Fighting the Pastel Fragility Bias, Part 2 | Proper Transportation of Pastel Paintings

In last week’s post, I started a conversation about the general public’s impression of pastel as a fragile painting medium. As pastel artists, we are also ambassadors of pastel, and it becomes our responsibility to challenge this impression by properly handling pastel’s delicate aspects so that its strengths can be appreciated.


An example of a pastel painting attached to a Gator Board drawing board with a hinged sheet of glassine paper. A second piece of Gator Board of the same size is under it and ready to be clipped on top for protection.

Any artist that has had the pleasure of working in pastels knows that its strengths lie in its tactile abilities. Pigment compressed into stick form allows the artist to express themselves in the widest tonal/chromatic range. There are no oils, emulsions and brushes lying between the artist’s hand and the pigment. The medium’s vulnerability is that, lacking agents that dry to a hard shell, like those found in oil and acrylic paints, pastel is susceptible to touch. This is why emphasis must be placed on proper presentation, storage and transportation. Last week, I addressed some guidelines for presentation and storage. This week, I want to discuss transportation.

Transporting unfinished pastel paintings: Whether working on location en plein air, transferring a painting to and from a classroom, or delivering pastel works to a framer, precautions should be employed to avoid damaging the painting’s surface. First, start by adhering your pastel surface to a strong smooth board, such as Gator Board. This is a lightweight, moisture-resistant material that is ideal as a drawing board. Use a board that is larger than the painting and leave the painting attached to the board until the time is ready for storage or framing. This makes handling easier and the painting less prone to damage. Glassine paper (cut to the dimensions of the board) can be attached with binder clips along the top edge and then folded over to provide an ease of access (see photo). Non-acidic tape of a neutral tone should be used for attaching the pastel surface to the board. My personal preference is 3M brand drafting tape. It is tan in tone, easily removable (even after years) and strong enough to securely hold most surfaces. Black pH-neutral masking tape is another good choice.

The Gator Board Board “Sandwich”: When field painting, I attach a second drawing board of the same dimension over the top of the original board that holds the painting, using four to six medium sized binder clips. The drawing board “sandwich” that is created protects the painting from possible scraps and bumps when walking through various terrains. I also employ this two-board method when transporting works to and from the classroom. Gator board is smooth enough that it is possible to do this without the addition of glassine paper, which can be a hassle to handle when wind is present. This two-board sandwich can be placed without concern into a shoulder bag or simply positioned under an arm for transport.

When packing for air travel, before or after a painting trip, I carefully stack pastel surfaces with interlaced sheets of glassine paper between sheets of Gator Board and clip them together with large binder clips. The Gator Boards will serve a dual purpose as my drawing boards when I arrive. This sandwich is placed in a clear plastic bag to stop any possibility of pastel dust migration, and then placed between clothing in a checked bag. In case of TSA inspection, I place a note describing the contents as “Pastel Chalk Paintings – Very Fragile.” It is the one time I like to emphasize the fragility bias!

In next week’s post, I’ll conclude the conversation with some tips for transporting framed pastel paintings.



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