Charcoal is, as we have mentioned, a very unstable material. Once applied to the surface of the paper or support it can easily be erased or smudged, especially accidentally. When you are satisfied that your charcoal drawing has reached a point where you feel it is finished, it is important that you stabilise the drawing immediately on to the support. This is what is termed fixing the drawing.
Fixative is a solution that acts as a binder. It seals the charcoal or the pastel on to the support which is usually paper. If the drawing is not fixed it will remain unstable and thus liable to damage and disfigurement.
The fixative solution is applied by spraying the solution evenly over the drawing surface, using two or three coats very thinly and allowing it to dry between coats. This ensures that the whole surface of the drawing
has been covered. The solution should dry clear so as not to have an effect on the drawing. But some home made solutions can yellow with time. It is best for longevity that you use a manufactured commercial solution. These fixatives can be brought at any art suppliers, and usually come in two different forms.
The first and easiest way to apply fixative is to buy the spray can version of the material (illustration 1). Although this can be expensive, in my opinion it is worth it. The other option is to buy the fixative in a bottle. It comes as a clear solution, and it needs to be applied through what is called a diffuser. One end of the diffuser is placed into the fixative solution and the other end into the mouth (illustration 2). You then proceed to blow steadily. This action creates a spray, which you aim at your drawing. You must repeat this action two or three times, as you would with the spray can variety of fixative, to achieve a good covering.
A much cheaper way to fix your drawing is to make your own fixative from diluted resin. This is a very time consuming process, but if you like doing this sort of thing it can be very rewarding. (If you are interested in attempting this, you can find 'recipes' in the 'Handbook of Artists Materials and Techniques' by Ralph Mayer.) You will need a diffuser as applicator if you opt to make your own solution.
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