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How to spray your drawings with fixative correctly

Nikusha Beatty
February 21, 2019

Have a few drawings made with charcoal or pastels? If you haven’t sprayed them with fixative yet, you’re probably worried about smudging them. Instead of working around your drawings, spray them and put them away without the fear of ruining them. Fixative spray can be used for pencil, charcoal, pastel, or mixed media pieces that use the aforementioned materials. In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to use fixative spray correctly so you can preserve your smudgeable drawings.  

What You’ll Need:

  • A finished drawing
  • Workable Fixative Spray (not permanent or final)
  • Disposable gloves
  • Well-ventilated area
  • A clipboard (if your drawing is on looseleaf paper)
  • Clips to hold down the edges of your paper

Step 1: Gather your materials

You’ll want to make sure you have the right materials before spraying. Buy Workable Fixative spray, as this spray lets you continue working on top of your drawing if you chose to. Permanent or final spray will not let you have that luxury. We've also found that Workable Fixative is the most "gentle" of the sprays - it doesn't affect your drawing as much as other sprays tend to. Some fixative sprays can actually blow some charcoal off of your drawing.

Be sure to buy disposable gloves, as you don’t want the fixative spray getting on your skin - it is toxic!

If your drawing is on looseleaf paper, I recommend getting a clipboard so you can spray it vertically.

Step 2a: Preparing to spray

Go outside, or to a well-ventilated area, because just as you don’t want the spray on your skin, you also don’t want to inhale the fumes. If you spray outside, make sure to do it when it isn’t windy; we’ve found that the morning is the best time to spray drawings. If it is windy, it’ll blow most of the spray into the wind instead of your drawing.

Shake your fixative spray vigorously for 2 minutes. The instructions are on the can, and we can’t emphasize how important this step is. If you don’t mix the chemicals up, you gamble ruining your drawing. Unmixed fixative spray leaves a white, hazy layer that you can’t take off.

Step 2b: Testing the fixative

Once you’ve finished shaking the can, test the fixative before spraying your drawing. To do this, put your gloves on and uncap the fixative. Away from your drawing, hold the button down for just a second - to get rid of any residue that may be on the cap and to make sure it’s spraying right.

Step 3: Spraying your drawing

Spraying drawings with fixative
how to spray drawings

Set your drawing vertically, either against a wall or propped up on an easel. If you spray your drawing on the ground and spray over it, you risk dripping on your drawing and those spots will not come out.

Hold the can about 6-8 inches away from your drawing and start spraying horizontally, beginning from outside the edges of the drawing, making sure to end past the edge of your drawing.

Once you’ve gone from top to bottom, flip your drawing 90 degrees and spray again. This is to lock in the spray and guarantee all spots are covered. Let your drawing sit for about 30-60 seconds before doing another round of spray.

Step 4: Test if your drawing smudges

testing drawing for smudges

Check to see if you need another coat of spray. Use your finger (with your gloves still on) and touch your drawing in an inconspicuous spot to see if charcoal comes off. If charcoal does come off, you’ll need to do another round of spraying. With every new layer of spray, flip your drawing 90 degrees. If your glove is clean, you’re good to go!

Spray your drawing until no charcoal comes off. For drawings with a lot of charcoal, you'll need to add more layers. It can sometimes take up to 5+ layers to fix a drawing, depending on how much charcoal you used. If parts of your drawing are fixed (no charcoal is coming off) and other parts are not (some charcoal is still transferring onto your glove), you can spray just on that part. Remember to spray in horizontal layers, starting and ending on the outsides of the paper; I wouldn't recommend spraying directly on that spot.

Always read the instructions on the can and use caution when using a fixative spray, as it is flammable and toxic. Your knowledge of what not to do will protect you from the dangers of potentially hazardous materials.

Charcoal, dry pastels, or nupastels, and conté crayon are fantastic mediums that are so fun to play with. Knowing how to spray your drawings is part of the process of drawing with smudgable drawings. If you want to purchase the materials we recommend, click here to view this list of materials - you can buy materials directly from this page.

Happy drawing!