More Pastels Against Glass!


True Grumbler
May 4, 2005
Last weekend I saw an awesome exhibit of plein air paintings & I couldn't believe my eyes. :eek: These experienced, nationally known artists had their pastels framed up against the Museum glass! And as a pastel artist, this hit close to home.

Well, that was enough to get me on my soapbox & spew out my lecture (to the friends I was with) that "the art never, ever should touch the glass, yada..yada...yada!

The main concern, as I explained, is temperature changes & the potential of condensation forming on the inside of the glass, affecting the pastel particals, as well as setting up an environment for mold.

Especially the conservators out there, is there any other potential concerns I'm missing.? I want to be thorough when I'm on that soapbox!

Well something nice to do with pastels is to make a ridge or space between mats so the pastel (even when sprayed will come loose) may have a place to fall. This space will also allow for the pastel to be further away from the glass, so static does not pull perticles off of the work. This is also useful when doing charcoals. These items maybe sprayed...Hugh and Rebecca maybe not like that, I am not sure. Actually I would like to know, since at this time I can not remember where they stand.

As you stand on that soap box Sharon, take a quick glance down by your feet. Is that dust? Could it be a collection of tiny bits of chalk, drifting earthward from the surface of the artwork?

That's the rationale I hear from artists who expect the glass to hold the friable medium in place.

I think a better solution is a double mat, with the lower one recessed a bit so that the chalk has a hidden place to fall.

I'm not a pastel artist. I wish I were but my attempts look like something that should be shaken until ALL the chalk falls off the paper.

Spraying with a fixative may change the colors of the pastels, and may not set them very well anyway. That would be altering the artwork. That's a pretty big no-no. Let the artist do it.

I've taken glass off that was directly on pastels and watched a good deal of the "painting" come off with it! Reverse bevel mats will catch the fall-off particles, or as Patrick said, a raised mat(s). Or, a spacer between mat #1 and #2. Static is a pastel's enemy.

I've seen them framed with the glass directly on them, in galleries, and it almost sets me on fire too, Sharon!
I'm a pastel artist and always space as stated. I don't know any more reasons than stated. The biggest being Val's statement that the pigment sticks to the glass when it's changed.

I must say however, that I have reframed a couple form the 30s and 40s that were up against the glass and they were fine.

As for spraying, it usually changes the tone some. I would NOT spray someone elses painting, but sometimes spray my own. At times I have sprayed "around" the focal point, but not the focal point. An interesting effect.

Had one of our local pastel artists INSIST that I dry mount her painting. I did. Slight damage in one spot, but she touched it up afterward. She is framing it with spacers and it was rippling. It actually came out quite well. May have to try that in the future with my own.
I've mentioned this before, so forgive me. I'm old enough that I'm allowed to repeat myself.

I used to frame for a very good pastel portrait artist who would bring her 3M emery paper in to be dry mounted to fomecore BEFORE she worked on it. We'd leave a generous border to allow for handling and matting and everybody came away happy.
Thanks, you are right about the color shift and bigger flakes of pastel falling off due to the clumping together. Forrgot about was late last night, and brain no work.

Cliff if your customer asks for this often how about beating her to the punch. Ask her to mount her piece before she works on it. So you dont risk ruining anything. If she wants a solid substrate, you could moun her paper first then go and let her work on it. This could be good, use Art Restore stuff. Then if there is ever an issue close the shop doors and have someone else unmount it.


Ron you stink, the Yank post now you steal my thunder. Man now i got to come up with another good idea today. I dont appreciate you trying to make my brain work any harder. You know I am slow witted and stuff like ideas are hard.
Originally posted by Patrick Leeland:
Forrgot about was late last night, and brain no work.

Ron you stink, the Yank post now you steal my thunder. Man now i got to come up with another good idea today. I dont appreciate you trying to make my brain work any harder. You know I am slow witted and stuff like ideas are hard.
Sending you back to class, young man!

I have a customer that has done pastels for years! She subscribes to a pastel magazine that had an article about a year ago stating pastels should be framed with the art directly against the glass. She's done many since, in that manner and thus far they appear fine - and look quite nice. Of course, they haven't been taken apart yet.

If I can get my hands on this article I will give you more informaion.
Originally posted by D_Derbonne:
Glass has acid in it?
I must have missed that rule.
Think this is another one to add to framing mythes
A looong time ago, non-glare glass was acid etched on both sides. That's probably the origin of your myth. Presumably, the acid was washed off at some point during the manufacturing process but that stuff was so nearly opaque you couldn't see damage to the art, even if it was there.

I spotted that article in Pastel Journal and wrote a letter to the editor explaining all the things wrong with pastels against the glass. The former publisher answered my letter with more excuses to do it that way. Stuff like " we've always done it that way before and have never had any problems" and "the French have done it that way for ever".

Unfortunately there is a lot of bad information out there iin both the framing and pastel business. That's what the FACTS standards are all about and that's what you should refer to as an authority to dispell myths.
It is tougher to teach artists who are artists ONLY, that their methods cause more harm than they think. Artists who are also framers know better. Unfortunately, it seems liek you'd have an easier time convincing a posionous snake not to strike than convincing an artist that they're wrong. <shrug> What can ya do?
Originally posted by Greg Fremstad:
"the French have done it that way for ever".
I hope you responded to this former editor that there is now "indoor plumbing and central heat"


Greg, If you did not respond to this "head in the sand" individual a second time - at least you made a grand effort with the first letter to him
Imagine a conversation about using seatbelts, when someone says "I know lots of people who don't wear seatbelts and have never been injured in car accidents." What is the effect of that message on a person trying to decide whether to wear seatbelts?

Protective framing features are something like seatbelts. And like seatbelts in cars, the benefit of protective framing features might not be necessary. But what if...?

Static charge, environmental changes, condensation, mildew and mold are all known to be destructive to original pastel art, and we all know these hazards occur. Still, we hear comments like these routinely from artists, framers, art sellers, and art owners:

...I have reframed a couple form the 30s and 40s that were up against the glass and they were fine.
...a pastel magazine that had an article...stating pastels should be framed with the art directly against the glass. She's done many since, in that manner and thus far they appear fine - and look quite nice.
Do these comments imply that hazards do not exist, or that protective framing features are unimportant? What is the effect of that message on a person trying to decide whether to buy protective framing features?

Great numbers of people live their whole lives without a serious car accident. Great numbers of framed artworks survive decades without exposure to hazards that cause unacceptable damage.

On the other hand, accidents often kill people who would have been saved by using seatbelts. And condensation often ruins valued art that would have been saved by an air space under the glazing.

Framing is supposed to protect original art from anticipated hazards, is it not? What shall we call framing that does not serve that fundamental purpose?

Some conservators agree that tightly pressed glazing helps to hold a friable art medium in place, but I think they would recommend doing it only with double glazing. Double glazing with an insulating air space between the layers may be among the best ways to deal with pastel art when, for example, it is intended to travel. But it is very important to keep the pastel insulated from condensation; to slow the rate of temperature and humidity changes inside the frame package.

Generally, acrylic is to be avoided on friable media, because it has a greater static charge than glass. However, the optically-coated, anti-reflection acrylic has reduced static properties similar to glass. So, we can now have the light weight and shatter-resistance of acrylic, without the usual concerns about the hazard of static.
I have a customer who has collected very old pastel artwork for many years. Whenever he acquires another one, he brings it in to see what it needs to provide better preservation. I always remove the cardboard backings and add spacers if they're against the glass. Years ago most framers (self included) didn't know better. Now we do, so spacers or matting and rag backing always.
In the Nineteenth Century, pastels were framed pressed to the glass with cotton wadding behind.
When the glass if removed, one has two pastels,
on on the paper and one on the glass. Some pastel
will fall down and a space for the particles to
fall into can help prevent them coming back on the bottom edge of the pastel. The new anti-reflective acrylic has a static disersing layer of tin oxide which means that it can not carry any static, unlike glass that can hold some static, making it worth every penny, for use with pastel.

Out of interest Hugh, what are your views on retrofitting pastels framed against glass as you describe?

Its likely a function of my age (!) but the older I get the less inclined I am to change something that seems to be doing fine the way it is. That is if I encounter a pastel framed against glass and all seems well, I would lean towards leaving it as is, (maybe changing backing material) but stress the importance of keeping it in a good stable environment. I put the "good" in there as I'm sure there are plenty of "bad" stable environments out there!


We have a regionally known pastel artist who insists upon using acrylic right up against her work. She has heard my Mandatory Lecture, and yet continues to do as she wants. I take her money. The End.
Rebecca's point is well taken. If we know it ain't
broke.... Our ancestors knew that pastels fell apart. Artists used to place a clean sheet of paper on top of a pastel and run both through a
press, creating a more stable pastel and a second
image called a counterproof. This technique recognized the fact that when pastel sheds pigment, the worst case is that in which that pigment settles on another part of the pastel.The advent of static dispersive glazing does change the balance in favor of separation, with a longer than normal wire to allow the pastel to hang slightly forward so that pastel that comes loose will fall away from the design and into a trough below it. Since pastel has no medium it will always plague us and no solution will be perfect, but we should seriously consider what was done in the past to learn what worked and what can be improved upon.

I haven't been at this as long as some of you, but I have done quite a bit of framing for numerous pastel Artist's, my wife being one of them. I have to agree glass against any work lights my fire. My process is at least 1/8" spacer between the work and the first mat for any residue to hide. Most of my customers don't use fixitive for the aforesaid reason of it changing the colors.

I'm new to the Grumble and have learned quite alot already. This is a great place to gain knowledge for this craft. Thanks, John
"I worked in a cross stitch shop for a year and the big story was that glass would eat right through the stitches if it touches the glass."

Your shop had the right idea ... sorta... Glass should never touch the stitches. Some type of spacer needs to be used, whether you use an additional layer of foam core or plastic spacers hidden in the rabbet. This is what I understand to be the issue with glass and stichery. Glass is a liquid to start with, if stitches touch the glass, any condensation under the glass will cause the threads to weaken over time. Thus, we use spacers.

It used to be that we would never put glass on stitchery ever, but over time I have seen the damage to fabric art from air polutants, etc. I will always recommend glass for stitchery....with spacing.

I will add that my "theory" may not be correct, but it does produce the correct result. It made sense to me when I "learned" this.
I have another question about pastels. Since it is such a delicate art form and spraying does help keep the art in tack, wouldn't it make sense for an artist to spray it to preserve it? When I am asked to frame this type of art, I always feel like I am the one who is supposed to do all the preserving of what an artist has left "unfinished".

I had one piece come in that was so loose I didn't even want to lift it verticle. This was one of the few times that I deliberatly priced myself very high. She was being so fussy over it (not that she didn't have a right to be, she may have paid a lot of money for that piece). It was wrapped in tissue and you could see all the loose pieces ready to fall off. I did not want to be responsible for trying to pick her art off the floor and putting it back on the paper.

Why do artists not like to spray when it helps preserve? The depth of color change is just part of the art medium they use, is it not?
Pastel is all pigment and virtually no medium.
Framers can not be expected to make secure that which has been executed without any binder. Artists in past centuries understood this and
used organic fixitives and counterproofing to
keep the pigment in place. Those who work in pastel and those who own them should be given the
option of glazing with Optium and proper spacers,
if they want things done right, but pastel can
still fall down.

I sometimes wonder if pastel artists are like the artists that do those elaborate sand castles, ice sculptures, sand paintings, dominoe things. The joy is in the creating, and not concerned with the lasting of the art, just the process. Those concerned with preserving are those that paid for them, and for us framers, of course. That's what they pay us as framers to do, figure it out, not their problem, but it is our challenge. The artist doesn't want to change their painting just to make it easier for us framers.

Artists spend a lot of time getting the colors "just right" and then to change that with fixative, and chance it to change to "not just right" anymore. Wouldn't that be frustrating to you too? Like if we spent a lot of time coming up with "just the right frame" and then the owner takes it home and paints it because it doesn't exactly match the couch!
One of the things I have also done with Pastels is to reverse the beval so that those particles don't show up on it.

I have come to the conclusion that the myth of "don't put glass on..." from the worlds of pastel, stitchery and photography, is in reality a misconception of the difference between "Do not use any glass" and "Do not put glass directly in contact with" - I have been explaining this to customers with photographs for years! And customers with needlework. And customers with pastels...

I just put a big smile on my face and carefully explain the difference between what was "remembered to be recommended" and what was REALLY meant.

So far so good.
I have just sprayed another pastel with Blair Matte Spray Fix and paid particular attention to color change by only sraying one half of the portrait at a time and I could not see any change whatsoever. This is the third one I have done for this customer and she is very pleased with all of them. I think I got this fixative from United. I still use a spacer as recommended here in the past.
In general, if applied in several light coats, I have found Blair Fixatives and Krylon Crystal Clear to not cause a color shift but can slightly increase the contrast of a pastel drawing. The same is true of charcoal drawings.

It is a trade off. If the drawing is not fixed, the outer coat of pastel will dislodge over time and this also will also alter the drawing.

I tend to disagree with the thought that only the artist should fix a pastel. The pastels I personally own I always fix with only one to two very light coats of acrylic fixatives.

For those who feel this is impermissable I will ask you if you think it is acceptable to dry mount a photograph that is curling? Didn't the photographer choose the paper or finisher? What right do you have to flatten his creation? Of course there are some on this forum who will say photography is not "art"...OMG did I open that can of worms again???

Along the same lines...what right does anyone but the artist who created a painting on canvas to stretch and determine the exact size of a painting? Should the artist be the only one to apply a varnish to a painting??? If so, then don't hold your breath because the majority of artists I encounter leave that up to the customer or framer.

Take it further...maybe only the artist should choose matting and framing for the display of their artwork.

As framers, I firmly believe we have a duty and responsibilty to educate ourselves in the latest proven preservation techniques and serve our customers by offering educated opinions as to best preservation techniques and the trade-offs that naturally will have to be made to display a work of art.

Often on this forum it has been stated that the only true way to preserve anything is to put it in a dark climate controlled vibrant resistant space. The very act of framing any piece of art alters the original work or at least the way it was displayed when the artist created it.

Added upon edit...

The belief that fixing a pastel will alter the colors dramatically may very well have come from a practice that even to this day is sometimes used...when I sold art supplies I actually had college art professor's tell their students to use HAIRSPRAY to to fix their drawings! Painting classes were often told to go buy pine turpentine to thin their oil paints! All these chemists spending all this time to refine products to not introduce foreign substances into the materials and many college professors were undoing hundreds of years of learning by mis-educating the next generation of artists. the way, I would never purchase any works by an artist/professor who taught this way as even I will outlive their creations.

Dave Makielski