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How do you frame pastel paintings?

by Susan Flanagan on 3/13/2017 9:53:32 AM

This post is by guest author, Susan Flanagan.  This article has been edited and published with the author's permission. We've promoted this post to feature status because it provides great value to the FineArtViews community.  If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 48,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  This author's views are entirely her own and may not always reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.



I have just finished the first week of the 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge and several of these small paintings have new homes. So what do you do with small pastels? In general, how do you frame pastel art?


Soft pastel has to be framed under glass. No amount of spraying fixative will change that! Please avoid using fixative because if it is not applied properly, it can dull and darken the colors. Some fixatives are better than others.


Frame pastels either with a mat or without a mat in a frame. Using spacers between the art and the mat or glass is a very good idea.


Framing Option #1

Here is a painting of a waffle with a mat. This is one of my daily paintings. It is a small 5 x 7 in. pastel. The framing was economical because you can buy ready made mats with appropriately sized openings and the perimeter of the mat is 8 x 10 in. which is a standard size for the frame. This is a black metal frame which is easy to assemble. These framing items are common in hobby and craft stores. Look for sales and use coupons.



The waffle was photographed propped up on an easel which is one way to display small artwork. Easels can also be purchased in hobby/craft stores. However, I have this waffle painting hanging in a group in my kitchen above the cabinets. A group of small paintings can also be grouped within a larger frame with multiple openings.




One thing you cannot see is that I have strips of thin foam core taped with double sided tape to the back of the mat. This keeps the mat off of the art and leaves a space behind the mat. If any pastel dust falls off, it most likely will fall behind the mat. This method avoids pastel pigment from falling on the mat which looks very tacky. And, it is a pain to take the frame apart to clean the mat.


Framing Option #2


You can frame pastel paintings without a mat and sometimes this gives the look of an oil painting especially if you buy more expensive anti-reflective or museum glass. Here is a small daily painting that I put in a wood frame. In this case, there is a plastic spacer that is applied to the edge of the glass. That 1/8th in. spacer keeps the glass off of the pastel painting.



This small painting is perfect for those small areas in your house. This hangs near the front door above a light switch. A window is on the other side so this is the right size for a such a small space.


I put glass directly on a pastel painting only once. I painted "St. Anne's Church" in a workshop. I really like it but it is not a standard size for framing. So, I bought a custom made frame with the intention of always keeping it in that frame. This one is for me. It is not for sale.


Once the glass is in contact with the painting, do not let the glass slide because you will be moving pastel pigment along with it, ruining the painting. If you ever took it out of the frame, you would have to lift the glass straight up and off of the painting. You can see why, I recommend spacers.



You can see the problem with regular glass in the above photo. There is a reflection in the upper right.


So, what do you do with small daily paintings? Put them in small areas on your wall, make a grouping or display them on an easel. I'll have more thoughts on framing next time.


Sue and Suzy



You can view Sue's original post here.




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Related Posts:

Frugal Framing, Part 1

The Framing Question

Framing the Problem

The Art Branding Quality of Framed Paintings

Topics: advice for artists | art education | FineArtViews | Guest Posts | Instruction | pastel | framing art 

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Jo Castillo
You are right about framing pastels. I have framed directly to the glass for over 5 years. Up to 18 x 24 inch pieces. I think glass is too flexible to go larger and would pull away and lie down again. I think it is better without spacers so the dust doesn't fall on the glass. It makes transportation easier and handling by people at galleries that don't take care in keeping the paintings upright. With the museum glass the paintings look super. Thanks for your post and sharing info with us.

Mark Brockman
I dislike mats for pastels or watercolors. When you use a mat for pastels dust will get on the mat at some point in time, it's inevitable. So I frame using spacers. I use regular glass too, there something about the museum no glare glass that I don't like.

As to fixative with pastels; boy that's an argument in the waiting. I use fixative, a lot, but I use the casein based kind. Maybe it is how I work the pastels and the surface I work on but I see no real change in the pastels in using the fixative. I actually have (did use mats for this) wrapped small pastels in plastic and due to the fixative no dust adhered to the plastic as I thought it might due to the propensity of static electricity inherent with plastic. I have not as yet experimented with acrylic glass.

Len Jagoda
With respect to Mark's comments - a foam core spacer with the opening cut 1/4 inch wider on each side and placed between the mat and the artwork eliminates the dust issue (mentioned in Sue's article and absolutely correct).

Fixatives - I think I have tried everyone on the market including the most expensive. I hate them all and no longer even consider using them. A client took a commissioned piece of an almost white dog. I underpainted with several colors and then used many different shades of whites. The framer saturated it with fixatives and dissolved most of the whites killing them. I redid the piece entirely. I just won't use them and strongly recommend against them.

One area that I did not notice in the article is plexiglass. Some exhibitions will not accept artwork shipped behind glass. Because of the static magnetism pastels will be lifted up onto the plexiglass even when spaced with a mat and foam spacer. There are some anti-static sprays that could be used but the safest route is using the anti-static acrylic - it is very expensive but breakage is almost impossible and the reflection issue is mitigated.

I have pastel framing guidelines that I wrote and provide to clients whenever I sell a commission or unframed piece. It includes everything stated in Sue's article plus a few other recommendations (i.e. acid free materials). Sue's article is well written and I totally concur with her opinion.

David McKay
My studio is in the same building as my art dealers/gallery. I am well aware of the problems that galleries face when handling an artist's pastel work. Even with the spacers, if the work ever gets turned upside down (and it will happen at some time in the artworks life) some of the powder will come tumbling out and be on the glass or mat or frame.

However, my question is this. Is a pastel a drawing or a painting?

Judi Lank
As a professional framer who has literally framed thousands of pastels, including for many National Pastel Society members, I am offering some additional helpful advice. I always recommend pastels be fixed but have found improper application is the problem rather than the fixative itself. Modern spray cans, unlike the old atomizer, spray larger droplets. My method, which I taught my artists, is to put the pastel on a piece of board, on the floor at at slight angle and mist the fixative in the air and allow it to float down on the pastel. Do not put the can itself over the artwork in case some larger drips come of the can when you start. Light coats and more applications prevent the shiny finish and yellowing that most artists object to.

Mark Brockman
Len, I have used the foam core behind the mat, still, before using fixative, I'd get dust on the mat. Having said that I don't like the look of a mat anyway, prefer the painting framed without it. Spectrafix (a casein based fixative in a pump bottle) is a great fixative, for me anyway, never had issues with it and I have and do use it liberally, often. Oh, I had work fall face down, no dust on the glass with the use of fixative, I recently moved about 1400 miles, packed pastel paintings into a cube for moving, no issues.

As to whether a pastel is a drawing or painting? My opinion for what it's worth is this. If it looks like a drawing it's a drawing, if it looks like a painting it's a painting.

Susan Flanagan
Thanks for all of your comments. Whether you use mats or not is a personal choice. Mark I like your response. A pastel can be a drawing or a painting. There is nothing wrong with an artist using fixative. We all have different techniques in our process. However, applying fixative is something the artist should do, not the framer! A framer would never apply a varnish to an oil or acrylic painting and should not alter a pastel painting. There is a subtle change in hue and value with any fixative even if it is applied properly.

Len Jagoda
The occasions of pastel dust coming off my works are so few and insignificant that it makes me wonder if the difference is the surfaces that I use and one step that I failed to mention.
First the substrates - I use Stonehenge paper or pastel mat exclusively. I dry mount whichever I use on half inch acid free foam core before I begin the painting. (I use the thick stuff because I don't want it to curl). Second it could be the pastel itself - I uses several, Sennelier, Rembrandt, Mungyo, Nupastels, Pan Pastels and several makers of pastel pencils. It might be the surface or the pastel type or the combination. Perhaps I am just lucky - but I haven't won the lottery yet so I doubt it.

Finally, when I finish a piece I give it a good slap on the back to shake off any loose dust. I do a fair number of shows and take these pieces on the road and have shipped several to exhibitions so there is a great excuse for pastel particles to break free. It just doesn't happened. I like to gamble on the horses but I just will not gamble with fixatives :)

Joanne Benson
Great article and comments. I will file this with my keepers. I have only framed my pastels with mats but another money saving trick is to tape old strips of mat board to the back of the mat around the opening instead of spacers. Also you can double mat a pastel with the larger mat opening next to the pastel so that the double mat acts as your spacer. (you are basically reversing the mat order)

Also, I have never really noticed much difference in the appearance of my painting after applying the fixative. I do however get an occasional dust particle from a fixed painting. I think it just comes with the turf!


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