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Should I fix my charcoal drawing?

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Question: Should I fix my charcoal drawing?
Answer: It can be difficult to find a definitive 'expert' answer on this subject, as opinions seem to vary. There is no question that fixative does slightly change the appearance of a charcoal drawing, so some artists dislike it because of this. However, correctly used, it can actually strengthen your drawing, allowing greater layering, and ensuring that fine dustings of charcoal aren't lost. So in my opinion, yes, you should fix your charcoal drawing.

In my experience, unfixed charcoal drawings are extremely vulnerable to surface damage - the slightest movement can dislodge particles, reducing the intensity of tone, and dirtying highlights. An accidental touch can leave a noticable smudge. Even if a drawing is framed, movement, vibration and temperature change can still affect the drawing, and the drawing must still be transported to and handled by the framer.

The hardiness of a charcoal drawing can be slightly improved by choosing a toothy, velvety paper that grips the particles well. Willow and vine charcoals tend to be very delicate, while compressed and pencil charcoals are a little stickier.

For best results, carefully apply a couple of very light coats of fixative, and if need be, retouch the drawing afterwards (the fixative can act as a 'glue' underneath the charcoal).

The major error that people make when using fixative is to apply a heavy coat that saturates the paper and makes the particles of charcoal float into the grain of the paper.

Find out how to apply spray fixative

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