How do you frame your work?

11-mattframe.jpgFraming your work is like choosing clothing. Dependingon the task, you need to dress appropriately. I have two different presentation methods for my finished pastels: One is to use a traditional mat and frame; the other is to frame in the fashion of an oil painting. Depending on the piece, one of these options usually works well. The most important purpose of framing pastels is to protect them from damage. Unlike paintings that dry and are able to be handled with little concern of damage, pastels are fragile and are better protected when framed properly.

Glass is almost always used to protect the pastel surface from touch and moisture. Some artists are experimenting using applied varnishes and mediums over their pastels to preserve them. Since this alters the appearance and requires advanced planning, I haven’t experimented with it—yet, that is. Modern advances have given us the ability to use low-reflection (AR) glass and ultraviolet protected (museum) glass, which greatly enhances the appearance of the painting. Once prohibitively expensive, the prices for these have come down, and many pastel artists are spending the funds for these framing products. Personally, I think it has made a difference with my galleries in terms of where they are able to display my work, and consequently, in sales.

11-framespacer.jpgTo mat or not to mat, that is the second question. Since most pastel artists believe it’s best to separate the glass from the pastel surface, the easiest and most traditional method has been to use paper matting between the finished painting and the frame and glass. If you choose to use a mat, make sure it is ph neutral or 100 percent rag. Old pulp paper mats were highly acidic and over time could damage the painting. I usually use a cloth-covered matting either of a raw or bleached linen variety (see photo at top). Instead of double matting, I opt for a wood fillet that accents the outer frame; this adds an accent as well as added depth between the glass and painting. The general rule on width of mat is wider on small paintings and narrower on large ones. Traditionally, a little extra width is placed at the bottom to weight the piece.

Many pastel artists have decided to go without mats in order to frame in a traditional oil motif. The recent popularity of the plein air or American Impressionist frame has made a good selection of ready-made, elegant frames available. Small plastic spacers (purchased from an art supply or framing store) are easily attached between the painting and glass on the inside of the frame. Tucked out of sight under the lip of the frame, all the viewer sees is the outer frame and the finished painting (see photo above). One difficulty of using this system is that it works best if the pastel surface is rigid or the paper has been mounted to a rigid substrate since lightweight pastel papers are prone to slipping and wrinkling.

When it comes to choosing the color or value of the frame or matting, I rely on my understanding of simultaneous contrast. If I want to accentuate the darks in a painting, I’ll choose a slightly lighter frame and visa versa. The same holds true for color: a warm frame will make a painting appear cooler and a cool frame, warmer. The more neutral the frame, the more the painting will shine. Since we rarely know where our work will end up, it’s best to frame simply and to showcase the painting. Leave the decorative framing for the interior decorator that understands the environment where the painting will reside.

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3 thoughts on “How do you frame your work?

  1. Brenna Gwir

    Thank you for your post! I have a couple of questions:

    1. Would a wood fillet cause archival problems over time? Usually 100% rag mat is recommended for archival works and it seem that if wood pulp mats are bad, perhaps wood fillets might cause a problem, too… what am I missing?

    2. Do you have a recommended source for museum glass?

    3. (I know, I only said a "couple" of questions, but I’m on a roll. smile) What brand of drymount tissue do you use to adhere the Wallis paper to the museum board?