How to Care for a Pastel Painting

Last week I wrote a blog post about pastel and this week I would like to expand upon this with some info on how to care for a finished pastel painting. With good and careful care and pastel painting can last for centuries. After all, pastel is pure pigment-the same pigment used in making all fine art paints. It is the most permanent of all media when applied to a permanent ground and properly framed. There is no oil to cause darkening or cracking, nor other substance or medium to cause fading or blistering. Pastels from the 16th Century exist today, as fresh and alive as the day they were painted!

Unframed Work

A pastel painting is fragile as long as it remains unframed. It is like ‘wet paint’: if you touch it, the paint will come off and you will smudge the painting. A pastel painting or drawing therefore needs to be framed behind glass as soon as possible to protect it. Once it is properly framed it will last for a very long time indeed.Unframed pastel paintings should be stored flat, with sheets of glassine paper over it to protect it from smudges. It can help to tape the glassine paper to the edges of the painting to make sure the glassine paper does not move and smudge the pastel. I usually fold a sheet of glassine around the edges of the pastel paper. This way the glassine will not smudge the pastel by moving. If I don’t have glassine than any other paper will do, preferably acid free quality to make sure colours don’t change. Store your painting in a sturdy folder to keep them flat or put them in a drawer.

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I wrap my pastel paintings in glassine paper to protect them

Finding a good Framer

Take care finding a framer who knows how to deal with pastel paintings. I have met many framers over the years who had no idea what they were doing, despite accreditations from trade organisations. Some decided (without being asked) to either spray fixative on my paintings or give the painting a ‘good old knock on the back’ to loosen any pastel dust. Framers should never be doing any of this, and just carefully frame the painting without touching it. Framing pastel paintings is a unique but not a difficult skill, and I am afraid there are plenty of cowboys around. I can recommend a local framer (in South Gloucestershire, UK) if you are in the area who knows exactly how how to frame pastel paintings.

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Do it Yourself

Alternatively you can frame your works yourself. Before I found my current framer this is what I ended up doing as it was the only way to make sure my paintings were safe. There are plenty of online shops where you can buy frames (made to order or standard sizes) and mounts. If you are handy you could even invest in some tools and just buy mouldings and put the frames together yourself. A good mount cutter is vital and cutting mounts properly will take a bit of practice. Most art supply shops will sell mount cutters and frame tools.

Glass

Pastel paintings need to be framed behind glass to avoid accidental smudges and damage. However, the painting should never touch the glass as the pastel particles will stick to the glass, which can ruin the painting. Do not use cheap acrylic sheets or plexiglass as it can cause an electric charge (static) that will pull the pastel off the paper (although there are acrylic alternatives that do work, I would discuss this with your framer).

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Sophie Ploeg, Flowerbed, pastel, 65x45cm. Sold.
This pastel painting was framed in the ‘Oil Painting Style’
using a visible slip to keep the glass off the painting.The space needed between the glass and the painting can be created by using a mount, a slip (visible) or a (invisible) spacer. Using a mount is a simple and attractive way to create the space needed. A double mount can look good as well.
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Sophie Ploeg, Two Cushions, 28x46cm. Available.
This painting was framed with a mount and a gutter to catch any pastel dust.If your pastel painting is going to be moved around a lot is might be wise to create a gutter behind your mount. This is a tiny gap behind the mount where any loose pastel particles can fall into, which would otherwise smudge your mount. You can create a gutter by inserting an extra mount behind your main mount, but one that has a wider opening and can therefore not be seen. Any pastel dust will fall onto that invisible mount.

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An extra mount, sitting invisibly behind the main mount, creates a gutter to catch any pastel dust.

 

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A gutter was created by using strips of mount board

If you prefer the ‘oil painting look’ and have the frame immediately next to the painting, you still need to have a space between the glass and the paintings. This can be created by using a liner or a spacer under the glass. A spacer can be hidden in the rebate of the frame. A liner can remain visible and work as a tiny mount in keeping the glass off your art work.

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Three different ways of framing pastel paintings: Top: A mount and a gutter. Middle: ‘Oil Painting Style’ with and invisible spacer. Bottom: ‘Oil Painting Style’ with a visible slip.

 

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Pastel dust has fallen onto the double mount. A gutter would have prevented this.

Where to hang your painting

As with any fine work of art or fine furniture, it is advised not to place a pastel painting in direct sunlight. When under glass, the heat of the sun can create humidity, which could cause moisture damage to develop. Pastel paintings are incredibly sensitive to moisture.  It goes without saying that bathrooms and kitchens are never suitable places for any art work.Moving?
Whenever transported or not in a hanging position, a pastel painting should always be face up to make sure any loose particles do not fall onto the glass, or better still, kept upright. When stacking glazed paintings, put them face to face so that no protruding screws or hangers can damage the front of the painting or frame. Always use both hands on either side of the frame to carry paintings.

I have recently finished this portrait of my son in pastel. It is currently being framed by my framer. I will go for the ‘oil painting style’ with an invisible spacer to keep the glass off the art work.

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Josh, pastel, 50x44cm. NFS

Let me know if you have any questions. ​

6 thoughts on “How to Care for a Pastel Painting

    1. Hi Debbie! I am not a professional framer but I would stay away from acrylic glazing. It can be ‘static’ and if it is too thin it can even bend. All things you don’t want! I don’t see any reason to not use acrylic spacers though. I will double check with my framer and see what she says! Hope this helps, Sophie

      1. Hi Debbie, I double checked with my framer and she agrees it is best to stay away from acrylic altogether. The spacers might be ok, as they are small, but best is to use something else….
        Hope this helps, Sophie

    1. Hi Debbie, not really I’m afraid. Shipping any glazed works is always risky and I basically don’t do it. There are some tips and tricks you can use such as putting tape over the glass. If the glass does break, then at least the pieces won’t damage the painting but will stay in place stuck onto the tape. Of course packaging a glazed painting incredibly well helps as well – the more packaging the better. You can minimise the risk but never take it away completely. One more expensive alternative is to use an art courier/shipper who is specialised in this sort of stuff. Within the UK I use an art courier whom I can trust with glazed works, but if something has to go abroad, art shippers can be very expensive indeed.

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