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How to protect your graphite and charcoal artwork.

How to protect your graphite and charcoal artwork.

Protecting your graphite and charcoal drawings is essential to ensure their longevity and preserve their quality. Both graphite and charcoal are relatively fragile mediums, so taking proper measures will help prevent smudging, fading, and damage over time.

Here are some tips on how to protect your drawings:

  • Fixative spray: A fixative spray is a specialised art product that helps seal and protect the drawing from smudging and smearing. Before using any fixative, ensure your drawing is complete and free from any unwanted marks. Choose an appropriate fixative for either graphite or charcoal (or a universal fixative that works for both) and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Typically, hold the spray can at a distance and spray in light, even coats, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next.
  • Store properly: Keep your drawings flat and store them in a portfolio or a protective sleeve made from acid-free and archival materials. This will help prevent bending, tearing, and exposure to dust and dirt. Avoid stacking drawings on top of each other to prevent any potential damage.
  • Frame with conservation materials: If you want to display your drawings, consider framing them with conservation-grade materials. Use acid-free mat boards and mounting materials to prevent any acid transfer that can damage the paper over time. Also, use UV-protective glass or acrylic to shield the drawing from harmful ultraviolet rays that can cause fading.
  • Avoid touching the drawing: Oils and dirt from your hands can damage the drawing's surface over time. When handling the artwork, it's best to wear clean cotton gloves to avoid direct contact.
  • Display wisely: If you choose to display your drawings, avoid hanging them in direct sunlight or areas with extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations. Sunlight and environmental factors can lead to fading and deterioration of the paper.
  • Use high-quality materials: Starting with high-quality paper and drawing materials can improve the longevity of your artwork. Choose acid-free, archival-grade paper that is specifically designed for graphite or charcoal drawing.
  • Store in a controlled environment: If you have drawings that you are not currently displaying, consider storing them in a controlled environment with stable temperature and humidity levels. Avoid places with high humidity, such as basements, as it can lead to mould growth and paper damage.

By following these tips, you can protect your graphite and charcoal drawings and enjoy them for years to come. Remember that each artwork may have specific needs, so adapt your preservation methods accordingly.


Choosing a fixative:

The best fixative for graphite and charcoal drawings is one that is specifically designed for these mediums and provides effective protection without altering the appearance of the artwork. When choosing a fixative, consider the following factors:

Archival quality: Look for a fixative that is labelled as "archival" or "acid-free." Archival fixatives are formulated to be non-yellowing and will not degrade the paper over time.

Compatibility: Some fixatives are designed specifically for graphite, while others work well for both graphite and charcoal. Check the label or product description to ensure it is suitable for your chosen medium.

Spray quality: A good fixative should have a fine mist that distributes evenly over the surface of the drawing. Avoid fixatives that produce large droplets or splatter, as they can cause uneven coverage and potential damage to your artwork.

Smudge resistance: The fixative should provide effective smudge resistance, preventing the graphite or charcoal from smearing or rubbing off easily.

Non-glossy finish: If you prefer to maintain the matte appearance of graphite and charcoal, choose a fixative that dries to a non-glossy finish. Glossy fixatives can alter the appearance of the artwork and create unwanted reflections.

Workability: Some fixatives allow you to work on top of the sealed drawing, while others create a more permanent layer. Consider whether you need the flexibility to make additional changes or if you want a more permanent fix. We have included an Oil Pastel fixative in case you work with a variety of mixed media.

Popular fixative brands that are well-regarded among artists for their quality include:

Before applying any fixative, it's a good idea to test it on a small sample drawing or a separate piece of paper to ensure you are satisfied with the results and to get a sense of how the fixative affects the appearance of your artwork.

Ultimately, the best fixative for you will depend on your personal preferences and the specific characteristics of your artwork. Choose a reputable brand and product that aligns with your needs to protect and preserve your graphite and charcoal drawings effectively.

Sennelier - Sennelier d'Artigny Fixative for Oil Pastels 400ml

A clear fixative made from vinylic-resin and alcohol. Creates a totally transparent silk like film to prevent smudging and smearing. Sennelier's fixative is designed to be transparent, meaning it should not alter the appearance or colour of the oil pastel artwork significantly. It is important to follow the application instructions to ensure even coverage. 

Loxley - Loxley Aerosol Fixative 400ml with a U.V. Filter

A colourless, non-yellowing medium for protecting charcoal, pencil, pastel, crayon, chalk drawings & paintings.

For charcoal, pastel, pencil etc.
Loxley fixative is used both during and after the drawing process.
Apply to the work in progress to 'fix' layers and prevent smudging; allow a minute to dry then continue with the drawing. The final coat will protect the finished picture from the elements and from smudging.

For Watercolour & Acrylic:

Loxley fixative gives finished paintings a protective, non-gloss barrier to slow down the ageing process caused by UV rays and humidity. A colourless, non-yellowing medium for protecting charcoal, pencil, pastel, crayon, chalk drawings & paintings - with U.V. Filter - CFC Free.

Winsor & Newton -Winsor & Newton Artists' Fixative - 400ml Winsor & Newton Artists' Fixative is perfect protection for your charcoal, pencil, pastel and chalk drawings. Simply spray an even layer over your work to prevent it from smudging or dusting. Winsor & Newton Artists' Fixative dries quickly and is completely transparent.


SpectralFix Degas  SpectraFix Degas Pastel Fixative A 360ml Pump Action Spray Bottle 

A natural fixative that works on all papers and has been endorsed by professional artists all across America.

Based on an antique recipe used by Degas himself, this is the perfect fixative for Soft pastels, Oil Pastels, charcoal, gouache and watercolour. Its workable matt finish allows deep layering with minimal colour shift.
Safe to use indoors and in the classroom!

  • No odour
  • Non-Toxic
  • All Natural
  • 100% Archival
  • Milk Casein
  • Non Yellowing

Daler-Rowney - Daler-Rowney Colourless Perfix Fixative Spray With Anti UV Protection

Colourless fixative, can be used for pastel, chalk, charcoal and pencil drawings. Protects the artwork against dust, dirt, and UV light. Smudge proof protection. Dries quickly to a transparent, elastic and ageing-resistant film with good adhesion property. Non-yellowing.

As with all new products we strongly recommend you test them first before embarking on a new project. Creating a catalogue of mark making techniques and testing out new palettes is both satisfying and inspiring. Derwent products offer the best in quality and affordability. 

Ellie Jakeman
Ellie Jakeman

I have had a strong interest in the visual and creative arts since a very early age. After completing an Art and Design Degree and Post graduate studies I have taught Art and Design, Fashion and Textiles, Textile design , Fine Art print and Illustration for over 20 years. Before teaching I was a freelance artist and illustrator and decided 4 years ago I would return to freelance and commissioned work. I have created many domestic and commercial murals for hospitals and hospices. I work part time for ARTdiscount as a content creator and product tester.

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