A: To fix or not is one of those ongoing pastel dilemmas: color shift, a slight darkening and dulling, will occur to some degree when fixative is applied to a pastel painting; however, a thin layer of fixative makes for a more stable pastel surface. Weighing the pros and cons becomes, int he end, a personal choice.
Fixatives have come a long way from the early heavy resin varieties that created considerable color shift. Many modern brands like Lascaux, Sennelier Latour and Daler-Rowney Prefix (see photo) create a minimum of color shift and are favored by many professional artists. These fixatives are of the highest quality, utilizing acrylic resins and are non-yellowing. This makes them very suitable as a final protective application. Brands like Blair No-odor and Krylon Workable Fixatif produce more noticeable color shifting and are better suited for isolating layers of pastel. This replicates the technique of an oil painter that allows individual layers of paint to dry before adding another. Fixative can also be used to settle a heavy pastel buildup. This provides additional tooth, allowing more pastel to be easily applied.
Historically, fixatives were supplied in a liquid form and applied with a breath-propelled atomizer. With the advent of the aerosol canister, application become more convenient. Some artists may still prefer to apply fixative in the old-fashioned manner for technique or for environmental reasons. Practice and good lung power will be needed to effectively work in this manner. Hair spray is often mentioned as an inexpensive alternative to artist grade fixative, but most hairsprays contain oils, perfumes and other conditioners that make them better suited for your head than your artwork.
When applying fixative, multiple light applications are highly recommended. Heavy over-saturated applications often lead to increased color shifting, shiny areas, and the tooth of the surface becoming filled.
Every artist becomes comfortable with his or her individual technique. While many artists that work in multiple layers utilize fixative, the majority shun it because of its ability to alter the appearance. Personally, I use very little fixative in my work. Sometimes, however, I might use a light spray to stabilize a drawing before applying an underpainting, or I might use an isolated spray to settle a heavy pastel passage for additional work. Recently however, I have begun applying a thin final fix, using one of the above mentioned quality fixatives, to add more stability to the finished painting. By practicing proper application and utilizing the availability of high quality fixatives, the benefits of a more stable final surface might be worth the “fix.”