I often work with the specular properties of my paintings.

Since charcoal gives me a more matte black than almost any (combination of something with) black oil paint could, I at times want to use it in paintings. But I don't like the charcoal mixing in with my colours, as it results in muddier hues.
I realize I can wait with applying charcoal until the paint is dry (to the touch), but if I want to cover both up simultaneously with a glaze, I need to be able to fix the charcoal.

Is there an archival method I can use to seal in the charcoal without risking impairing the longevity of my paints?

This is about oil paints, but a method for acrylics would be welcome as well.

  • 2
    I don't work with charcoal, so I'll leave this as a "thinking out loud" comment. Two ideas come to mind that you could try to combine. One is to use a fixative material that is generally more matte, like casein. Using a solution made from purified casein rather than milk should be more archival. The biggest source of glossiness is a surface film of anything that dries into a continuous, smooth layer. Avoid that by misting the surface with a light layer of extremely fine droplets that penetrate and dry before applying the next layer. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 17:58
  • 2
    Let it soak in and act as a binder rather than a surface coating. The idea is for the solution to soak in deeply and not sit on the surface. It might help to add a wetting agent, like a tiny amount of liquid soap, and the solution should be very low viscosity (a high percentage of alcohol, and make up for the dilution with more mistings).
    – fixer1234
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 17:58
  • 1
    I have some (brainstorming) ideas, but isn't "more matte black" the opposite of "cover both up simultaneously with a glaze"? If not, please help me understand. Of course, I understand that you do not want to have black dust hanging above the oil painting, but this is another discussion, I guess.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 11:55
  • @fixer1234: this is such an interesting coincidence. Just a few days ago I remembered about spraying water over uncured surfaces to make them matter, and I did not remember the source of the information. Today I ran into this question (and comments) again :)
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 11:57
  • @virolino Very good point :) I think I meant I might have to cover part of the charcoal up again, whereas other parts of the matte charcoal remain matte.
    – Joachim
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 11:59

3 Answers 3


This is a brainstorming about getting the blackest black and the matte-est matte with what you already have available.

  1. Create charcoal dust, with grain sizes to your taste.
  2. Go on with your painting.
  3. Before the paint is cured, apply the charcoal dust over the desired surfaces. As much as possible, press the dust into the paint. If you want the dust to have "brush traces" use some brush with harder hairs (even a toothbrush might work) for the pressing. Be careful to not bring paint over the black dust. Clean the brush to avoid that - if you follow this method.

At the beginning, a good amount of dust will go away. You will need to be careful to to allow it to spread over other uncured areas of your painting. After the painting is cured, you might want to use a vacuum cleaner to remove loose dust. Maybe compressed air will do an even better job.

With this method, you will have the black on the top, with nothing to "eat" its matte properties. If you apply something over it, some glossyness will be unavoidable.


You could try using conte crayon instead of charcoal. It has more binder in its formulation than any charcoal. My favorite matte black paint is chalkboard paint (acrylic based)

  • 1
    I think it will muddy up the oils even more than charcoal.
    – Joachim
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 21:10
  • Only if you drag it over the wet paint. If the black areas are kept separate this is a good idea. Have used, well not conte crayons but black oil sticks and they do make for a good solid and slightly more matte black.
    – rebusB
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 21:05


I usually buy the more eco pump-action ones without propellant.

Just spray your charcoal areas lightly before you paint them. A few light coats is better than a heavy spray, which can make your charcoal run or spread.


Test a small area first

I always use hairspray for my small to large charcoal drawings, it keeps them very well.

I have used this method for 45 years without mishap.

Note - only over spraying has ever caused a mishap Also you might need to try a few products.

You can paint over the hairspray.

  • 1
    Hairspray is a terrible idea as it is simply not intended for this purpose. A professional fixative would be wiser, and, even so, I think using (artificial) resins at this point might be bad for longevity.
    – Joachim
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 15:01
  • Why is something inexpensive, convenient, effective, and tried and tested, a 'terrible idea'? Just because you haven't heard of it? A fixative spray for hair contains similar chemical components to materials sold as fixatives for charcoal yet is more readily available and cheaper. It was my art teacher, who'd been a teacher for 30 years, when I met him, who gave me that tip. Fixatives, even pro ones, vary enormously. Some will ruin a drawing by blurring or melting it, or covering it with a sheen of white spots. So rather than making blanket statements, it's best to try it out first.
    – user3025
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 4:11
  • It's no blanket statement, and I never suggested it is for the reasons you list. We've had this discussion multiple times on this site (e.g. here, here). I've seen my own drawings yellow because of hairspray. It has ingredients that are simply not meant for fixating something permanently. There have been people who swear by it, and that's fine, and why I didn't downvote your answer, but for longevity's sake I will never recommend it.
    – Joachim
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 8:05

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