Tips for Framing Pastels | 4 Questions to Consider

How to frame a pastel is one of the most frequently asked questions I hear during a painting workshop. Many painters find it superfluous to discuss the frame, feeling that the artwork should matter most. But it can’t be denied that the framing plays a major part in how the painting will be viewed. The frame is analogous to the clothing one wears for a job interview. It should be appropriate for the circumstances and flatter without distracting.


This photo, taken at the 2012 Pastel Society of America exhibition in New York City, shows various framing presentations.

Framing Tips for Pastels: Consider a few of these points when deciding how best to frame your pastel paintings:

  • Where will it be most likely to hang? If the display venue is traditional or contemporary in tone, attempt to present the painting in an appropriate fashion without compromising the integrity of the piece. If you are planning on exhibiting the painting widely, a somewhat neutral presentation may be most appropriate, allowing it to fit in no matter the situation.
  • Should the matting/framing be dark or light? Traditionally, many pastelists framed their paintings with a slightly off white matting. This may have been a carryover from the traditional presentation often utilized for watercolor paintings, which are also done on paper and in need of glazing for protection. Recently, a trend towards darker matting/framing has become popular. Besides reflecting popular decorating trends, this may be due to the increased intensity of dark pastels being offered from an array of manufacturers. These modern pigment formulations have deepened the value range in pastel and added ever-increasing vibrancy.
  • Should anti-reflective glazing be used? When possible, the answer is yes. One of the largest hurdles pastelists have in gaining representation is the stigma of picture framing-glass. While the fragility of glass hasn’t changed, the ability to cut down on reflective glare has. When first introduced, anti-reflection (AR) and museum-grade glass were very expensive. As the demand has increased, so has competition and with it, prices have begun to decrease. While still considerably more expensive than tradition picture framing-glass, the added benefits of potential sales and broader acceptance more than justifies the added cost.
  • To use a matt or just frame, which is best? This is a very personal choice. A pastel painting can look elegant presented in either manner and I have used both over many years of pastel painting. Currently, I am framing in a traditional manner consisting of a simple wooden frame, approximately 3 or 4 inches in width. My rational is that the public subconsciously associates matting to a lesser form of artwork. Modern posters often have a wide surrounding border that resembles matting. This is an unfair prejudice but one that permeates the marketplace. Presenting pastels with a frame and no matting has gained acceptance in many gallery settings, allowing them to be hung next to their highly respected cousin, the oil painting.

For more general framing tips, see “How to Choose the Best Frames” here.

When it is all said and done, remember it is about the painting and not the frame. If the frame is the first thing one sees, there is a problem. Professional custom framers can be a good resource for advice but also may have a prejudice towards a more decorative form of framing. It’s their business. Visit galleries and exhibitions and notice how others are framing. Take note of what you find appealing. Trends may come and go, but it’s the lasting impression from the artwork that’s important.


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One thought on “Tips for Framing Pastels | 4 Questions to Consider

  1. pcfaa

    The right picture frame will always make or break your artwork. We strive to match as much as possible the art we’re provided or work directly with the artist to bring out their art, rather than overshadow it. If you’re in western washington state, please stop by and we would be glad to help any artist for free! Puyallup Custom Frame and Art