Rotating Frames for Your Pastels


A pastel painting sandwich, framers tape, Xacto knife and frame.

Framing can be one of the most costly aspects of our pastel painting careers. Frames are expensive, never mind the glass, mats, backing, and fitting charges when a professional framer is utilized. We invest in the hope that someone will open their wallet and purchase a painting, helping us to recoup some of our overhead. It’s a speculative business at best.

After many years of near obscurity, pastel has come into its own, demanding respect in most art circles.  To reinforce this respectability, considerable effort should be employed to present it with as much professionalism as possible. While the traditional frame, mat and glass presentation continues to be popular with many pastelists, recent trends are showing that the frame and glass, minus the mat is poised to be the new dominate look for pastel. Many national pastel exhibitions are boasting more pastels without mats than those with.

There are two main advantages to this form of presentation. First, pastels end up looking more like traditional paintings versus prints. Whether it is a fair or not, the bordered presentation of most low-cost decorative prints offers a resemblance to a painting with a mat. Since prints are inexpensive, the public subsequently associates a lesser value to most artwork presented in a similar fashion.

Second, it is easier to remove paintings, allowing for a recycling of the frame for exhibition purposes. This cuts down on the number of frames kept on hand at any given time. With the current availability of near custom quality, ready-made gallery frames in the style of historic plein air/impressionist frames, costs can be managed even farther. These frames boast a typical width of 3 inches and generally are offered in three finishes: antique gold, warm silver and bark brown. In many areas, galleries are more receptive to this look especially when used with anti-reflection or museum glass. When painting for these frames, make sure to compensate for the lost border that will be under the lip of the frame.

To make the recycling of frames easier, make a “pastel painting sandwich.” No frame is required at this point. Place clean glass face down. Adhere spacer material to the outside border of the glass (a variety of styles are available from Place the painting face-down towards the glass. Place an acid-free, rigid backing board behind the painting for support. Flip this over and inspect the glass for debris; clean if needed. When this passes inspection, tape the outside top edge of the glass that will be under the lip of the frame with a pH-neutral framers tape (such as FrameTac, professional framers tape) and fold this around the side of the “sandwich” to the backing board below. Once sealed, you have a pastel painting sandwich that can easily be tacked into a frame and removed for storage.


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3 thoughts on “Rotating Frames for Your Pastels

  1. Rose

    I love working with pastels, but most of the time I don’t simply because unless the painting is immediately framed (expensive!) it tends to smudge. The sprays tend to change the colors, which I don’t like, because the freshness is lost. Your hint about using tracing paper as a protective cover is great, but I tend to work very large and there isn’t any tracing paper large enough that I’ve ever found.
    Also, with using acrylic glass for a large pastel painting it tends to draw the color away from the paper to adhere to the acrylic. If I use regular glass the paintings get too heavy, and certainly too heavy and fragile to ship.
    Seems to me that pastel manufacturers could come up with some standard sized framing just for pastels to make the whole process easier, and it also seems to me that the medium would be used much more if they did, especially by beginners who cannot recoup their costs by the prices they can charge for their work.
    Any suggestions?

  2. richard mckinley

    Rebecca, For this framing method the painting is the size of the backboard so the backing just sets behind the painting. Most of my pastel paintings are on paper that was mounted professionally in advance of painting, this makes it easier. If your paper is fairly flimsy, a hinge of acid free tape along the top of the painting should help to hold it securely in place. Hope this helps.