Protecting Unframed Pastels

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Pastel painting protected by glassine.

Question: When you’re finished with a pastel, how do you keep it protected until you frame it? How do you transport it from the site where you’re working and how do you store it?

Answer: Due to the fragile nature of pastel, extra caution needs to be employed when storing and transporting our paintings—either home from a day painting or to the framer. My method is to attach my pastel surface to a drawing board support that’s larger than the painting and cover it with glassine paper for protection (see photo at above). Glassine is the barrier of choice due to its anti-static nature. When removed, minimal amounts of pastel are affected, leaving no noticeable alteration of the painting. If glassine is hard to obtain, tracing paper can be substituted (most retail art supply stores carry tablets of various sizes). Some artists, when traveling, transport their paintings between the pages of tracing paper within the tablet. Avoid plastic as a protective layer; it has a high static charge and tends to pull considerable pastel off the surface (the same reason many avoid using plexiglas when framing). In the studio, I stack my drawing boards with paintings in varying degrees of completion vertically against a wall, providing easy access.

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Case for transporting pastels done on location.

When working on location, two systems have served me well. One is to use a wet panel box built for transporting oil paintings (see photo at left). These hold the drawing boards that the paper is adhered to, allowing for  travel with multiple supports—ready to employ in an instant. My cases and drawing boards are 16×20 and 18×24. They hold 6 panels each and are stored in the rear of my vehicle, providing easy access. If you work on rigid panels like Ampersand Pastelbord or Richeson’s new pastel panels, you can acquire a case specific to the size of the panel: 8×10, 9×12, 11×14, and 12×16 are popular dimensions.

Since this is too much to transport on a flight, I have limited myself to three Gatorboard drawing boards (light-weight and strong) with individual sheets of paper and glassine. These are placed between the Gatorboard and secured together with large clips available from an office supply store. I place a note on the boards to alert the TSA inspector of their fragile nature, explaining that the boards are “artwork” and “pastel-chalk” in both English and the language of the destination country. To protect the contents of the suitcase, these are placed in a clear plastic bag and sandwiched in the middle of the baggage. The next day’s painting adventure is readied by adhering the pastel paper to the drawing board with drafting tape, which is easily removed, yet holds well.

Back in the studio, paintings requiring long-term storage without the protection of framing are placed in large flat files with glassine protecting the pastel surface. Or, they are sandwiched together and placed in archival photo boxes (available at professional photo supply stores). Once a year I reassess these stored paintings, destroying some and reworking others. Having a secure system for preserving the paintings allows for them to be as fresh as the day they were set aside, even if I am not!

NOTE: The Pastel Journal has a new website, and though the old URL address will redirect to it, it would be best to bookmark the new URL address for Richard McKinley’s Pastel Pointers blog: http://pastelpointersblog.artistsnetwork.com

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2 thoughts on “Protecting Unframed Pastels

  1. Lynn Morgan

    I found this article extremely helpful. I have been improvising using tracing paper taped to my pastels and then sandwiching them between foamcore held together with large clips. I think I will start using acid-free foamcore for this purpose, at least for my originals. I do a lot of copying for practice, so I’ll probably keep the copies in regular foamcore, since I’ll never frame or sell them.

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