Fixative – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Conservation and Restoration Glossary

What is Fixative?

Fixative is a liquid solution used in art to protect drawings, sketches, and pastel works from smudging or fading. It is typically made from a mixture of alcohol and a resin or varnish, which creates a thin, transparent layer that seals the artwork and prevents the medium from being easily rubbed off or altered.

Fixative is commonly used by artists working with charcoal, pencil, pastels, and chalk to preserve their work and ensure its longevity. It is applied by spraying or brushing onto the surface of the artwork, allowing it to dry completely before handling or storing the piece.

Types of Fixatives

There are two main types of fixatives used in art: workable fixative and final fixative. Workable fixative is used during the creation process to set layers of medium and prevent smudging while still allowing for additional layers to be added on top. Final fixative, on the other hand, is applied once the artwork is complete to permanently seal and protect the finished piece.

Workable fixatives are often reworkable, meaning that additional layers of medium can be applied on top of the fixative without any issues. Final fixatives, however, are non-reworkable and should only be applied once the artist is satisfied with the final result.

How Fixative is Used in Art Conservation

In art conservation, fixative plays a crucial role in preserving and protecting artworks from damage caused by handling, environmental factors, and aging. Conservators use fixative to stabilize fragile mediums, such as charcoal or pastels, and prevent them from smudging or flaking off over time.

Fixative is applied in a controlled manner by conservators to ensure that the artwork is properly sealed and protected without altering its original appearance. It helps to maintain the integrity of the artwork and prolong its lifespan for future generations to enjoy.

Benefits of Using Fixative

One of the main benefits of using fixative in art is its ability to protect the artwork from smudging, fading, and other forms of damage. By creating a barrier between the medium and the external environment, fixative helps to preserve the integrity of the artwork and maintain its original appearance over time.

Fixative also enhances the vibrancy and richness of colors in pastel works, allowing the artist to achieve more depth and detail in their creations. It provides a subtle sheen to the surface of the artwork, giving it a professional and finished look that is both aesthetically pleasing and durable.

Precautions When Using Fixative

While fixative is a valuable tool in art conservation, it is important to take certain precautions when using it to ensure the safety of both the artist and the artwork. Fixative should be used in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling fumes and should be kept away from open flames or heat sources.

It is recommended to wear a mask and gloves when applying fixative to protect against skin irritation and respiratory issues. Additionally, care should be taken to avoid over-spraying or applying too much fixative, as this can cause the artwork to become discolored or damaged.

Alternatives to Fixative

For artists who prefer not to use fixative or are looking for alternative methods of preserving their artwork, there are several options available. One common alternative is to use a fixative pencil or spray that is specifically designed for use with certain mediums, such as charcoal or pastels.

Another option is to frame the artwork behind glass or acrylic to protect it from dust, moisture, and other environmental factors. This method allows the artwork to be displayed without the need for fixative while still providing a layer of protection.

In conclusion, fixative is a valuable tool in art conservation that helps to protect and preserve artworks for future generations to enjoy. By understanding the different types of fixatives, how they are used, and the precautions to take when using them, artists can ensure that their creations remain vibrant and intact for years to come.