Spacers or no spacers, that is a question many pastel painters are asking these days. As framing trends have evolved from the traditional matted presentation for pieces under glass to the canvas painting presentation of a simple wide molding, the issue of using a spacer to separate the pastel painting from the glazing has become more pertinent.
Most of us were introduced to framing pastels with the use of traditional paper matting. This matting served two purposes: a decorative border around the artwork and a spacer separating the artwork from the glazing. This manner of framing had evolved from traditional methods of presenting and preserving paper. Art media that was water-based or dry, like pencil, charcoal, and pastel, also required added protection to help preserve their appearance. This framing style continues to be very popular today and if you are pleased with its appearance there is no need to consider the use of an additional spacer. The mat is providing one.
The main purpose of keeping artwork away from glass is to stop it from eventually adhering to the glass thus creating damage. What exacerbates this is moisture. In humid environments, moist air becomes trapped between the inside layer of glass and the artwork, creating condensation. It stands to reason then, that if air is removed from between the artwork and glass and it is well sealed, creating a vacuum that helps to prevent migration of moisture, a potentially more stable environment will be created for the presentation of the painting. This is the theory that was first introduced by the French method of Passé Partout framing. While the term has multiple meanings and can even apply to a traditional mat presentation, it differs in that it requires the glazing, artwork, and backing board to be sealed together. This produces an artwork-vacuum sandwich that can easily be placed in a frame and removed for storage.
What is required to create a Passé Partout is strong pH neutral tape to seal the edge of the glass around the artwork to the backing board. I use “FrameTac” professional framer’s tape. Make sure the backing board is strong and pH neutral. Place the painting onto the backing board, clean the glass, and carefully position the glass over the painting. When this is placed, carefully position the sandwich over the edge of a table and run a strip of framers tape around the leading edge of the glass. This will be hidden under the lip of the frame. Then gently fold the tape over the edge and tack it to the back of the backing board. Reposition the sandwich and do the next edge until it is completely sealed all the way around. Great caution needs to be used to make sure the glass does not slip across the surface of the painting. For more information on this and other framing suggestions, refer to Maggie Price’s article titled “A Clear-cut Guide to Framing” from the December 2004 issue of the The Pastel Journal magazine (2004 issues are available as part of a digital archive collection in our online shop).
While the use of spacers will undoubtedly continue to be a point of controversy within pastel circles, utilizing the historic method of Passé Partout is always a good idea, spacers or no spacers. Plus, it sounds so cool to say your artwork is framed in this method.
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