Pastel Painting Lessons & Techniques

"Care, Matting, and Framing Pastel Paintings"

By Margaret Garrington
Pastel Paintings


One of the reasons pastel paintings and drawings are so beautifully unique is the quality of the pure color particles and how these catch and refract light. The pastel medium is a pure pigment applied to a heavy paper, specially textured board, or cloth support. Pastel pigments are dry, held together with a small amount of binder, and come in the form of a round or square stick. These pigments are the same as those used in liquid paints, such as oils or watercolors. However, well cared for pastel art works from over 200 years ago are as fresh and brilliant as the day they were created because pastel does not discolor, fade or crack like liquid paints.

Pastel paintings and their color brilliance are very resilient over time, as long as the surface is properly shielded. In order to prevent damage, the surface of a pastel painting should never be touched and should be protected from water. Displaying a pastel painting framed under glass with archival matting materials provides the protection necessary. Before framing, pastel paintings may be covered with slick glassine slip sheets to prevent damage to the surface. Of course, all valuable paintings and photographs should be hung in a place that avoids direct sunlight, extreme heat, or high humidity.

It is strongly recommended one work with a professional framer; however, if you have some knowledge of mat cutting and framing, the following suggestions help when framing pastel paintings.


Mount and mat paintings using rag mat museum board (100% acid free). Using acid free boards is more expensive but worth it, because it does not yellow and will prevent the acidic damage common with other boards.

Single or double window mats in neutral tones with bevel or reverse bevel cuts work well. My preference is a single flannel mat board with a bevel cut. Flannel boards are used with great success because any recalcitrant pastel particles that may end up on the mat are nearly invisible. Narrow mat borders have a tendency to give a pinched look to the painting. Minimums of a 3 inch wide mat border for smaller paintings, and 4 inch for larger pieces are recommended.

It is highly recommended an acid free foam core spacer be attached to the underside of the window mat. This can be strips of foam core held in place by tape or glue, or actually cutting a window mat out of foam core with a slightly bigger window than the top mat (1/4 to 1/2 inch). This unseen spacer lifts the mat off the painting and allows pastel dust to fall behind the mat. The spacer also provides for a larger than normal airspace between the pastel painting and the glass; important because the painting should never touch the glass.

Acid free foam core board works well as a mounting board. It is lighter than mat board, and provides a thick padded barrier at the back of the painting. Cut board to size and mount the pastel to the board after indicating the mat window location with pencil.

To adhere the painting to the mount board there are a variety of methods. Purists suggest mulberry or Japanese paper. My choice is heat release acid free ¾ inch adhesive tape because it is strong and releases completely without water. Attach only at the top with a 'T-hinge' design where one piece of tape adheres to the back of the painting and the other to the mount board. This lets the painting hang freely within the mat package and allows expansion and contraction of the different materials. Note: large paintings may also require two loose T-hinges near the bottom to prevent movement.


The frame type and profile is dependent on aesthetic choice. Generally simple wood or metal frames show paintings well. Whatever your choice, make sure the rabbet depth is sufficient to accommodate the mat and glass package. The depth required is usually at least ¾ inch, one must measure to be sure.

If you are ordering pre-cut frames make sure they come cut 1/16 to 1/8 inch larger than the mat package to allow for expansion of materials.

On a flat table, assemble all the pieces into the mat package (mount board, painting, spacer, and top mat) and cover with precut glass the size of the top mat. It is easier to check for any stray particles on the mat board, and glass cleanliness, before placing and securing the frame.

Single strength glass is recommended for framing; however, should unacceptable levels of glare be encountered where the painting is hung, anti-reflective glass can be substituted. Non-glare glass is different that anti-reflective and is not recommended. Plexiglas or acrylic are also not suggested for use with pastel paintings because static electricity can pull pastel particles from the painting surface.

When cleaning the glass, it is suggested a damp cloth be used with a light touch. Do not spray the glass because moisture can run below the frame edge and damage the painting.

Rubber or felt bumpers on the back of the frame allow air circulation, help keep the painting level once hung, and prevent marring of walls.


As stated, one of the reasons pastel paintings are so beautiful is the quality of the pure color and how these particles refract light. Because using heavy layers of fixative can change the colors as well as destroy the refractive quality, many pastelists either don't use fixative in the final stages of painting or at all. For this reason, in the process of moving or shipping a painting small amounts of pastel particles may become dislodged. This in no way affects the quality of the painting and using a spacer, as suggested, will allow the particles to fall behind the top mat.

©Margaret Garrington 2003

Margaret Garrington is represented by the Hanson Howard Gallery in Ashland, Oregon. Visit her virtual gallery at For information about pastel instruction contact the artist at (541) 482-8559 or via email at: