Monday, September 3, 2018

SpectraFix: An Adequate Fix?

SpectraFix fixative test: graphite on Derwent sketching paper

A few days ago when I blogged about my charcoal sketches, I mentioned that I was about to try a fixative that could alleviate the transfer and smudging issues I’ve been having with both charcoal and graphite. It’s called SpectraFix, and I got it from DickBlick.com (it’s also available on Amazon). It’s available as both a concentrate and a ready-to-use product. I was attracted to it because it is non-toxic (made of casein and grain alcohol) and is applied with a non-aerosol pump spritzer.

This is not a full product review, as I haven’t used it enough to evaluate fully, but so far, I’m luke-warm about it. I purchased the concentrated form, which is easy to dilute with “clear alcohol, such as vodka,” according to the label. (I used gin, which we happen to have on hand.)

I made the test swatches above with a soft 3B graphite pencil on Derwent sketching paper, which I received at the symposium (110-pound weight). I smudged the top untreated swatch with more pressure than a sketch in a sketchbook would probably experience, but I wanted an extreme test.

I spritzed the second swatch liberally and waited for it to dry completely; using the same pressure, I then smudged the upper half. I spritzed again and waited for it to dry, but I apparently didn’t wait long enough, because the damp paper wrinkled next to the lower smudge. In either case, you can see that the fixed graphite still smudged a bit (and I don’t see much difference between one application of fixative and two). When held against another sheet of toothy Derwent sketch paper, I could see some transfer, but not nearly as much as unfixed graphite. Since it’s made of alcohol that simply evaporates, it leaves no visible or tactile residue.

A greater concern with this lightweight Derwent paper is that it buckled from the spritzing and stayed buckled even after drying (you can see it in the scan above). After fixing these test swatches, I used SpectraFix on my Queen Anne cell tower sketch, which was made on 100-pound Canson XL Bristol smooth. Despite its labeled weight, Bristol feels much thicker than the Derwent sketch paper. It buckled slightly after spritzing, but once it dried completely, most of the buckling flattened again (which is similar to the response I get from spritzing 140-pound Canson XL watercolor paper).

Since I tend to avoid toxic, aerosol fixatives that are more commonly used on artwork, I don’t know if they would protect graphite better. Perhaps my expectations were too high in thinking no smudging would occur after fixing. Still, it’s safe and inoffensive to use, and it protects a sketch better than nothing. I’ll keep giving it a try. If SpectraFix prevents transfer enough so that I can still use the opposite sketchbook page, and if it keeps from spoiling a finished sketch with inadvertent smudging, that’s probably good enough for me. But if anyone knows of a non-toxic, non-aerosol fixative that works better than this product, I’m all ears.

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