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I'm currently colouring my son's baby box (a gift box we receive from the government in Scotland which is made of cardboard and decorated with black and white pictures) using oil pastels and pencil. I'm hoping to use the box for keepsakes and give it to my son once he's old enough to not wreck it. However, now I'm going to have a box that is expected to be handled by a child that will be covered in oil pastel. So I need to find a fixative that will be resistant to frequent touch and also hopefully of low toxicity. I have done some research and it looks like lots of good spray fixatives can still leave surfaces sticky and smudgable, so I'm pretty sure I will need something that gets painted on, possibly a varnish? I have had a look at SpectraFix products as they are meant to be non-toxic and was about to go with their Natural Glass varnish before noticing it wasn't for oil pastels. Any fixative suggestions would be appreciated and tips on their application for someone who is a complete novice would be great. Thanks in advance

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    Non-toxic once dried, then. Note that (on toys and games) cardboard itself gets a "not for under 36 months" warning because they can chew bits off - and that's not toxic (choking hazard among other things).
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 13:11
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    There is another problem with the oil pastels that is how they interact with the cardboard. If the cardboard is not primed (using gesso or another sealant) it will absorb the oils from the pastels leading to staining, discoloration and eventually the fibers themselves will break down.
    – rebusB
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 13:51
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    Oil pastels may not be the best choice for this project. As @Elmy mentions, time is the only fixative for oil based mediums and that includes oil pastels. Driers can be added to oil paints to shorten that time but that is not an option with oil pastels, if anything they likely have additives that keep them soft for longer since they have to be workable after sitting around for a while, meaning longer drying times.
    – rebusB
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 14:01
  • Thanks to everyone for taking an interest in my question so far. Although I'd like to highlight that my question is asking for a fixitive/varnish recommendation that would best suit my medium. Whilst oil pastels weren't my first choice (just working with what I have), rest assured that I have no plans on giving the end product to a baby or child young enough to chew or destroy the box - my desire for low toxicity on a coating are to minimise risk of skin irritation on handling in the future. Whilst there may be no perfect fix for oil pastels, I'd appreciate input on what would make do best
    – Cassidimus
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 10:17

2 Answers 2

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In all honesty, I wouldn't give this box to my child until they are at least a teenager. You can use the box for keepsakes in the meantime, but I wouldn't let my child have unsupervised acess to it.

Reason 1 is for safety considerations. Oil pastels have a soft consistency and are easy to smudge with your fingers. But even if there's a layer of sealant on top, it's still soft underneath which can cause any varnish to crack and flake off when being handled.

Maybe search the online shop of the manufacturer of the oil pastels you used for a special oil pastel fixative, or ask your local craft store for a suitable fixative. The advantage is that manufacturers produce their fixatives specifically to work best with their own brand of oil pastels. You can also use fixatives from a different manufacturer, but the results may vary. Just regular varnish won't stick to the oily surface. Be sure to follow the instructions of the fixative because applying too much melts the oil pastels.

Reason 2 is more sentimental. My mother also kept some objects from various times of my childhood and I always felt that there had to be a certain distance between the creation of the object and my appreciation of them. Maybe roughly double my age, meaning that I could appreciate a picture I drew at age 3 when I was 6 and I could appreciate my first writings I did at 6 when I was 12. Mostly because I forgot those objects in the meantime and could rediscover them, but also because it made me realize how much more advanced my drawing and writing skills had become since then.

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  • Thanks for your feedback Elmy :) No worries as I have no plans to give the box to my son to handle until he's mature enough to appreciate how it would need to be handled and its sentimentality - and if that doesn't happen, I'll just keep it safe myself! If you have any thoughts on what would at least help to protect the surface from gentle handling/dust etc that would be great
    – Cassidimus
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 10:21
  • @Cassidimus I edited more information into my answer. They're special fixatives for oil pastels, but I don't know how toxic they are.
    – Elmy
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 10:35
  • Thanks for the extra information- I'll look into the brand :)
    – Cassidimus
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 19:17
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The only fixative for oil based mediums is drying time, which can be months at the least. After the pigments are dry to the touch and do not smudge (test an small area not normally visible) you can preserve them with clear, oil based, varnish. The nice thing about this is that once they are dry and varnished they are fairly durable but it only works if the oils in the pigments are allowed to dry completely.

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