked over. Using a final fixative during the process may make adding more color difficult.

Number 2: Make sure your workable fixative is made for dry media. Painting fixatives may stain your paper or discolor your work.

Number 3: Apply the fixative in two or three light coats, rather than one heavy coat. You’ll get better results this way and you’re less likely to damage the paper by saturating it with fixative.

Number 4: Use the fixative in a ventilated area.

Number 5: Let the drawing dry completely before adding more color.

Using Fixatives on Finished Drawings

Lets talk a little bit about why you might use a final fixative on your work.

The popular idea (I think) is to protect the drawing. But colored pencils are pretty stable and if you’ve used them properly, they don’t usually crack or flake like oil paints might.

Yes, a final fixative will keep dust and dirt off the surface of the drawing.

But a final fixative does nothing to protect the potentially most fragile part of the artwork—the paper. That’s what the glass is for. If you frame under glass, then you don’t really need the final fixative to keep the artwork clean.

Final fixatives do not prevent discoloration. If you used fading colors (also known as fugitive colors,) the colors will fade even if you use a final fixative on them. You can slow the fading by using a UV resistant final fixative and/or UV resistant glass, but those colors still eventually fade.

So what are final fixatives good for?

Wax Bloom Prevention: A final fixative can keep wax bloom from appearing on your artwork. If you use a waxy pencil like Prismacolor, you may have wax bloom. If you draw with heavy pressure and/or use dark colors, wax bloom is also a possibility.

But if you use light pressure for as many layers as possible, you reduce the chances of wax bloom appearing. Using less waxy pencils also helps prevent wax bloom.

Peace of Mind: I think peace of mind is the biggest reason some artists use a final fixative. It makes them feel their work is safer, more durable, and better if they apply a coat or two of final fixative.

Whether it actually is or not.

If peace of mind is why you’re thinking about putting final fixative on your work, you’ll get better results by making sure you’re using the best pencils and paper possible in the best way possible.

The rules for using a final fixative are much the same as using workable fixative.

Is There Ever a Time When Fixatives are a Must?


If you use sanded art papers and other specialized products like Brush and Pencil’s Powder Blender, then you must use a fixative.

A workable fixative is essential with this drawing method because Powder Blender makes colors highly blend-able until it’s sealed. If you use Powder Blender at any phase of your drawing process, but you never seal it, the color could still be moved around on the drawing for as long as the drawing lasts.

I haven’t been using the Brush and Pencil products very long, but I have written a couple of tutorial posts describing how I use them and why I like them. One involves blending backgrounds, and the other shows how I used these products to draw a campfire. Both projects are on Pastelmat, which is a very nice, sanded surface.

The Bottom Line

I know from personal experience that colors continue to mix and blend until they are sealed when drawing on sanded paper and using Powder Blender.

But if your preferred paper is a traditional paper like Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes or similar, then you don’t need either workable fixatives or final fixatives.

If you use them correctly, however, there is no reason why you shouldn’t use them if you prefer.

Got a question? Ask Carrie!

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