How to Prevent Drawings from Smudging in Sketchbook?

Starry Night by Stephen Little
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Picture this.

Your art work is underway, and it’s going well. Your creativity is flowing, and you’re absorbed on the task. Everything seems to be going well, until you realise you’ve been concentrating so hard, that you haven’t noticed your sketch has been smudged.

Or worse, your sketch has been carefully executed, in your finest quality sketchbook, like the Strathmore and when you open up the pages, it looks different, no longer pristine and beautiful, but smudged and a little bit miserable.

Unless smudging is part of your piece, then it has no place on your work.

Smudges on your work and sketchbook are unsightly and ruin the integrity of the piece. Their presence can be so frustrating, when a drawing or sketch you have been working on is ruined.

But there are many ways to prevent and lessen smudging in your sketch book. They’re easy and mostly cost-efficient designed to safeguard your pictures from ruin.

Five Ways to Prevent Sketchbook Smudges

1. Use Wax Paper or Glad Wrap

When you’ve completed your work, cut a piece of matching sized wax paper (found for a tiny amount in the supermarket) and affix over the top of your work. Attach a piece of masking tape to the top of the page only. This will prevent some smudging and keep the pages above the picture clean and fresh.

Similarly, using a piece of glad wrap to cover your work in the same manner assists in preventing smudges to a large degree. Cut and fasten the same way as wax paper.

2. Chose the Right Pencil

Consider the types of pencils you use. If it’s not important which one you use, then consider the 4H type as these rarely smudge. Most pencils in the B range can be prone to smudging. Read here to learn more about how pencils are graded and what each pencil letter represents.

3. Frame it

If you adore your art piece, remove it from the sketch book and frame it. Why not have it on show behind glass? You’ll have no concern about smudging if you show off your masterpiece.

4. Use Rubber Band

A simple yet effective suggestion, that some artists swear by is the use of a rubber band. They suggest holding the sketch book and looping a rubber band around it. This is said to hold the pages in place and prevent them from rubbing together. It would be very wise to remove the rubber band with caution however as you could undo all your careful work with one slip of the rubber.

5. Use Fixatives

In drawing, a fixative is a liquid, similar to varnish, which is usually sprayed over a finished piece of artwork, usually a dry media artwork, to better preserve it and prevent smudging. (source: Wikipedia)


Fixatives are a very popular choice for all artists concerned with preventing a smudged sketchbook. For the artists who cares about preserving their work it’s a prudent and sensible choice.

Fixatives can be used on graphite, charcoal, pastel work and more. It provides a protective layer over the top of the piece and prevents smearing and smudging. It also allows durability and preservation.

When using fixatives on dry media such as charcoal, pencil, and pastels, it is wise to spray throughout the creation of the work, ending with a final fixative at completion.

Let's look at few types of fixatives:

Workable Fixative

A workable fixative is an art spray designed to set artwork in place. Workable fixatives often dry quickly allowing further work on the piece later on, if necessary.

They can be purchased relatively cheaply, for example: Krylon Workable Fixative. This fixative is an affordable choice, with a delightful matte finish. We recommend to shake the fixative well before applying as it does have a tendency to leave droplets on work if this step is left out. Also advisable to use it outdoor due to the strong odour.

Final Fixative

As the name suggests, final fixatives do not allow continued work on the picture, once applied. They endeavour to bind any loose pigments on a picture, securing them in place.

The Grumbacher Final Fixative comes highly recommended and has the added benefit of drying quickly, with low odour and works beautifully with coloured pencils. It even allows the user to make small changes to the art piece even when completed. Ideal for last minute tweaks.

Can I use hairspray as a fixative?

Hairspray has often being mentioned as a cheaper alternative for fixative. However we do not recommend using hairspray for fixative as it may cause the "yellowing" effect on your drawing. 

If you do want to experiment with hairspray as a fixative, we recommend: to try different brands as apparently different brand of hairspray perform better as a fixative compared to others. And most importantly apply it on your practice sketches - the ones that you are not too attached to.

If you’re keen on aiding your creation to last for years and years, it is well worth splashing out on a superior quality fixative.

Summary

In this article, we have looked at five ways we can do as an artist to protect our sketches from smudging, ranging from a relatively low cost option such as wax paper to the more costly one such as fixatives.

Protecting your sketches from smudging is only natural, after all you’ve spent hours toiling over a stunning picture, it’s coming together beautifully, and the end piece is a stunner. The most respectful thing you can do for you work, and in deference to your creativity is to enable your work to last, standing the test of time for years to come.

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