Sealing a drawing???

I believe I heard something recently on a podcast that said a drawing should be sealed before one starts to paint… I’m assuming this is when you use graphite in one of many applications??? I’m also assuming sealing a sketch keeps it from bleeding are smearing into the paint??? If this is the case, what is best used to seal your drawing prior to painting it oils??? If someone has experience in this area I would appreciate hearing what is the best route to take. I have been using the yellow pencil Mark suggests. I find this pencil kind of waxy and hard to keep fine line sketches. Maybe I’m missing something that is obvious???  I am now rambling so I will leave it at that… 


  • There are various ways of sealing a drawing. I've heard all of the following mentioned: retouch varnish, hairspray, milk. If you go to an art store and ask for something to seal a drawing they will readily point you to a spray can of fixative. 

    The yellow pencil Mark uses is best on smooth surfaces. On canvas it is very hard to keep a sharp point for long. I find it best just to mark some key points then the rest of the drawing can be done with the brush as you paint.
  • edited August 12
    I studied twice with Daniel Greene who taught this approach:  A light drawing in vine charcoal.  He used this in the early stages of his drawing on the canvas because light lines in vine charcoal are easily wiped off (or "snapped off" with a towel) in order to make corrections.  When satisfied with the drawing, he would go over it with a harder charcoal (pencil as I recall) using some force to push the final drawing into the canvas.  Then, he would erase his drawing as much as possible using a kneaded erasure.  Naturally, it was impossible to erase it all . . . enough of the drawing was left that you could see a ghost image of your drawing.  To this, he would begin drawing with weakened raw umber mixed with yellow ocher.  If it was necessary to correct this drawing, he would then switch to a darker mixture such as straight raw umber, and if this needed correction, he would use a yet darker mixture, maybe raw umber with a little blue or black.
    This sounds like quite an ordeal, and I guess it was.  But he was very strong in his belief that a strong drawing made a strong painting.  Personally, I used a medium charcoal pencil lightly for my first drawing, and then went over the top of that with a darker paint , , , usually raw umber with a little yellow ocher, and let that dry overnight.  The next day, I would go over my canvas with a kneaded erasure to clean up smears and smudges and begin painting.  I've used this method for years.
    EDIT:  I get asked if those dark paint lines are hard to get rid of.  In my case, I usually spend three to five days on a painting, and as time and paint rolls along, the drawing lines slowly disappear.  What is nice about this method is that my drawing stays visible for a day or more as I work along.
  • If the pencil is a wax lead one then there's no need for a fixative. Graphite should not be used as it's a lubricant. 
    Fixatives are used for charcoal and graphite or any other dry media.
  • Thanks for your response. I have not used charcoal to draw my sketch to this point. I’ll have to try what you have suggested and see how it works…
  • I am learning graphite pencils probably shouldn’t be used. I have come to except how the yellow pencil works. I just sharpen it a lot to keep crisp guidelines. I was hoping I could spray something over graphite to seal but will not worry about putting anything  on top of the yellow pencil sketch to seal. I’ve also worried the sketch lines under the paint create weak contact points on a canvas?!?? I’m probably overthinking the issue?!?!
    Thanks for your input!
  • I purchased Ampersand gesso hard boards the other day. I’m hoping with your suggestion the smoother surface will be easier to draw on overall! Thank you for taking the time to respond and help me out on this matter! 
  • @buchmarshall
    You could always draw with some earth tone paint and a brush. Charcoal can cause me to get fussy. Stand back draw with your whole body. Gradually draw up to painting .
  • I do admire those who sketch out their paintings with a brush. Hopefully I’m getting there. Thanks for taking time to respond! I appreciate your thoughts!
  • How I use graphite pencils on painting surfaces:
    1. First, I usually do several thumbnail sketches with separate paper and pencil to figure out values and composition before starting on the actual painting surface. This greatly reduces the number of corrections I have to make in the painting.
    2. Then, I use an ordinary B2 pencil to draw the composition on the painting surface, using a few grid lines. I use the pencil for outlines of objects and edges, not shading.
    3. After I am satisfied with the composition, I will erase with a kneaded eraser the lines to make them a little lighter in value. I will dust off the painting surface and I am now ready to paint. At this point, there is very little graphite on the painting surface.
    4. I do NOT seal the surface before painting. If you choose to seal, then I'd suggest a clear matte acrylic which will have a little tooth.

    My results:
    I have not experienced the graphite moving, bleeding through, or anything else unproductive. I have not experienced any delamination. From examining paintings I did over 40 years ago, I see that my paintings have not experienced any harm from this practice.

    My science experiment suggestion:
    Figure out your process and technique problems before you start on the desired painting. Do several throw away practice paintings, using different types and amounts of graphite or other pencils, to map the composition. Cover with different amounts and types of white or other semi-transparent oil paint. Let them dry. Examine in a year or so and see what you think. I use inexpensive oil paint paper canva-pads for these types of experiments. Find out what works best for you.

    Regarding lubricant properties of graphite:
    Graphite and it’s powder are indeed the same chemical, but the difference in particle size can have a few interesting effects. Powdered graphite makes a great lubricant (think soap box derby cars in the boy scouts), whereas a solid chunk of graphite (like a pencil “lead”) is really not. Also, a solid piece of graphite is a better conductor than the powdered counterpart because the graphite forms into a lattice with layers for electrons to ride along very efficiently, thus being very conductive. The powdered graphite would just cause more breaks in this lattice, and would inhibit the flow of electricity. Also, depending on how well you powder it, it won’t even be graphite anymore, it will just be loose carbon. Loose carbon is not conductive.

  • I am most impressed with the effort in your response… Thank you! I have never wiped the canvas to remove the graphite. That is a simple but great idea I will try! I like regular pencils to sketch with as I find the yellow pencil Mark suggests a little harder to work with! I have also bought some Ampersand boards to try as another individual suggested they are  easier to draw on for most part! Another painter also said they are awesome to paint on due to their smoothness. Thank you again for sharing your talents and knowledge with me… Your time is much appreciated!!! 
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