Framing pastels can be a bit tricky. If you've ever done it, you know what I am talking about. When I first started framing my own pastel paintings, there wasn't a lot of information readily available. Things have definitely improved in that respect, but I thought I would share what I have learned over the years for anyone interested. Framing pastels right can save you no small amount of frustration in the long run. If you have bought a matted pastel from me and would like some pointers on framing it yourself, skip past the mounting and matting bits to the framing section. Pay particular attention to the parts in bold italics.

I will be giving instructions on framing with a mat, as the vast majority of my work is framed this way.

Rule #1: do not touch the artwork! Pastel is like powdered eyeshadow, or butterfly wings. It will smudge if touched. No amount of fixative will change this.

Mounting the Pastel

The first thing you will need to do is to attach your pastel to a rigid surface. I use acid-free FomeCor, which I purchase at a local framing wholesaler. You will want to figure out how wide a mat you would like, then add that width to each side of your piece to get the mounting board dimensions.

Making tape hinge. Affix one piece of tape to upper back edge of artwork. Use a second piece to attach the first tape to the board.

Mounting Artwork

When working with paper artwork, you'll want to allow the paper to expand and contract with environmental changes. Since I often show outdoors, I have to take particular care that my artwork will not expand and become wavy in the heat.

I begin mounting my artwork with archival paper tape (hinging tape) at the top of the piece. The tape should be lighter in weight than the drawing surface, so if the mount is stressed, the tape will tear before the drawing will. I used to put the tape at the outside corners of the work. Don't. If the piece expands, it will balloon out in the center, possibly touching the mat. You don't want this. After centering the artwork on the mounting board, affix it with 2-3 pieces of  tape in the center of the top edge. That way any expansion will be toward the outer edges.

Once the piece is attached at the top, secure the corners with large archival photographic corner mounts. Be sure to keep them out a ways from the corners of the artwork, so that the paper has room to expand. Once this is done, I like to secure the edges with mounting strips, again leaving room for expansion. This keeps the painting from swinging forward and touching the mat.

Matting
The most important thing about matting pastels is that the pastel should not ever touch the mat. Pastels, no matter how well secured to the paper, will always shed a bit of dust. If this gets on your mat, you get the joy of disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling your mat and frame. Once generally feels like enough to me, so I put plenty of space between my mat and my artwork. This allows loose dust to fall safely behind the mat, rather than onto it.

Cutting spacers

Artwork with spacer

To add my spacer, I cut strips of 3/16" thick archival FomeCor about 1/2" narrower than my mat, and tape them together so that they are flush with the outer edges of my mounting board. In the past I tried to get by with narrow strips of spacer around the outer edges of the mounting board. However, the mat would eventually sag into the artwork. Keeping the spacer as wide as possible (without being visible from the front of the work) prevents this by fully supporting the mat. Set the spacer on the mounted drawing, then set the mat on top of the spacer. You are ready to frame your piece.

Now that your glass is clean, set it on top of your mat and give it a good look. If anything jumped onto the mat as you put the glass down, brush it away and try again. By far, the easiest way to do this is with white cotton gloves. You can usually get them at pharmacies, or sometimes from your glass supplier. They keep fingerprints off of your glass, and you can easily brush away any dust with your gloved hand.You are finally ready to put your pastel in a frame! How you do this will depend on your frame's rabbet depth. The rabbet is the part of the back of the frame which is cut out to accommodate the artwork.

If the rabbet is deeper than the package of art, mat, mount, spacer and glass, assembly couldn't be easier. Carefully push standard, hardware-store glazing points around the edges of the piece and you are done.

Be very gentle with your artwork when placing it in a frame. Pastels are at their most vulnerable while face down. If they are bumped, they can shed dust straight down onto your glass, and when you flip them over it will slide onto your mat.

If the rabbet is flush with the artwork package, an easy way to secure the artwork is with turn buttons. These are little bits of metal which screw into the back of the frame then swivel around to hold the artwork, and are commonly found in commercially-made, ready-to-use frames.

Framing

I will assume you are using a wooden frame on your pastel. As you will have noticed by now, the combination of the mounting board, artwork, mat and spacer is already quite thick, and we haven't yet added the glass. Although there are a few metal frames out there which are thick enough to accommodate all of this, most give you very little room with which to work. And putting them together is another issue entirely. I was never happier than when I switched from metal to wooden frames. Wooden frames give you the most flexibility in fitting all of your layers of stuff.

But, first things first: the glass. Always use glass when framing pastels. Plexiglas can generate static which will lift pastel dust right off of your work. If the work is bumped and some dust happens to hit the plexi, it will stick there rather than fall back down behind the mat.

If you bought a matted pastel from me and it has plexiglas attached to it, use an X-Acto knife to carefully cut the tape around the outside of the piece at the bottom edge of the plexiglas, and remove it. The plexiglas is only there to prevent damage to the artwork at shows, and is meant to be temporary.

Once you have a piece of glass cut to the size of your mount and mat boards, be sure it is completely clean and free of dust. I know, easier said than done. But if you put together a frame and there is dust on the mat, it is the only thing you will see when you look at the art. Trust me. If you are using glass with an anti-reflective coating, be sure to use an ammonia-free cleaner such as Sprayway. I don't recommend using the frosted-type glass with pastels. Pastels are soft enough on their own, and unlike female Star Trek characters, they don't look better in soft focus.

Now that your glass is clean, set it on top of your mat and give it a good look. If anything jumped onto the mat as you put the glass down, brush it away and try again. By far, the easiest way to do this is with white cotton gloves. You can usually get them at pharmacies, or sometimes from your glass supplier. They keep fingerprints off of your glass, and you can easily brush away any dust with your gloved hand.You are finally ready to put your pastel in a frame! How you do this will depend on your frame’s rabbet depth. The rabbet is the part of the back of the frame which is cut out to accommodate the artwork.

Rabbet

If the rabbet is deeper than the package of art, mat, mount, spacer and glass, assembly couldn’t be easier. Carefully push standard, hardware-store glazing points around the edges of the piece and you are done.

Glazer's point

If the rabbet is flush with the artwork package, an easy way to secure the artwork is with turn buttons. These are little bits of metal which screw into the back of the frame then swivel around to hold the artwork, and are commonly found in commercially-made, ready-to-use frames.

Turnbutton

If you have a framing point driver specifically made for art framing, you can also use it in either of the above situations. I like to drive flexible points into my frame before putting in my artwork, using several pieces of matboard to get the points in at a uniform depth. I then bend them up, place the artwork in the frame, and bend the points down to secure the work. This avoids jarring the pastel with the action of the driver. It also allows me to bend the points into an L-shape to accommodate artwork that is flush with the frame.

Using a point driver with mat board spacer

If your artwork package is thicker than the rabbet, you will need to purchase offset clips. The offset must match the difference between the thickness of the art package and the depth of the rabbet. Offset clips simply screw in to the frame.

Offset clip

If you are having trouble finding a wooden frame to fit your artwork, try custom frame shops. They will frequently make standard-sized frames from their leftover moulding scraps, and you can usually find a variety of rabbet depths.

Once you have completely assembled the frame, it is a good idea to apply a dust cover to the back of the frame. This is just a piece of kraft paper applied with double-stick tape. Its purpose is to seal up the artwork and prevent moisture and spiders (seriously) from getting into your artwork. Run double-stick tape around the outer edge of the frame back, then smooth a piece of paper a few inches larger than the frame over the tape. Crease each side of the extra paper up at the edge of the frame, and run a utility knife along the crease to trim.

If you have used offset clips to frame your work, the dust cover is more difficult to apply. In this case you might consider running frame sealing tape over the gap between the artwork and the frame instead.

Now you have only to apply a hanging wire and you are ready to hang your artwork. Screw in D-rings to the sides of the frame about 1/4 of the way down from the top. Loop picture wire through the D-ring. Loop through once more, tighten, then wrap the loose end of the wire around the other end of the wire until there is no loose end left. Repeat on the other side, pulling the wire a tight as possible between the two D-rings. You are done!