Pastel Pointers With Richard McKinley | The FIX Is In

A pastel value underpainting done with a dark pastel stick and wetted with SpectraFix.

One of the advantages of the recent International Associations of Pastel Societies (IAPS) convention—besides seeing all the wonderful pastel artists and getting to watch inspirational demonstrations—is the trade show, affectionately known as the “candy store.” Having the opportunity to see and handle pastel-related products in person is very helpful as an artist/consumer. While other art media may be interesting, seeing a display of thousands of colorful pastel sticks can make any painter creatively salivate. Interacting with the knowledgeable representatives also provides a means of information sharing. We, as consumers, get to give feedback and they get to offer advice.

pastel underpainting

Once dry, a watercolor wash of various colors was applied over the value underpainting.

An interaction at this year’s convention with the Della, the creator of SpectraFix casein-based fixative, has opened up a new underpainting possibility for me and I would like to encourage other pastel artists to experiment with it as well. Underpainting, as it applies to a pastel painting, is basically an initial layer of color and value placed on to the painting surface in advance of definitive pastel applications. It acts as a setup and often makes a pastel painting more economical. When kept thin, it allows for easy pastel addition without becoming muddied—the dread of every painter.

Historically, pastelists have employed many techniques. Some wipe pastel, others wet it with various solutions, and many employ mixed-media techniques with thin washes of watercolor, gouache, liquid acrylics, or even very thin oil paint. One of the advantages of utilizing a wet underpainting is that it opens doors to serendipitous drips and runs that can expand creative possibilities. This is where SpectraFix enters the picture. This fixative can be utilized to liquefy and spread the initial layers of pastel, creating a wet loose underpainting that dries to a matte surface, and it  doesn’t affect the colors hue and has a minimal affect on value. Subsequent layers of pastel or even mixed-media can be placed over the top of this underpainting, allowing for unlimited creative possibilities. Edgar Degas used similar techniques for many of his works and is reported to have utilized a similar casein-based fixative.

pastel spectra fix

Next, pastel is applied; the painting is unfinished.

SpectraFix is available in premixed, ready-to-use pump bottles, or as a concentrate that can be mixed with various grain alcohol solutions, including vodka, which opens up even more painting possibilities. This makes it safe for travel and easy to use with a brush for underpainting techniques. It is best to test the effect in advance on your surface of choice. For more information on SpectraFix visit:



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3 thoughts on “Pastel Pointers With Richard McKinley | The FIX Is In

  1. Karin

    Thank you for this very interesting article.
    Do you have experience if this method also works on Sennelier La Carte? La Carte cannot take water but it might not dissolve when using alcohol and I presume that SpectraFix is alcohol.