Inspiration Photos and Making Friends with Fixative

"Old Temecula Field"
12 x 16 in Pastel on flat canvas (oil/chalk)
Click here to view large or purchase
I started with a photo from my phone (it takes pretty amazing pictures if the light's right).  I took the photo behind Pat and Oscar's restaurant in Temecula, because between the clouds, the light, and the open field, I felt like I was catching a glimpse of my childhood.  We moved to the area in the late '80's, back before it had any stoplights (or malls, or SUV's).  I remember the thrill of being allowed to walk home with my friends who lived close to school, tromping through empty fields to get to their houses.

As you can see, I can't really call this a reference photo, as it's quite different from the painting.  It was definitely an inspiration though, and I did refer back to it for some of the values and composition. 
I actually started the piece with a layer of blue acrylic before adding in an oil pastel underpainting.  I then worked in the chalk, which was a bit slippery on all that oil pastel and acrylic.  This is where the fixative came in handy.

I have mixed feelings about fixative.  I happen to like the scent (I know I'm not supposed to smell the fumes, but they're pretty strong).  I usually run outside with a can of Grumbacher fixative spray and give my picture a quick layer or two, and leave it there a few minutes to dry.  On paper surfaces, fixative quickly becomes a problem, since it's good for maybe one or two layers before it starts making things worse.  It also darkens the colors on paper.  On flat canvas, however, it's much more helpful.  Instead of dulling the colors, it makes them deeper, and allows for bright colors to shine on top of the dark laryers.  I still wouldn't recommend spraying fixative on a pastel once it's finished, though, as it will change the look of the piece.

The fixative was especially useful for this piece, as the fence needed a major overhaul.  I originally angled it similar to the photo, but it was too jarring for the softness of the rest of the painting.  Straightening it out made it less of a distraction and gave it a softer feel.

So, the lesson from this piece is that if you've got a nice strong surface, fixative can help your piece.  If you're trying to salvage a pastel on paper though, you're better off using it only sparingly.

If you've heard that hair spray works the same as fixative, technically it might...but the couple of times I tried it the result was terrible.

Visit my fine art website to see more chalk pastels on canvas!


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