Does wax bloom affect your coloured pencil art?

After reading books on Coloured Pencil techniques or following discussions on Internet forums, you may see the problem of wax bloom mentioned and the different ways people work around it.

The problem is due to the wax carriers used by two major pencil manufacturers, based in the USA and UK: Sandford Prismacolor and Derwent

Users of oil based pencils from Faber Castell and Caran d’Ache will generally not experience this issue.

What is wax bloom?

The term wax bloom refers to a very fine layer of haze that develops on wax pencil artwork. This can obscure the detail of the drawing and is therefore undesirable.

Depositing many thick layers of wax pigment, on your paper will increase the chances of wax bloom occurring. It is more apparent where dark colours have been used and then burnished with firm pencil pressure.

Prismacolor pencils may bloom more when used in hot or humid climate conditions as this encourages the wax crystals to migrate to the surface of the paper.

If you prefer to use wax-based pencils don't worry, as there are ways to get around the issue, other than changing your pencil brand. But first, let's look at a piece of work that was affected.

What does it look like?

American artist Brandy Perez has kindly allowed me to use some of her artwork to illustrate. (Note the images are all copyright of Brandy Perez 2009).

Here you can see bloom on a wax pencil portrait of a steer.


You can see that the bloom has formed a grey, dusty coat over the surface of the wax pigment, obscuring the image.

A small area on the right has been carefully wiped over with a dry cloth revealing the original strong colour beneath.

This set of four images shows the process
This is the completed picture

This picture was worked on a rust coloured Colorfix paper (a sanded surface which holds a lot of media) and Prismacolor pencils. The picture is approx 16ins x 20 ins.

See the page on pencil backgrounds which also features this work. You can see more of Brandy's work at: http://brandyperez.blogspot.com.

Prevention and 'cures' for wax bloom

Gentle wiping, using a dry, soft cloth and circular motions, can temporarily remove wax bloom. But the chances are it will return.

To reduce the possibility of bloom, Prismacolor recommends spraying the work at intervals with a workable fixative, followed by a final fixing when the artwork is complete. 

The question is, which product should you use?

Tips for using fixative sprays

The universal recommendation is that if you are going to use a fixative spray, use several very light coats, letting them dry in between, rather than a single heavy coat.

Also be cautious when reaching the end of an aerosol can, as the spray pattern can become irregular. 

Keep in mind, that most fixatives are designed for use by pastel artists and the manufacturers do not recommend them for coloured pencil artwork. Another issue is that sprayed fixatives can produce colour shifts.

PLEASE don't be tempted to try hair spray! This wasn't designed to be be archival for artwork!

Fixative brands

UK and Europe

Two brands easily available in the UK are Daler Rowney and Winsor & Newton. 

However, Winsor & Newton Fixative has been reported as changing reds and purples in some cases. There are also horror stories around about not only changes of colour but also dissolved surfaces! I advise to use with caution.

French manufactured Lascaux Fixativ seems to receive fewer complaints, and a number of coloured pencil artists swear by it (rather than AT it). 

It is available from internet supplies such as Great Art and Amazon.co.uk (this is a direct link to the product on Amazon and if you use it to place an order I will receive a small amount of commission to help keep this site live on the web. I thank you in advance.).

This brand is acrylic resin-based and is considered the fixative most likely to work well for our medium. The old saying, "you get what you pay for" appears to be correct here, however, as it is not cheap.

On the fixatives page we look again - and in more detail - at sprays available in the UK and Europe. I have not been able to test or comment on most of the fixative sprays sold in the USA as the majority of these contain problem ingredients and are therefore not exported overseas.

USA

In the USA, Krylon manufacture a range of fixatives some of which are suitable for a final fix of the finished work. They also contain UVA protective filters.

I have heard of one or two artists comment that the Krylon can dissolve heavy layers of wax (maybe a case of over spraying?).

It has also been reported to show flecks of white on dark surfaces. This is possibly due to dust in the atmosphere being picked up. It could also occur if the paper surface has been roughend by heavy pencil pressure, and thus lifted by the spray appearing as white specks. 

As far as I know Krylon sprays are mainly available in the USA, though there are one or two retailers in London now reported to be holding stock. A search over the Internet may assist if you feel this type of spray is the only solution.

One USA manufactured spray is imported into Europe though, and this is an environmentally friendly product called SpectraFix - made from milk casein and contains only alcohol and water as the other contents.

The Fixative works over coloured pencil as a means of opening up a wax or oil saturated surface for further work and MAY well also provide a fixed surface to protect from bloom but as it is manufactured as a pastel fixative there is no certainty of success.

We do know that it does not appear to affect colours and it does not appear to dissolve the surface in any way. It does work as an intermediate spray.

In summary

You may never experience the issue of wax bloom, especially if you stick to oil based coloured pencils.

But if you do, first try wiping with a soft cloth and if the bloom returns (as it often will) resort to a light spraying of your chosen fixative to seal your work.

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