Sunday, February 26, 2023

Using Milk as a Fixative

I've heard of using bread as an eraser, but this one was new to me: using skim milk as a fixative for charcoal drawings. 

Apparently Van Gogh did it, and the milk solution can be applied either with a brush or a spray. There are also recipes for using gelatin, hairspray, shellac, PVA glue or acrylic matte medium.

The main reasons for trying these alternatives are to reduce cost, to lessen fumes, to help the environment, or just to experiment. If you aren't worried about such issues, you can just go ahead and buy some commercial spray fixative.

As with any experimental technique, always test various mixtures and formulas first on a scrap.

Using Skim Milk as a Drawing Fixative 


forrie said...

Wouldn't the organic nature of milk, etc., pose a threat to the underlying material as it decomposes and breaks down?

arturoquimico said...

Maestro... speaking as a retired chemist who took up drawing and painting late in life... I really appreciate your reviewing and experimenting with chemicals / natural products and showing how they can affect a final drawing. I was involved in water, food, and drug quality control for over 40 years, and never thought about the chemistry of artwork until I started reading your blog.

Garrett said...

I am eager to try this... I have been using casein-based spray fixative, which is really great but rather expensive..

I have been wondering how hard it might be to create a DIY fixative. I was thinking of just thinning down some type of glue with water (something my father used to do on model train layouts). My concern is that it might somehow clog up a spray bottle if left to dry. Perhaps I will give the milk a go.

SummaSummanum said...

Regarding the milk in question, van Gogh used it, as per the advice of the time, from the back side of the drawing. Soaking it in, and preventing smudging the finest gradation of the charcoal on the other side.

PVA is, as I can tell, a perfectly viable, modern, option. (probably cheaper then milk)

I am surprised that you Sir, being proficient user of casein paints, find it curious that milk can be used as a fixative.

james holland said...

My understanding is that you leave the skim milk to go bad and let the fatty bits separate from the liquid. Then you use the liquid.