Framing Pastel Paintings

The important thing to remember about framing a Pastel, is the glass must not touch the paint.

There are a few options to accomplishing this. The most obvious being a mat. Mats are cut from a variety of materials and any custom framer will have a wide selection of colors and textures for you to choose from. Generally, I suggest a double mat with the inner mat showing about ¼ inch and the top mat showing an average of 1 ½- 2 inches. However, you can get very creative with each of these dimensions and may even bottom weight it and add a second smaller window below the painting. Because I paint dogs many clients like to add a brass or silver plague in this window with the dog’s name, DOB, and date of passing. The other thing to consider is whether to spend some extra money on “acid free” material. It will bump your cost but, is the best choice when framing an original painting.

Most framers suggest building the mat with a narrow gap between the painting and the mat to allow any dust that may fall behind the mat versus on the beveled edge of the mat. This is the ideal and highly recommended if the sight of pastel dust on the beveled edge will bother you.

The second way to separate the painting from the glass would be to add a spacer. This is very easy and a nice option when you find a frame that has two different zones in the design. In other words, the frame design has a narrower area, usually brass or silver around the middle and a wider wood area around the outside. Making the frame appear to be two frames. The framer will have narrow plastic channels with acid free tape on one side that will allow them to adhere the channel to the glass. Thus, keeping the glass from touching the painting.

These plastic channels may be used in my third suggestion. Many classic frames are designed with a linen liner and this is possible with Pastels. If the liner is to go under the glass, then a spacer must be attached to the liner, allowing the dust to fall behind it. If the liner is on the outside of the glass, then the spacer will be applied to the glass.

Next you will have options with the quality of glass and the price range is wide. The lowest quality is basic glass like you can buy at the hardware store. If you are not concerned with a lot of light in the room where the painting is to hang, then this is a great option. However, light is our enemy, causing fading over time and annoying reflections that obstruct viewing. So, your framer will have a range of UV protecting and anti-reflective glass that I suggest you review. Balance the decision with where you are hanging your painting. The VERY BEST glass is called “Museum” quality. It is UV protective and extremely hard to see because it is clear and anti-reflective. If your painting and frame are very large then you need to be concerned with weight. Remember glass can get very heavy. So, you may want to consider plexi glass. Framers are hesitant to suggest it because they are afraid of static electricity attracting the dust from a pastel. But, we are dealing with Professional grad pastels and the dust factor is quite low. I have several display pieces framed under plexi and these have been hauled around for years and even fallen off easels and I haven’t seen this to be a big problem.

Please make sure your framer does not spray your pastel. (see “Is This Painting Sprayed?”).

I have had clients bring me a frame and ask the painting be made to fit their frame. This is possible but, there are things to consider. First, there must be enough room in the back groove to house glass, spacer, painting, and support board. In other words, a half inch is a good idea. And the opening must be large enough to accommodate the subject matter. I like to paint life size portraits. For a Labrador Retriever this is usually a 12×16 image and I need 2 inches all around for background paper. In other words: a 16×20 inch opening. And the hardest part of designing to fit is; does the width and length make sense for the subject matter? Will it scale correctly in each direction or are we forcing a rectangular shaped subject into a square format?

Framing can range from simple to elaborate based on your desire. I have had clients spend more on the frame than the painting and others have brought me a garage sale frame that we have made work. So, have fun and design to your style.