An original pastel painting is an investment – an investment of time and skill and passion by the artist, and a financial investment by the lucky person who gets to hang it on the living room wall. It is so important that this type of work be framed in a way that protects the pastel pigment and keeps the art and the mat looking good for years. Many of my clients have questions about proper framing, so I’ll explain my recommendations below.
When applied to a surface (i.e. paper), pastel spreads out in tiny particles of pigment that have an ability to reflect light. This reflective nature gives pastel paintings their depth and luminosity, but the particles of pigment are delicate, so one must be very careful when handling pastel work. Tiny pastel bits clinging to the paper and to each other can easily become dislodged during transport or even over time. This is why many pastel artists use a fixative spray.
Each of my pastel paintings is sprayed with a fine, clear fixative that keeps the pastel particles in place. Some pastel artists prefer not to use fixative, since it can darken the colors slightly. I have found that two very light coats are enough to stabilize the pigments without altering the color. Especially since I ship my artwork to clients all over the country, I am not willing to risk damage to my pastel paintings. Each painting is mounted with linen hinging tape to a foam board back, sealed with a sheet of protective glassine paper, and covered with another sheet of foam board. It is shipped unframed, along with the following information:
To protect your painting and ensure it’s long life,
• Never touch the surface of the painting, and keep it away from water.
• Keep the painting flat until it is framed.
• Have the portrait framed as soon as possible. The frame should include archival matting materials and UV protective glass.
• A spacer (inner mat) placed between the painting and the outer mat should be cut to provide a “trough” at the bottom of the painting. This added feature will catch any pastel dust that falls in the future, preventing a dusty-looking mat.
• Display the portrait away from humidity, direct sunlight, and high heat.
• To clean the framed painting, use a slightly damp cloth on the glass. Do not spray the glass, as the liquid can run below the frame and contact the painting.
The inner mat (spacer) is really important! It is cut with a larger opening (about 1/4″ larger on each side) to create a space around the edges of the painting that catches any pastel dust that falls. Paintings can be matted in elaborate ways – with 2 or more mats in different colors – but without this crucial inner layer, a pastel painting will eventually look bad. Even with fixative applied, over time some pastel dust will fall and make the beautiful mats dirty. Years back my mother framed some of her larger pastel pieces without any mat at all, and without a space to catch falling pastel dust, it has accumulated near the bottom of the paintings. It’s fixable with a new frame job, but could have been prevented. The diagram above illustrates the components of a properly framed pastel painting.