Framing Pastel Paintings

Bill Taylor

True Grumbler
Mar 17, 2002
Waterville,Maine 04901
I have a customer that does pastel paintings. She has two questions. I told her I would ask the Grumblers.
First, she has heard of a shrink wrap that is made especially for pastels (anti-static?). Can anyone enlighten me?
Second, she tells me that "everyone" is framing pastels without mats these days. (She went to a group pastel show and several of the artist's paintings were framed without mats).
I explained the several reasons why I thought matting was a good idea and I recommended that we continue to mat hers for better protection. How do you feel? It seems a pastel with a spacer and
no mounting is asking for trouble.
Thanks, Bill
Hi Bill:
Never heard of shrink wrap for pastels ---

On the pastel-without-mat I understand there is a "school" that frames them this way - but I thought it was also w/o glass - treating it as if it were a canvas. I talked my pastel artists out of these ideas for now. Can't imagine just frames and spacers - unless they're heavily sprayed (by the artist).

Anyone else??

I have noticed the 'spacers & glass but no mat' for pastels in some of the gallerys in my region. It can be a nice look for oversize art. But some artists are doing it with poor design choices.
Could this be the "non-glare directly on the pastel taped around the perimeter" school?

I usually recommend 8-ply mays with an AF foamboard shim to create a pocket for the dust to settle. One of the artists I frame for works on full sheet paper (30" x 44") and uses no fixative on the pastels. I'm so glad she has decided to get back into oil painting.

Never heard of a non-static plastic wrap.
This all sounds to me like one more excuse to avoid properly framing artwork. I think any type of "wrap" around a pastel is dangerous -- do people actually think that a wrap or film is NEVER going to come into contact with the surface of the pastel?

I subscribe to Wally's technique of floating the mat above the pastel to collect falling debris, and keeping it out of sight -- something using no mat and a spacer can't do.

And WHEN are artists going to learn to apply fixitive as they are creating the layers of pastel? Spraying the work once it is finished does not help...all they're doing is spraying the TOP layer, which will eventually fall off. Gravity can be brutal that way... :rolleyes:

Grumblin' on a Monday mornin'.....
Originally posted by Tim da Prez:
And WHEN are artists going to learn to apply fixitive as they are creating the layers of pastel?
Tim, The best I can figure it is about the same time pigs learn to fly. The one's that don't use fixative just don't like the look, and I learned a long time ago to just let that one go.
"everyone" is framing pastels without mats these days.
Everyone is wrong.

We used to frame a lot of pastel portraits by a local artist and finally settled on a system that worked well for everyone involved: the artist, her clients and - most important - her framers.

She ordered rolls of some kind of special sandpaper from 3M. It was a very fine grit and a dark charcoal color, but I don't know the specs.

Since her portraits were generally one of two sizes, she would bring in several cut pieces of the paper and have us pre-mount them on fome-board. This gave her a semi-rigid surface to work on an GREATLY simplified the framing when she was done.

I don't believe she used any fixative and we'd double mat them with fome-board spacers underneath.

This one has been hanging in our house for at least 12 years and, though we live on one of Wisconsin's most active earthquake faults, we've had no problems with pastel flakes.

Sandpaper? Now there's a highly archival substrate!
Well, Degas worked on butcher paper...
It didn't matter, Wally, since the stuff was dry-mounted. (Is it a mortal sin to dry-mount it BEFORE it becomes orginal art?)

The stuff may have been made especially for pastels - I don't know. I remember she used to complain that it was expensive.

She may have complained to 3M that the FRAMING was expensive.
Ron i agree about the effect that sand paper substrate creates. I posteda question on it's durabilities and properties some time back and then praised the effect later.

However after apeaking to several Artist of some Pastel knowledge the "FIXATIVE " treatment does cause a darking ,yellowing to the apppearance of the image and it can get worse with time. I have seen pastels that were pre-matted and mounted and then shrink wrapped as well as in those mylar enevelpes. while it is used for artict sales to cut the COGs for them ,even when they use some form of spacer if left wrapped for any time the minut dust can and will attach itself to the underside of the wrap. It may be hardly visible but when the wrap is rmoved you can sometimes geta ghost image in the reverse on the underside of the wrap.

The best framing treatment I have seen is to use spacers with rversed beveled mats which allow the dust to fall inside the mats and not collect on the beveled edge. I know this sounds like a very nit picking detail but belive me even the direction of the bevel can accumulate dust and become very unattractive,not only to FRAMERS ,and consumers ,but to most artist decerning eyes.
PS I have never heard of antistatic wraps either and I have serious reservations about how effective they would prove to be and for how long it would work even if it is so named.But i don't get exposed to all the products ARTIST are being sold.
I agree with Buddy. Where I used to work, we'd reverse the bevel and use foamboard spacers. And this goes without being said, but, we'd NEVER use the air gun to clean the pastel...

Having been both an artist and a framer, I can understand the shrink wrapping method, but that should only be temporary, until the person who purchased it can get it into a framer to be properly protected.

Artists simply can NOT afford to frame every single thing that they hope to sell. I worked with many well-known artists at my last gallery job, and they'd come in and get things custom framed only if we were going to sell them at the gallery and build the framing cost into the selling price.

In my experience, artists are notoriously bad at both designing and performing framing. How can they be so precise and creative when it comes to art, then slap a badly cut acid mat onto the artwork, which they rubber-cemented to the acid foam-core? Take a look at a college art show. I know, I used to do this before I learned framing. :rolleyes: One problem is that they don't teach framing or even mat-cutting in most art schools. But, I guess that's a good thing for us, isn't it?
Pastel is the medium without a medium. Creating
a design in pigment and trying to add a medium
(fixative) after the fact is every bit as fraught
with problems as Buddy suggests. If the pigment
is going to come off, it is better that it not
re-deposit on some other part of the design;
thus the suggestions that a space be created behind the mat are most useful. Static dispersive
coatings on the glazing are the best solution
and they can be found on TruVue Optium or on
acrylic sheet that is not also anti-reflective
(it can be found at McMaster-Carr) and both are
expensive. There are high quality sandpapers, made
for artists' use and dry mounting them to a stable
substrate before the artist works on them is an
excellent idea. There are designs for making spacers that are safe for use with pastels, but
they are so labor intensive and require so much
modification of the frame that they will not
save the client any money.

I am a Framer and a Pastel Artist. (Is there a 12 step program for that?)

I learned to frame when putting my paintings in a gallery.

I have also reframed Pastels paintings from the early part of the century and observed their condition. The key is the tooth in the substrate used. As previously mentioned there are "archival" sandpapers made specifically for pastel painting. They ameliorate the need for fixative. I do not use fixative either.

I have hinged pastel paintings and framed them with spacers and not mat. BUT, always glass! I can't imagine the condition of such a painting NOT under galzing. This (not mat) can be a very nice look and if not "pinched" with the spacer seems to be equally "safe" to mats with a "catch basin" spacer behind them. I NEVER mat pastels without a mat "spacer" or catch basin of at least 4 ply and preferably 8 ply behind the mat to catch any potential dust fallout.

Don't refuse the not mat look. It can work very well and look great. It works MUCH better with a heavier weight substrate like the available sanded papers for pastels.

If an artist wants the no mat look, recommend Wallis Sanded papers for pastels.

I use the 1/4" FrameSpace from Frametek as a spacer. I have observed no problem. They're easy to use.
This is certainly timely.

I have 3 pastels in house as we speak and I called the artist to see about the fixative she has used (which I know she uses!) because the customer wants the art floatmounted with no mat at all.

I questioned this approach since the pigment will still fall and now it will fall into the spacer the bottom of the moulding...

Hmmm... I am a wonderin' if I should approach the customer with one last "word of caution" on the approach she wants? She can always bring them back for a periodic check up and cleaning of pigment!?!!

Check out the article on framing pastels without mats on our web page ( under the pull-down menu titled "free info". this is a reprint of the one published in the Pastel Journal Magazine in Sept-Oct '03
While I agree that mats with spacers are best. I have refit hundreds of "chalks" for a client. These date mostly from the turn of the century (the last turn that is) to the twenties. None of these are matted. The pastels are smashed up against the glass. We clean the glass, add spacers, new backings and refit into the original frames.

All thing old are new again.
Dave, the one's I've seen done that way have a significant amount of the image on the glass. Event though they have been that way and

All thing old are new again

Some old things are framed in wood and cardboard with masking tape. You wouldn't advocate repeating that, would you?
I've seen two pastels at least 50 years old framed directly against the glass -- no mats, no spacers. The images were transferred to the glass, but not as badly as one might think.

Like Dave, I cleaned up the parts and reframed them the same way they came apart.

I once read an article about pastel works in a museum that survived surprisingly well framed this way. But museum display and storage conditions are generally controlled, unlike our customers' homes and offices. This method has problems, especially in retail consumer "real world" conditions:

1. Hanging in a typical home or office, the static charge comes and goes without control; antistatic properties are limited. My Kinetronics ionizing gun works great for a while, but the static charge comes back in a matter of hours this time of year.

2. Placing the art against the glass exposes it to radical temperature changes, which creates radical expansion/contraction cycles, which slowly rubs the pastel on the glass surface, which speeds up and makes much worse the image-transfer problem.

One benefit of a properly-built frame is that it insulates the art -- it slows down the rate of change of temperature and humidity. Pastel-against-the-glass framing defies that tenet of good framing.

A pastel artist I know hates fixatives, not only for the way they deteriorate over time, but for the way they change the surface texture of the art.

Personally, I'd like to simply refuse to frame pastel art. But, doggone it, I like the way it looks.
I failed to even mention the mat-less approach since I have never done it. .However I did see in the last WYES ,Channel 12 PBS Art Auction a very interesting technique that made me consider doing so.

Last year ,as I have mentioned ,I secured 12 identiclly imaged Pastels done on german made sand Paper for tha nnual Framing competition our local framers do in conjuction with the Art Auction. The artist choose the Sand paper for "The Good Tooth" that it had. She ( Fran Barlow) would gently tap the back of each work ,when se completed them,to release any loose particulates. Therfore there was very little chance of aditional excess dust .

We instructed every framer to adequitly space the works so as to cause any harm to the work. I assumed that some form of matting would be used by everyone.

However I did see acouple with out any mats.One that utilized suede liners inside the glazeing ,which did give a lot of clearance but left any particulates clearly visisble.

But my favorite technique without the use of mats was done by a friend of mine that was very innovative but effective. He used a deep reversed scope LJ rustic profiled moulding that I like but can't remember the number of .He then attached a Gold Filet to the exterior edge of the moulding's lip ,placeing the rounded side against the edge ,which allowed the maximum lenght to cover the glazeing. This created a dust resivoir that looked like part of the moulding and hid any dust that might fall while he used a inlaid reversed beveled suede mat that had a marbleized matalic lip against the work with no spacers.

It didn't win the popular choice ( our only form of judgeing) but it sure meet my approval and I think it was very sound metod of concealing any particulates while giveing the work a very effective enhancement in design.

So with a bit of ingenuity there may be even more methods that will achive both technical and design requirements for framing Pastels.
Thanks to all for your input. It re-enforces my position on the clear benefits of matting pastels. I usually use a foam spacer and a reverse bevel on the inner mat. I also recommend that pastel artists not to spray their paintings for all of the reasons mentioned above.
I will relay the information to my customer.
Thanks again, Bill
Does this expression make anyone else uneasy as it does me;"pastel artists not to spray their paintings '

The reason being is that I just can't perceive of a PASTEL as a PAINTING.

I realize that a pastel isn't actually a chalk rendition but that is more correct to me then calling it a PAINTING.

When I think of a painting I imagine a work that is produced with some form of PAINT; not Pastels,Chalks,Charcoal,pencils ,Crayons or even a Digital reproduceing device.although I hear this from Pastel artist all the time. WHY?
Buddy - I have always thought of pastels as "drawings." Ya paint paintings with a paintbrush, right?

An interesting substrate I have seen recently on very professional "pastels" is SUEDE MATBOARD! There is a very polular (and expensive) equine artist who does her drawings on suede. Talk about TOOTH!!! And the horse's coats looked velvety - almost makes ya want to stroke them! And it was obvious that she had not sprayed these, and yet no flaking that I could detect!

I (and most of the artists I work with) refer to an image produced with "swatches" of color and or blendings as "paintings" regardless of what medium is used to produce them. Images created through the use of "lines" are typically called drawings. Most Pastel sticks use the same pigments as oil and acrylic paints. It's just the binder that is different. Why would it matter what technique you use to apply pigment to a substrate?

And it ISN'T "chalk!" Pastel sticks come in two forms "soft" and "oil" depending on the binder used. Chalk is a different pigment and binder. Very differnt in technique and fastness.

And Bill, why has this reinforced your position to use mats? Spacers with no mats can be a nice option for a pastel painting.

[ 03-15-2005, 10:47 AM: Message edited by: Cliff Wilson ]
Cliff thanks for the explanation. However I think of anything that isn't applied with a brush as not being Painted. I do understand the differances in PASTELS and that one has oil in it. However I always thought that they were basicly Chalk "with different Binders". I have used Rembrandt brand to do some "French Matting"I found the oil binder base adhers better despite the lack of tooth on the mats.

The concept of "Images created through the use of "lines" are typically called drawings. " is no problem with my opinion since the "LINES" can vary in width depending on the Method the Medium is apllied with.I have seen some very nice Pastels ( the one Mrs. Barlow did for me last year for WYES, they were 5 X 9 inches long and depicted a land scape in which the trees were about 1/8 of an inch wide or less) where she literally sharpend the pastel to a Chiseled shaped pencil point almost every time she made a stroke. Also I have seen and used calligraphy Nibs that are more than 1/4 of an inch wide and some or even refered to as BRUSH Nibs and are over 1/2 inch wide. Would that change the description of the application? Would it be more correct to say you PAINTED a Caligraphical image?
I am not disputeing your postition. I am just trying to understand the fine points of art better.I am also sorry to have Frankenthreaded this question so much.