How to frame a pastel or work on paper ?

Pastel is a very particular medium

It has bright colors and is as stable as an oil painting when it comes to light (the 18th century pastels preserved in our museums in excellent condition bear witness to this). But when there is more pigment in the mixture than binder, the pigment doesn't stick to the support. Instead, it stays on the surface. It doesn't stand up to touch or friction.

This is why, unlike with a gouache or a watercolor, you can't put the glass that protects the work right up against it. If you did, some of the paint would end up on the glass. There must be some space in between. And it doesn't matter if it's a dry pastel or an oil pastel—you still have to do it. 

In this article, you will learn more about pastel, the material used to make pastels, and how to frame and protect pastel drawings. You will get tips from a professional framers on how to best protect your pastel paintings.

What is pastel ?

Pastel is made up of mineral, plant, or animal pigments that give it color, a filler made of chalk or plaster that gives it its texture, and a binder. Pastel can be used in any composition. It can make works look either soft or dense. The pastellists can use the pigments in pastels just like real paint. Its bright colors don't change as much in the light as oil paintings do (as evidenced by the many historical pastels on display and in excellent condition in museums).

Why is it important to protect pastels?

Its loose grains make it fragile, so shocks and friction must be kept away from it. So, if you want to show off pastel works and be able to look at them at any time, you have to frame them under glass. The glass should never touch the pastel work directly, or the pastel powder will fall off the support and stick to the glass. This is why you need to put a passe-partout (a mat) between the pastel and the glass. This will protect the pastel.

Because the grains of pastel powder are never completely stable, a raised bevel under the passe-partout makes it possible to collect pigment scraps.

Place the glass between two matching sticks so that the pastel is not in direct contact with the glass. This is a very simple and elegant method.

How to fix the pastel and should it be fixed?

Fixing the pastel can ruin its velvety texture, give it an unattractive sheen, change the color, or make the tones disappear. Also, the strength of the pastel comes from the fact that the pigment can't be changed. Since the fixative is made of chemicals, it will change over time in the same way as the pigment. Lastly, pastel powder can move while it is being set.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect fixation. Even good fixatives can change the colors, make the pastel less smooth, and make the work harden. Even though the surface changes, we have to accept that pure pastel changes shape if we want the pigments to stick more strongly to the support.

The intermediate fixation makes sure that the pigments stick better and doesn't change the way the pastel looks like peach skin. Don't stick down the last layer of pastel.

Fixing while working also lets the thickness of the material change. Degas did a lot of work by fixing layers one after the other, sometimes in a very large number. This let him use tracing paper as a support, for example.

Putting under-glass on pastels to protect them

Pastel paintings are hard to frame because they need to be put in a glass frame. Plexiglas or something similar can't be used because the pigment particles stick to the plexiglass when they come in contact with it.

In defense of glass, we could say that reflections bring life. They give the work new readings all the time. The reflected landscape of the environment works with the work as if it were another soul. Also, the reflections ask the viewer to move around, so they have to work to "deserve" the work.

How thick does the glass need to be? We recommend glasses that are 2 to 3 mm thick, clear white, and not green. Never use man-made glass, because it attracts pigments because it has an electric charge. When put in a frame, this kind of glass is not very fragile.

Should you put a brightly colored pastel on a light-colored or dark-colored mat?

The color of the master key is a matter of personal preference. It's hard to say what to do without seeing the work. If you're not sure, go with neutral. For instance, a gray, a bis, or a quiet dark color that brings out the colors in the work. There's also the frame to think about. Again, we suggest something classic, like a light wood or a thin metal strip.

White or very light colors should be avoided because they draw too much attention to themselves. You want the frame to highlight the art, not the frame itself.

What kind of glass should I use to frame a pastel?

A glass that can be seen and creates reflections is bad for the whole piece. We recommend lenses that are clear, don't reflect light, and block UV light.

With these glasses, you can fully protect the pastel and see every detail while making sure the colors are true and the glasses are sharp.

Our advice is to never use organic glass or Plexiglas, because electrostatics make them attract pigments.

How to choose a framer you can trust?

Make sure that all of the materials your framer uses to make your frames are certified as not containing acid. They must be good at what they do and treat the works with respect. So framed, your pastel will last for a long time and still look as good as the day you bought it. The best way to keep the work in good shape is to use museum-quality paper and cardboard, which is free of acid, optical brighteners, lignin, and alkaline. Also, watch out for glues and adhesives that shouldn't touch the work.

The different kinds of frames

The baguette frame

It is easy to make and has a classic, elegant look thanks to the passe-partout that shows off the pastel.

The floating frame

It is original and elegant, and it hangs the work in the frame and makes it feel lighter. It also makes it possible for the whole work to be shown. Implementation is hard, but it works. Like a painting on canvas, but with a glass on top, this frame is only for medium and large sizes, which it makes look better. To give something to a boss.

The deep frame

Here, the pastel is at the end of the rod, which is 3-5 cm deep and keeps it away from the glass. It works well with or without a mat for a medium or large format. Simple, up-to-date, and easy to use.

The old-school, classic frame

It is the most traditional way to put a drawing, watercolor, or gouache on paper in a frame. For charcoal or pastel, just put a bevel between the work and the passe-partout to keep the glass from getting too close.

A colored passe-partout should be chosen that matches the colors of the work but is neutral enough not to compete with the colors. Try to think about the color of the wall you will put it on as well.

If it goes with the rest of your decor, you can also use a stick painted to look like bamboo. This will add contrast to the passe-partout.

How to keep a pastel safe on the go

The pastel must not rub against anything. Formats of the same size can be moved by putting them between two tightly packed sheets of plywood. Use two pieces of plywood that are between 3 and 5 mm thick and slightly bigger in size than grape format. You can cut this material up and find it in stores that sell wood. This "sandwich," held together with gummed paper tape, lets you keep the works on grape-sized paper inside, away from any rubbing.

How to store a pastel?

Same as when you need to transport your pastel, it must be the same as same thing. Between two sheets of plywood, you can keep at least twenty pastels on paper. The pastel must avoid getting wet! Framed under glass with at least 2 mm of thickness and a master key to keep the work from touching the glass.

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