Monday, 6 February 2012



The Health Issue
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.

It does depend on the surface you are using to work on.

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 cupcake image below is painted on a black unsized paper, and I could see NO SHIFT IN TONE  or colour whatsoever when I sprayed the top half!   Look at the brilliant white top edges of the paper cases...these are covered in fix, yet they remain pure white.  This is terrific.

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.

Spectrafix makes excellent washes with soft pastel if brushed in while still wet, terrific for atmospheric, shift-proof underpainting. For my example, painted on PASTELMAT.  I used two brushes, one for the dark tones, one for the light tones ( don't forget to clean your brushes well).

Pastel underpainting

You can also, like Degas, dip a stick into the product and draw with it wet, a little like a mix of drawing and painting.

For the oil painter, it will hold charcoal under-drawings that will actually withstand scrubbing, and will be archival…unlike the use of hairspray.  There is a very real need for this in the art world.

The product is available in the UK, and in the USA.  If you have any problems finding the product, do visit Della's website:, she will help you, I am sure.

 I will finish this report with the wise words of its inventor:
“ 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.

TIP: Fixative should NOT be thought of, and used like, a varnish, sprayed heavily and soaking the painting.  If you want to fix between layers, then you can use as much as you like, because you will be working over the top....all the fix will do is give you back the  tooth of the paper (texture) to grip more pastel.  If the colours change, it won't matter at all if you intend to work over them anyway. 
  BUT if you have completed your painting, and want to use the fixative to protect it, spray very lightly, then go have a cup of coffee. This will stop you from being impatient.  Come back when the painting is  bone dry, and spray again.  Again, leave to dry thoroughly.  You can do this many times, without spoiling the colours, and your painting will have a marvellous protective coating.   Of course, all pastel paintings need to be framed under glass eventually - but until that moment, several coats of Spectrafix will protect your work from accidental smudging.


  1. Very interesting Jackie! I am allergic to all kind of chemicals, that is why I only work with watercolors. I have to find out if this product is available in Holland, but thanks for the info!

  2. Thanks Jackie. I bought some at the IAPS convention a couple of years ago (or more) and only used it once. I will have to get it back out and use it and experiment. Thanks for posting about this.

  3. Thank you for posting this. Now to see if Jerry's carries it.

  4. Excellent review, Jackie! I bought this product in both concentrate and diluted big bottle form. It rapidly overcame all the other varnishes and fixatives I have in spray bottles because it works so much better and smells so nice.

    Animals sometimes have more sense than people. When I used Krylon workable fixative or other brands, as soon as I sprayed my cat gave me a dirty look and left the room. When I use SpectraFix, he doesn't even get up out of my lap. It's good stuff.

    One of the places I use it often is in my art journals and sketchbooks. When I do pastel sketches in a bound volume I like to have enough layers of fixative it won't smudge on the opposing page. Four or five light layers of Spectrafix dried carefully in between will do this. It takes a little more patience because the alcohol/water mix dries slower than the volatile toxic stuff in normal fixative but it's well worth taking my time to do it right.

  5. Does anyone have thoughts on using Spectrafix as a final fix with the end result of avoiding glassing the work? I work large (3'x4', 4'x5') and museum glass is a nightmare (I do my own framing). Thoughts? The manufacturer thinks it should hold up to a 'light vacuuming by the cleaning lady'...My galleries would like to know.

    Thanks all!

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  7. I ordered some. I wish to protect water based pigment ink. But need to protect it from the varnish I want to apply that is acrylic water based. I will see.



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