Most all of my work is mixed media containing charcoal and pastel. I know that even the best fixatives change colours and texture and softness, which is exactly what we love about them, and so I have learned through experimentation when and when not to apply a spray finish.
For example, I’ve been happy using Krylon’s Crystal Clear for years as the most affordable and effective finishing spray for my work until I destroyed the luster on a piece that was primarily micaceous iron oxide and charcoal. I had to start over, and though I eventually got over the disappointment, for the first time I started questioning and thinking about why I was trying to ‘varnish’ mixed media work anyway.
When Rheni Tauchid’s 2nd book, New Acrylics Essential Sourcebook came out, I thought about it even more after reading about mixed media and presentation in chapter 7 ‘Beyond the Basics’. It’s a very good question for us artists that are exploring the outer limits of material combinations and yet it seems to me it may remain unsolved because there are too many variables and that maybe it’s not about one golden answer…but rather knowing all your options.
I personally believe that if you are using quality materials, the discovery and collision of magic is all that matters. I have many beautiful pieces that are unvarnished and unframed because I’ve decided against it for one reason or another….but that said, I would love to know your thoughts about varnishing, finishing, fixing, protecting mixed media artwork that contains paint and drawing materials ie. charcoal on acrylics. Do you choose to varnish or not varnish? Any tips or product recommendations….
Here are some experimental and common sense methods that I know about, not including liquid ‘brush-on’ varnish such an acrylic polymer or top coat since I’m specifically interested in mixed media .
- frame the work behind glass
- use a matte or satin spray varnish, or Crystal Clear or Kamar Varnish. I used to use Grumbacher’s Final Fixatif spray but it’s now being sold as Prismacolor Tuffilm and is not as accessible to me. The downfall to all of the these products is they are permanent. I now recommend to spot varnish by masking off areas that are metallic, interference or glitter ect
- work the dry media into the paint or surface - this is a technique that creates a symbiotic superhero by combining materials while paint is still wet
- using a pastel fixative in between layers, leaving the last layer rich and soft (which is delicate, so I guess you should frame it!)
- using skim milk to fix charcoal and pastel on paper. Of course it will alter the work, so definitely an interesting approach for a particular effect (more on this technique here). ps. I am finding that I prefer wood panels and watercolour or printmaking paper to canvas these days.
- Sell your work in print format (cards, posters, giclee ect)
UPDATE - I recently used a spray varnish on a mixed media piece, and the spray varnish turned it white as if covered in snow! I researched quite awhile online and found that it’s probably an old can and I didn’t shake it enough. I shook the can for a few minutes then sprayed it again and it helped. I will only have to fix some areas instead of trashing the whole piece! *whew* I’ve thrown out the can and will be buying a new one.
To end, I would LOVE to learn about your experiences and opinions on the matter. Leave a note and share discoveries!
Rheni’s blog - http://newacrylicsbooks.blogspot.com/
New Acrylics Essential Sourcebook can be purchased at Amazon -a great addition to your library for all acrylic and mixed media artists!