View Full Version : How to frame pastel - new at this

08-13-2004, 10:24 PM
I am new to pastel; I am taking a class, and I have just finished my first pastel painting, a red-eyed tree frog. I am falling in love with this medium, the brilliance of the colors is just amazing!
I would like to ask the experts some questions about how pastel should be framed. I like to work on ampersand pastelbord. Here is what I would like to do, but I do not know if it is possible:
I would like to spray the finished painting with an acrylic permanent fixative, such as, for example, Krylon 1311. Then, I would like to be able to frame the painting without glass, just as I would an oil painting. I hate the idea of framing behind glass, I think it does not do justice to the brilliance of the colors.
Is this possible, or am I crazy?
Do any of you put a permanent fixative on your pastels? If so, what do you use? I read somewhere that framing under glass is to protect the pastels from flaking or smearing, but that pastels are one of the most permanent media.
Any thoughts? Help would be greately appreciated!

Deborah Secor
08-14-2004, 12:10 AM
Piera, nice to meet you and your question is a good one--however, the best answer I have to give is "NO" you can't spray it with Krylon and frame it because once the spray coats and permeates the pastels those brilliant colors will be pure, dingy mud. The fixative or spray will become a glue that bonds the pastel pigments to the board, darkening all the colors significantly.

I once created a large panel somewhat similar to the Pastelbord and sprayed my finished pastel with lacquer. I had to do a lot of experiments with the various colors to find out how light to paint it, so that when I sprayed it didn't become too dark. I found that the yellows virtually disappeared and the blues were almost as bad. For some reason the oranges and greens were better. Purples became black.

Pastel is permanent precisely because of the inert binder used in making the sticks. If you bind the pigment to the board with spray finish everything changes. I'd suggest you look into using museum glass or Den glass, which is non-reflective (not non-glare--there's a difference) and is virtually invisible. It can allow the colors of your work to sing and yet protect your painting from harmful UV.

Hope that helps you!


08-14-2004, 02:06 AM
good advice from Deborah, do listen to her, she is absolutely right. The only thing I would say is that I recently saw a print framed with Denglass, hanging alongside another, same print, framed with regular glass, and although there was a reflection of the shop window on the plain glass, and none on the Denglass, it was interesting to see that the pic with the Denglass looked definitely more dull. I was investigating this on behalf of a client, and in the end, I advised against the use of this glass. I was disappointed in it, having expected such great results, since in their ad material, the Denglass people claim that their glass is virtually invisible. However whatever they SAY, it does have a certain kind of coating on it, to prevent the reflections, and that can darken the colours of your painting slightly. Depends how much you mind...if you are determined to avoid reflections, because the image is hanging opposite a window, then you might be prepared to put up with the very slight change of colour or tone that you get.

I say stick with clear glass, and don't hang opposite a window!


08-14-2004, 11:21 AM
Hello Deborah and Jakie,
thanks for answering my questions. I sort of expected a negative response on the krylon, but I thought I'll ask anyway...
Do you spray the pastels with anything at all? (like workable fixative?) If not, how do you make sure it does not get ruined during framing? My husband does our framing, and it involves turning the art piece face down, to fasten the back and put on the dust cover. I can see the pastel powder falling all over the glass!
I will probably use regular glass. My husband is a nature photographer, and we experimented with different types of glass for framing his art. He does close-up of birds, butterflies, etc., with lots of crisp focus details (such as feathers). While the non-glare glasses looked good without the reflections, they did blur the detailing enough to make it unacceptable.
I also do animals, in a detailed style, so the same applies to me.
I wondered about the glass because I am an oil painter and I also do scratchboard; I frame both of those without glass, and I like the look and the immediacy of it, having nothing between the painting and the viewer.
Oh well, new medium, new rules...
Should I let customers know that they should not display it painting opposite a window?
Anyway, thanks again for the info. I have not been painting in the last several months, due to family and health reasons, and I am very excited to be painting again! I do mostly oils, but in the last couple of years I have been exploring other media; I found that watercolor is not for me (the results were REALLY UGLY paintings...), colored pencils are nice but a bit tooo slow going. But I think pastels are going to be a long-term relationship!
Well, thanks again; Next time I write I hope to have a couple of pictures of my work to show.
Bye for now,

08-14-2004, 01:26 PM

I thought I'd chime in. For fixatives - there are several brands specific for pastels - you might check the DakotaPastels to see most that are available. The Sennelier fixative comes in a non-aerosol spray bottle, and most of the time, it will spray unevenly and make odd little spots on the pastel surface - which can be used intentionally in your image. However, most I've heard that when fixatives are used, most people tend to put on a pastel layer or two, and then spray the fixative evenly, then a few more layers of pastel, another fixative application, until the final layers where close to the last layer of pastel, the fixative is lightly applied, and then the pastels are adjusted or highlighted and left unfixed. For some supports, I've heard prior to framing, the artist will hold the face of the image towards the floor, and tap the back to dislodge any particularly loose particles, and then adjust again.

One method to add a fine mist of fixative is to keep the face of the image vertical, and from about 3 feet away, spray across the image in a sweeping motion, where the sweeping arm movement starts well before and stops well after the edges of the image.

For actual framing, there are several options and you might want to try a few to decide your preferences. Under whatever glass you prefer, you can either frame without any mats using a spacer like Framespace or Econospace, and some artists press the image directly on the glass. If you prefer to use mats, usually, there are two top mats, and a thin under mat cut so that it is not visible to allow a space between the top mats to catch any loose pastel dust (I'll usually make this out of something like 2-ply museum board). Usually, one of the top mats is gold-leafed, and the outside mat sometimes is linen covered.

The frame can be whatever material you prefer, but most pastel artists I know prefer a gold-leafed wooden frame. Since the components can be bulky, a rabbet depth of about 3/4 to 1 inch is usually needed, so shallower frames usually won't work. (However, yesterday I found a neat product called 'Rabbetspace' on the Frametek website, that I'm going to check out.)

Sometimes, you can use Plexiglass instead of any glass. Sometimes, if you send your paintings to a show or a gallery, it may be requested to use Plexiglass. If you do, you might want to get an anti-static spray like Novus to apply to the interior face of the Plexiglass before framing to keep static down.

I think Bill Creevy's 'Pastel Book' is full of info you might find helpful if you haven't checked it out. I know I saw in a pastel book an example of one method of framing - if I find it, I'll add the reference to this thread. Hope this helps.

08-17-2004, 12:27 PM
Hi Paula,
and thanks for the good information. I will experiment with a couple of fixatives, and see which one works best. I see that this process will take some time!
Once a pastel has been sprayed, can it be scanned? Or is it still vulnerable to damage by contact? I am wondering about this, as I hope (eventually) to make prints from some of my work, and it will require scanning. Any thoughts?
Thanks again,

08-21-2004, 08:43 PM
Hello again,
I have another question about framing pastels:
my husband does all our framing; and in order to secure the backing to the frame, and put on the dust cover, he works on the back of the piece, with the art 'looking down' to the glass (I hope I am explaining this right). This works well for his photography; I do not use glass for oil paintings and scratchboard, so it is not a problem there. BUT, how will this work with pastels? even with fixative, will the pastel shed dust on the glass during the framing process? We are getting ready to frame my first pastel, and we are a bit lost!
Hope somebody as done this already, and can tell me how to do this! Thanks!

08-21-2004, 09:16 PM
Very, very, VERY carefully.

Look- mount the piece onto an acid free mounting surface (lots of people here use foamcore, I know), and cut your mats WITHOUT laying them on the painting- sorry- you're gonna have to do it this way. Now, lay the glass in the frame, lay the mats in the frame, add your spacers or mounting tape, then, with two of you- one holding it semi-off the floor and the other adjusting and looking- lay the mounted piece into place. Secure it. Then you can add backing if you wish, and hanging wires as the glass is rather hefty.

Take a small piece to a framer, and ask to watch them- just don't let them tell you it has to be sprayed- it doesn't- you're paying them to do what YOU want, not the other way around. They're supposed to be professionals, they can earn their fee.

Deborah Secor
08-22-2004, 01:00 PM
Piera, I've been framing my own pastel paintings for some 20 years now and I do it this way:

Take your painting off the board and give it a good smack or two from the back. Reexamine it and see if the damage is too great. If i can see gaping holes or the highlights have been shaken off I'll do one of two things, depending on the paper I'm using. Either I repair the damage and spray it with some fixative (I like Sennelier Fixative for Soft Pastels, called La Tour) with three or four very light layers. Or I spray a workable fixative like Kryon and then repair the damage very lightly. That way when I'm ready to frame the painting I'm confident that the pastel won't dirty the glass or mat.

Frankly, over the years I've found that it's best not to overfill the grain of the paper so there isn't any fall off, but in the beginning I had to cope with it (and occasionally still do, depending on the paper I use), so I understand!

I've never had the luxury of having help when framing so I don't approach it like Julie does. Instead I stick a long strip or two of masking tape to the top back of the painting, which is face up on the table. Then I position the mat over the top and stick it in place. I carefully turn the whole package over, (checking to be sure I've signed the piece) and apply pre-gummed linen tape to the corners and middle of the top. I recommend fastening it only along the top edge so it floats free. Don't forget to remove the masking tape.

Then I turn the matted painting right side up and clean the mat using a white plastic eraser and my handy emery board (for stubborn spots on white mats only) and removing anything loose on top of the surface of the painting.

I then lay the glass on top and clean it thouroughly, turning it over several times and looking at it sideways from all directions to be sure it's spotless. When I'm satisfied, I put the frame over the top, turn the whole thing upside down and tack it in place. I always check fourteen times (well, maybe not that often!) to be sure everything is clean before tacking the painting in place or gluing the backing paper in place. I use double stick tape along the edge of the wood to position craft paper over the back and then trim the edges.

I like to put a spacer behind my mats so that any little bits of pastel that might loosen will fall behind the mat. This is just an inner fomecor mat that's a half inch smaller than the mat, mounted to the back of the mat so it doesn't show.

I hope this helps a little. There are lots of ways to do this and you'll find what works best for you.


08-24-2004, 01:31 PM
Thank you all for the good info.
I have just contacted a company called Frametek, I am sure you know it. The gentleman on the phone was very friendly and informative, and he is sending me samples of his products, two types of spacers for framing pastels. So I'll wait untill I see his stuff before I actually attempt framing. I'll take a week or so. I'll let you know how it goes...
Thanks again,

08-26-2004, 05:42 AM
I do alot of pastel work and never fix as I find it dulls the paintings and sometimes a "blob" of fixative can ruin a pic. (but as with everything this is persona choice)

I also put my paintings in double mount to keep if off the glass. I also blow off any excess pastel outdoors before mounting it.

As for non-reflective glass.. I have to agree with Jackie to stick to the clear glass as the non-reflective stuff gives the painting a "fuzzy" look somehow.

If you care careful when mounting and framing your work you should have no problems.

Hope I have been of some help :)