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How to Keep Oil Pastels from Smearing?


how to keep oil pastels from smearing

One of the best materials used in creating a piece of art is an oil pastel. It is very fun and exciting to work with plus it can produce beautiful and vibrant results. The problem is that it also smears or smudges easily. In that case, you have to be aware of a few tips on how to keep oil pastels from smearing and smudging.

Aside from smudging easily and quickly, oil pastels do not dry totally. By learning a few solutions on how to keep oil pastels from smudging and smearing, you will have an easier time treating your artwork and ensuring that it will not smudge.

With the solutions in this article, you can expect the oil pastels to be sealed into your artwork, which helps in preserving the piece of art.

Step-by-Step Guide

Using Fixative

using regular fixative spray

In this particular solution for protecting oil pastel paintings from smearing, you need to invest in both a workable fixative and a final fixative. Both are helpful in preventing smears and smudges from appearing on oil pastel paintings.

Here’s how you can apply the fixative them:

Step 1 – Choose between a workable or a final fixative

If you are still unfamiliar with what a workable fixative is, take note that it refers to a type of spray, which aids in the partial setting of the oil pastel. It performs such a function without stopping you from putting on additional colors on top of the existing one.

The use of this fixative can help a lot if you intend to treat an art piece that is still a work in progress while lowering the risk of it acquiring smudges and smears. Meanwhile, the final fixative is the best solution if you are planning to form a protective film over the oil painting to ensure that dust and dirt don’t damage it.

In other words, the final fixative is what you have to use in case you no longer have any plans of putting anything more into the artwork. It serves as the final coating, which you have to add in the end.

When looking for a fixative, take time to read and examine the label. This is so you will know whether the one you intend to buy is for a work-in-progress art or for one that only requires a final coating.

Step 2 – Look for a well-ventilated area

Once you have already chosen a fixative, you should look for a proper area where you can do the application. Ensure that you do the fixative application in an area with proper ventilation, preferably outdoors. The reason is that all fixatives have a stinky smell. Breathing them in may also be harmful.

However, if you have no choice but to do the application indoors, make sure to open the windows. Turn the fan on, too. This is important to let fresh air in and ensure that there is proper air circulation inside. It also helps to put on a face mask when working if the smell bothers you too much.

Step 3 – Set up the piece of art properly for the fixative application

set up the piece of art properly for the fixative application

You should put up the piece of art on an easel. It could also be at an angle that is exactly against the wall. Do not spray the fixative on the piece when it is lying flat either on the table or ground as it may only cause drips to ruin the finish.

In case you decide to do it outside on a windy day, you can get a big box and put the work of art inside first. It should lean against the side. With that, you have an assurance that the fixative will not blow back on you.

Step 4 – Test before actual use

This means that before finally applying the fixative on the artwork, you have to test it first on a tiny and undetectable spot of the piece, preferably the corner. By doing that, you can see whether there will be issues after application or if it causes a few changes in the shading.

This is important so you don’t end up ruining the entire piece considering the fact that specific paint brands or types of paper have different reactions to certain fixatives. Allow the part that you have tested to dry completely before proceeding. This should give you enough time to examine the material’s final reaction to the fixative.

Step 5 – Start the application process

You can do that by spraying the fixative back and forth. Make sure that the bottle of fixative is around fifteen to twenty centimeters or six to eight inches from the surface when spraying. Make it move continuously.

Start from the top then work it down to the bottom. Avoid making the art get drenched in fixative. What you have to do, instead, is to put on thin and light layers to coat the whole piece evenly.

Step 6 – Wait for the coat to dry before the next application

If there is a need to apply another layer, wait for the first coat to completely dry. Spend time checking the instructions of the fixative so you will have an idea about the exact length of time required for drying.

The reason is that while there are products that dry quickly – after just several minutes, there are also those that require a longer drying time, even a few hours. To speed up the drying process, turn on a fan and set the art piece in front of it.

Step 7 – Apply the fixative again when necessary

Keep on doing the application of the fixative and let it dry every time until you already get a smooth surface. Once every coat dries up, allow your fingers to run gently over the artwork so you will know if it is already smooth enough.

You know that you have already completed the process if you can no longer feel the texture of the oil pastel or its distinction from the fixative. If you decide to use a workable fixative, take time to check the label to determine the number of coats recommended per use.

In most cases, around two to three layers of fixative are necessary.

Additional Tips and Solutions

Aside from the application of fixative, are there other solutions on how to keep oil pastels from smearing and smudging? The answer is yes. Here are more tips on preventing smudges and smears from appearing on any piece of art:

Wax paper – In case you are using oil pastels that are prone to smudging, the use of wax paper can contribute to making the material remain. Put wax paper next to the piece as you are working on it. That way, you can use it in wiping off your mistakes immediately or as soon as you commit them.

using wax paper

Also, do not put on excessive amounts of pressure as you paint or layer the oils above each other since it may only cause the oil pastels to become messy. If there are stubborn smudges or smears, use a cloth to rub off the paste gently or dip it in water first prior to reapplying it to the canvas.

Appropriate storage – As much as possible, find the most appropriate storage container for the oil pastels. Ensure that you store them in a dry and cool spot, too. Do not expose them directly to high temperatures or sunlight.

In case you find it difficult to prevent the oil pastels from smudging or smearing, use another type of brush. You may also want to use a softer and gentler paper. Also, keep on reminding yourself how delicate oil pastels are.

With that, exercise more caution as you transfer the pastels from the container to the area where you will be working. Ensure that they do not end up getting crushed. Also, it is highly recommended to take your time as you take every step of painting to lower the risk of smudging and the feeling of frustration.

Hairspray – Another solution is a hairspray, which is a form of aerosol spray, which you can use in sealing oil pastels. Expect it to trap moisture and air, thereby lowering the risk of it cracking or drying.

using hairspray

You can also use hairspray as a fixative if you are using an oil pastel. It contains properties that turn it into a great substitute for other art fixatives that you can buy right now. Several artists even prefer to use a hairspray over a fixative because aside from being inexpensive, it is also quick, easy, and convenient to use.


With the tips here, you surely now have an idea of how to keep oil pastels from smearing. Stop smudges and smears from forming in your piece of art using this article as your guide.

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