Most fixatives available today use resin varnishes, propellants and other dangerous chemicals as solvents, posing potentially severe health concerns.
Those of you who have worked in any group situation, know how important it is to take your work outside to fix it. You can quickly make yourself VERY unpopular if you neglect this simple courtesy. Even working indoors alone, artists need to be very careful – no easy task, since most fixatives come in spray cans and the propellant will force fine drops of noxious, toxic fumes into the atmosphere around us. yuk!!!!!
Spectrafix is quite different. Della Heywood, the artist/inventor, blends art-grade milk casein with water and pure grain alcohol adding a tiny amount of isopropyl . The alcohol evaporates rapidly taking the water with it, leaving a thin film of casein which quickly dries to a protective matte surface.
SpectraFix comes in a Fine Mist Finger Sprayer, producing a vaporous mist through finger action alone, producing NO toxic fumes. You will be able to fix between layers as often as required, without needing to trek outside to spray.
Why is it made with Casein?
Degas is said to have used casein as a fixative and a wet medium. The exact formula Degas used for his fixative is a secret, but we do know that he used cheaply available methyl alcohol, now known to be poisonous, and to cause blindness. Recently, conservators in the USA have examined Degas’ work, using Infrared spectroscopy, together with mock-ups which explored the working properties of gum Arabic, gelatin (refined animal glue) shellac (insect resin) and casein. They proved that casein was the best fixative, with the most resistance to chemical changes, and caused surprisingly little, or no, dulling of colours.
Interestingly, during the American Civil War, when both alcohol and shellac were not available, ink almost unknown, and sized paper a rarity, soldiers were compelled to use the pencil for correspondence. To “fix” a document, the paper was simply dipped in skim milk (casein). Documents written with a pencil, on unsized paper, dipped in this way, have withstood the wear and rubbing of more than 40 years.
Will Spectrafix affect the colours of my image?
Most commercial fixatives not only darken the value, but also sometimes alter the hue or even the temperature of the colour.
While it is impossible not to affect the colours of pastels with any kind of spray, even plain water, SpectraFix minimally alters a pastel’s value, and does not change the hue. Colours remain fresh and vibrant, even after several layers.
I tested the product on two very different surfaces – one a card with a waterproof sanded textured base, the other a thick absorbent black paper. The card took longer to dry, naturally… and there was a slight shift in value of the blue pastel at the top which darkened very slightly in tone. However, there was virtually no shift in tone with the other colours on that sheet, VERY pleasing, since it is the darkening of the lightest colours that irritates most pastellists.
The manufacturers claim that heavy, uncoated absorbent papers work very well. Gelatin-sized papers work beautifully too, as do all watercolor and print making papers. Very thin papers may curl if sprayed heavily, because SpectraFix does contain water, but this can be corrected with either a hairdryer, spraying from the back or taping down. Most sanded papers work well too but if watersoluble glue is used to hold the grit to the paper (La Carte), then it must be allowed to dry between sprayings.
The product is available in the UK, and in the USA. If you have any problems finding the product, do visit Della's website: www.spectrafix.com, she will help you, I am sure.
“ Now that we have this new / old casein-based fixative perhaps we can move on from the "To Fix or Not To Fix" question, and make that decision with eyes wide open, expanding our understanding of our medium and how to work with it. And breathe easy at the same time! “Thanks, Della.