Framing Without a Mat

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The photo (above) shows the spacer attached to museum glass, an X-acto knife for cutting the spacer material, a backing board, and framer's tape for sealing edges.

Many pastel artists are abandoning traditional mat and frame presentations and replacing them instead with wide wood frames. This allows the pastel to look less like a print or poster, which commonly have a wide surrounding border. These works are attracting the attention of the canvas-buying public. Commonly, oil and acrylic paintings are displayed with a wider wood frame that may or may not have a small liner. A pastel presented in a similar fashion demands the same respect often afforded these canvas media. This is especially true when anti- or low-reflection glazing is utilized, like Tru Vue brand AR and Museum Glass.  Many prominent galleries are encouraging this presentation and most national pastel exhibitions are seeing entries framed in this manner.

The traditional mat serves as more than a decorative border; it acts as a spacer, holding the delicate pastel surface away from the glass. When matting is eliminated, the framing options are to either sandwich the painting against the glass (an old French method) or to utilize a spacer. Most framing experts agree that it is best to keep the pastel surface away from the glass. For this reason, I use a spacer when framing mat-less. I have found an excellent assortment of spacers to be available from Art Spacers. They come in an array of sizes, have adhesive on one side, and are easy to cut to size. These manufactured spacers make it a breeze to have a pastel ready to hang in a matter of minutes. Cut the spacer to fit the sides of the glass, peal the tape back to expose the adhesive, and stick it to the outside of the glass. Once attached to the glass, simply place it on top of the painting with a non-acidic, PH-balanced backing behind the painting. For added stability, seal the glass to the backing. Use PH-neutral tape available from a framing supply. Attach the tape to the front edge of the glass and wrap it around the sides to adhere it to the backing. This seals the painting between the glass, spacer and backing, allowing for easy placement into a frame and easy removal if needed.

With today’s readily available selection of plein air (or impressionist) frames, selecting a style that compliments your painting has never been easier. Whether to use a mat or go mat-less is up to you, but it is nice to have the option.

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7 thoughts on “Framing Without a Mat

  1. Richard McKinley

    Tamra, The "French Technique" of placing the glass directly on the pastel is a controversial one. Many swear by it and have had good results – it has been in practice for a long time. Others voice concern about possible future problems. If the glass is damaged, needing replacement, a portion of the pastel could be lifted. In humid climates moister can cause the pastel to adhere to the glass. Another issue relates to how one works with pastel. If you apply heavy strokes, similar to impasto oil paint, the glass would alter the appearance of the topography. As with many things in life there is not a clear cut answer to this. Pros and cons exist on both sides. Weigh them and do what works best for you.

  2. Tamra Mielke

    I have also read of a French technique in framing that places the pastel painting directly against the glass. I have tried this and it seems to work very well. It looks really nice and I have not figured out a problem with it yet. Any comments?
    Tamra Mielke

  3. Richard McKinley

    Timon, I prefer the 1/8th inch spacer as well. There are brackets available from a framer that will hold a piece that extends beyond the frames rabbet, when a larger spacer is used. These metal step brackets screw into the frame and hold the painting securely in the frame. It really depends on the rigidity of the painting. I work on mounted paper surfaces or create my own surface on a rigid support so warpage is minimal. Sealing the painting to the glass/spacer/backing creating a vacuum is also helpful.

  4. Timon Sloane

    Richard – what minimum sized spacer can you get away with? I’ve been experimenting with this style of framing, and I’ve found that the 1/8th spacers are easiest to work with because they tend to fit in the rabbet of the frame more easily. But I wonder if over time this isn’t sufficient space, especially for a 12×18 or 18×24 piece. Any feedback given your experience? Thanks,

  5. Richard McKinley

    Kim, You can get an idea of the look in a few of the previous blogs. Blog dated October 8, 2007, June 23, 30, 2008. Select the month from the left side column and scroll to blog entry. Hope these help in giving you a better idea of the look. Thanks,

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