I finished a charcoal drawing and want to paint over it with a clear coating (of acrylic gesso). For that I first used a fixative so that the drawing will not smudge when I apply gesso with a Brush. However, it seems that the fixative does not work the way I intended. The charcoal is still (after a couple of coatings with fixative) not fixed, meaning that when i slightly rub on the surface it leaves a trace.

What might be the reason for my drawing not being fixed completely?

Could it be that the fixative is not good? Do I have to apply a couple more coatings of fixative?

Is it even possible to fix a charcoal drawing in such a way that it is unsusceptible to rubbing or brushing? If yes, how can I achieve this?

  • Does the acrylic need to be brushed, that is do you want to show brush marks? If not you could consider spraying the acrylic medium directly and skipping the fixative step. You may actually wind up with a smoother finish that way. (Test first of course.)
    – rebusB
    Feb 2, 2019 at 1:23

2 Answers 2


Yes, it is absolutely possible to completely fixate the pigment on its support, but there is a lot of difference in quality between brands and purposes. So, yes, you probably have a low-quality or inappropriate one - assuming your support is not wet or too smooth, which can both impede the fixation.
A couple of coatings is usually the recommended application. Apply the fixative evenly, about 30 cm perpendicular to the paper.

I stumbled upon this blog post on jacksonart.org with an extensive comparison of several brands and types, offering information and insight in the process.

  • The blog post you referenced presents a very thorough and informative evaluation of fixative sprays. Thank you so much for sharing it!
    – Flora Su
    May 10, 2019 at 16:04

Fixative does not make a medium such as charcoal or soft pastel smudge-proof. It increases the adherance of the medium to the ground, so that it is less likely to “dust off” or be knocked off in handling. But you should not expect it to be smudge-proof to touch, or to a brush.

Source: verbal conversation with Casey Klahn, pastel artist, PSA, IAPS/MC.

  • I have had charcoal drawings being completely smudge-proof, actually. Of course, different amounts of pigment should wield different results, but an underdrawing (which the question is about) of 'reasonable' pigmentation can be completely shut off.
    – Joachim
    Feb 25, 2019 at 10:45

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