It isn’t essential to use fixative, however as with soft pastel sticks, pastel color can be rubbed off or moved if the color is deliberately touched. Talk to any pastel artist and they will have strong opinions about using fixative. Some do, some don’t. Some artists use it in early layers of the painting, but not on the final layer of color. Some pastel artists will not use fixative at all but will protect their artwork by framing it appropriately.
There are many good brands on the market. And because the color can be moved slightly if brushed – if you do use fixative it is always recommended to apply it by spraying it.
It should be noted that when PanPastel Color is applied, it is different to soft pastel stick color, in that using the Sofft Tools does push the color into the tooth of the paper, and the layer of color is thinner, as opposed to pastel stick color which is often a much thicker layer of color sitting on the surface of the paper.
There are two types of pastel fixative available:
– Workable fixative is weaker and is intended to be used during the painting process.
– Final fixative is intended to hold the particles in place permanently.
Fixative can be used in a number of ways:
1) it can be used to isolate previous layers of color or to protect the underpainting – by spraying a light layer of workable fixative as you are working.
2) it can be used to protect the final layer. Although it should be noted that fixative is not a varnish. It gives some protection, but is not a bullet-proof solution.
3) it can be applied to a super-smooth surface to give it some “tooth” (grab).
Tip: When using fixative, it is much better to spray in light layers – building up as required – rather than spraying one heavy layer. Allow the fixative to dry between layers.
So why do some artists avoid using pastel fixative? One of the main concerns is that it can change (darken) the pastel color. Spraying in light layers helps reduce this effect. Test before using fixative, to ensure you do not change your artwork in a way that you do not want it to change.
ALWAYS spray in a well-ventilated space (preferably outdoors) away from other people. Hold the can at least 12in (30cm) away from the artwork when spraying. Always check the safety instructions on the packaging.
Don’t use hair-spray as a fixative, it was not developed for use with artists colors, it will yellow over time, and hair-spray can have additives such as conditioners which can add oil-spots to your artwork.
At the end of the day – whether or not to use fixative and the technique you use really depends on your own personal preference and your working method.