Saturday, August 6, 2011

SpectraFix Pastel Fixative

I have recently begun using a new pastel fixative introduced to me by one of my very talented art students Jenny Thornton. SpectraFix Is "a natural milk casein pastel fixative" that is non-toxic with no odor, and you can even spray it inside! It is pretty much alcohol and milk comes from cows! See?

The SpectraFix website describes the ingredients:

"SpectraFix blends art-grade milk casein with water and pure grain alcohol adding a tiny amount of isopropyl alcohol (to please the Federal Government rendering the grain alcohol undrinkable). The alcohol evaporates rapidly taking the water with it, leaving a thin film of casein which quickly dries to a protective matte surface. Even though it is milk protein, it is not subject to invasion by opportunistic organisms, as 9000 years of use as an art medium testifies."

The spray dries without darkening the colors (but don't douse it...I sprayed it lightly a couple of times about a foot above the picture, letting it dry in between coats.) I sprayed it heavily on a piece to test it, and was surprised at the little color change...while the alcohol evaporated the colors lightened almost to the original hues. I do employ heavy spraying on images that I want to deepen the rich colors and contrast, but do not recommend heavy spraying for pieces with a lot of delicate or light colors, or on something where no color change is desired, such as a portrait.

I was initially wary over the pump application, fearing that it would splatter or spray inconsistently, but when applied with a fine mist and allowed to dry between coats, I haven't experienced any trouble.  As with any fixative application, you may occasionally have a small spot appear that doesn't completely dry; this is easily fixed by adding the appropriate pastel to the spot.

The thing I find most fascinating about this spray is the history of it's ingredients. Casein has been used by artists throughout history, including my favorite artist, the French Impressionist painter and pastelist Edgar Degas. 

"Casein is simply dried milk protein and has been used for over 9000 years as a binder for pigments. Cave paintings in Asia and ancient Egytpian tomb paintings are the greatest testament to its archivability, with colors still firmly adhering to their supports with brilliant clarity of hue after literally thousands of years! No other painting medium has such an ancient and demonstrable history of stability and permanence. 

Casein has been widely used by artists since that time including medieval illuminated manuscripts, Gustav Klimt’s ‘Beethoven Frieze’, Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, Ben Shahn, Thomas Hart Benton and many more. Since the introduction of acrylics, casein has fallen by the wayside, but it was the original foundation for the development of acrylics. It was an early type of plastic (when combined with formaldehyde) and was used for decades to make buttons, handles, trays and all manner of colorful items.

There is also great evidence that Degas used different formulations of casein as a medium and as a fixative, including liquid solutions into which he would dip his pastel stick. He was a close friend of the artist Luigi Chialiva who patented a pastel fixative using casein and alcohol back in the 1890s, and one can hardly doubt that Degas would have been instrumental in its development and popularization

If you give SpectraFix a try, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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