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MITRA Forum Question Details

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  • sealing of charcoal on bristolApproveRejectUn-ApproveSubscribeUn-Unsubscribe
    Question asked 2018-11-12 21:44:45 ... Most recent comment 2018-11-20 15:24:48
    Drawing Materials

    I would like to protect large charcoal drawings well enough to frame without glass (in a recessed frame). Not ideal, but the glass is an expensive and unwanted barrier. Perhaps Lascaux fix, multiple coats, then another acrylic sealer on top? Wax on top? Other artists must have solved this problem for large scale drawings?​ I have read everything under the category to date.

Answers and Comments

  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    If you want to add medium to the pigment, there are a few options to test. Acrylic fixatives, or varnishes can be sprayed on, but they have propellents and solvents to be considered. Degas used skim milk as a fixative and I have been rolling it only watercolors with a sponge roller to see what happens and have found that it evens out the matte areas, but doesn’t change the look too much. Any medium that is added will have some visual effect and must be tested extensively, but I think that casein (which the milk adds) has a good enough track record, historically, to deserve a try. Whether spraying or rolling is used, care must be taken to ensure evenness of coverage, since uneven sealing of the surface will lead to uneven oxidative aging and testing on samples is imperative.
    Hugh Phibbs

    2018-11-13 13:20:37
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    The use of a fixative is always a compromise between protection and a change in appearance. The change is most apparent with colored pastels and especially drawings containing white chalk highlights. It is true that a fine spray of a casein fixative have the least effect on the appearance of the charcoal and the paper substrate. Many will not be willing to go through the trouble to make it themselves and since it cannot be stored indefinitely, it is unlikely to be offered by the art material manufacturers. A recipe for a casein based fixative is found in Ralph Mayer's The Artist's Handbook.  I have included it below:

    • Soak ½ ounce fresh casein powder in 4-5 ounces of water for six hours
    • Add pure ammonia drop by drop (about ¼ teaspoon) until the casein has dissolved into a honey-like mass
    • Add 8 ounces of pure grain alcohol (I have used denatured alcohol and it worked just fine)
    • Add enough water to bring the total to 32 ounces and filter before bottling

     It does need to be applied in a fine spray. My experiments with a mouth atomizer were less than satisfactory. One of those affordable aerosol powered sprayers would likely work just fine.

    For those who opt for an off the shelf option, I think that B-72 is probably the best bet. The resin in Lascaux spray fixative was B-72 the last time I checked.

    Brian Baade
    2018-11-13 14:42:05
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    A fixative is by intention and formulation not a good film former.  Fixatives are not designed to "seal" out the atmosphere.  If a continuous coating is desired, a clear acrylic spray liberally applied will go towards your desire to avoid glazing but with serious consequences!  That much acrylic spray - which is essentially a varnish layer -  will have unfortunate aesthetic effects.  The drawing will look like a plastic place mat.  Secondly, there's the problem of application - spraying large drawings using commercial aerosol spray cans inevitably results in uneven accumulations, unless done professionally with spray equipment, i.e., like that used to varnish paintings by conservators.  Finally, that much of a clear coating (a varnish)  on one side of a piece of paper usually has unfortunately effects vis-a-vis future conservation problems.  One side of the paper remains absorbent and responsive to the environment while the other side is encased in acrylic.  Finally, the "varnish" can never be removed - the charcoal particles have become an integral part of it.  In this sense, the varnish is part of the medium - the work is charcoal and acrylic varnish on paper.  In truth, other artists have not solved this problem for large scale drawings.  

    My experience with large scale charcoal drawings in museum collections is that they have been fixed by the artist to the degree necessary to prevent undue smudging.  If direct unencumbered viewing is desired they can be affixed to the gallery walls using rare earth magnets or in some other reversible manner - and then - at the end of the show, taken down and properly stored, i.e., rolled around large acid-free tubes or stored in oversized enclosures.  A frame will only make storage more difficult because the paper is still vulnerable to damage.

    Finally, wax is an interesting (and problematic) medium on paper.  It cannot be considered as protection from the environment.
    Margaret Holbein Ellis

    2018-11-13 22:32:17
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​Just speaking as a studio artist, I think it's important to be mindful of the collector and gallery when presenting artwork. Specifically, I'm thinking of the importance of providing options for maintaining and displaying artwork without the necessity of frequent professional attention. Most artists are familiar with the role of fixative in preventing accidental smudges, and it also has a useful function in preventing particles from depositing on the underside of glazing. So, in my opinion, fixative and glazing are both important elements of professional presentation, where artwork will be offered for sale. I also think when large drawings are offered for sale without glass, it's a good idea to suggest to the collector that frameless presentation should be restricted to short term display, like any delicate work on paper, so deposits of dust and contaminants can be kept to a minimum. 

    Matthew Kinsey, Utrecht Art Supplies
    2018-11-13 23:45:16
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​I have very limited experience with a casein-based, commercially produced fixative, SpectraFix "Degas" Fixative.  It contains casein, denatured grain alcohol and water.  I tried it several years ago as an isolator on egg tempera and it worked pretty well, haven't used it since.  

    I'm in a similar situation as this questioner in that I would like the possilbity of framing without glass some of my mixed media, metalpoint drawings (made from different metal nibs, a little egg tempera for coloring, on hardboard panels).  I too have contemplated something along the lines of first applying B-72, then finishing with wax (to mitigate the "plastic" appearance).  I understand there are drawbacks, but would love to have the drawings not encased behind glass.   

    Koo Schadler

    2018-11-15 14:15:34
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer


    I was unaware of SpectraFix "Degas" Fixative and its inclusion of casein.

    THanks for the info.

    Brian Baade
    2018-11-20 15:24:48

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