Framing Our Pastel Creations

All of us have a passion to paint the beauty we see, and try to capture that beauty on our choice of pastel paper.  But just painting a scene that moved us or scene we created is half of the job. Properly framing the work so that it draws the viewer to the piece is as important as getting the values right when one is painting it.  When we take all that time to paint that scene we hope will get the notice of the judge, or will satisfy a client, we must be sure that the framed painting is going to last by being properly framed.  I have been amazed at how poorly framed some of the paintings are at art shows, and how little care was taken with this important part of the presentation.  Some poorly framed pieces come apart in shipping and the painting can be damaged or destroyed.  Improper matting, or a gaudy frame, will take away from the painting and cause the judge and other viewers to keep walking by. 

Framing can be expensive if you have a professional do that portion of the presentation for you.  A good framer can be provide guidance with the correct mat, or making a decision to use no mat at all.  The service of a professional can more than triple the price of framing. The price of commercially purchased frames in retail art stores is just one chunk out of your art budget, and the costs of mats, the type of glass and proper backing keep the sales clerk pushing buttons on the register tabulating all the costs to complete the framing and putting hooks and wire on the back so it can be hung.  The final bill gives one a gasp of shock, because it just ate most of your art budget for the next two months.  

If you are going to make the decision to frame your own work, then I encourage you to attend a workshop on framing or buy a book on framing that gives you some fall back information.  The first step in framing is to take the time to select nice quality simple frames to show you care and value your pastel painting.   Hopefully before you get started framing, you can take the pastel outside and gently spank the back to allow any loose pastel to fall off harmlessly, rather than doing that in the frame.  If you are not going to mat the painting and you did not use a pre-mounted paper, make sure it is properly mounted on a piece of acid free foam core with Lineco acid free linen tape or some other brand. Use a proper art spacer to space your painting away from the glass so that pastel dust is not drawn to the glass by static electricity. 

If you are going to mat your pastel painting, be sure to mat it with neutral matting that does not draw ones eye away from the painting.  Most rag mats are acid free.  I have used accent mats but found that the color of that accent mat may be the one thing that makes a prospective buyer decide that it will not fit in with their color scheme.  Lately I have been framing with double white mats with a spacer mat in between.  The spacer creates more distance from the glass and also allows pastel dust that decides to come loose to have a place to go without piling up on the edge of the bevel of the mat. 

Once my piece is mounted and properly matted, with the mats secured at the top with acid free tape so they will not move, I carefully place the painting in its frame.  A lot of store bought frames come with a back board made of thin Masonite. I will use this and secure it firmly in place with framing inserts.  Sometimes the ones that are there can be bent back when the backing is removed and cardboard taken out and then pushed flat once the painting and mats are put in place.   Once the painting is tightly secured, it should be sealed with an adhesive framing tape that seals the air gap between the picture back and the frame.  This way no bugs or moisture can migrate into your pastel painting.  

You are almost done, but now must attach flat eye straps that can be screwed into the frame to attach the hanging wire.  I use a plastic coated wire and provide plenty of extra wire twisted together at both ends and secured with tape so that people hanging the painting do not get poked.   

Lastly I put a piece of paper on the back that gives the tile of the painting, the catalog number and where it was painted as well as my name and signature.  Now you have a quality piece of art, properly mounted and displayed that can be hung in a gallery anywhere to attract new clients. Now get back to painting!

Plein Air Painting

Some people have no idea what plein air painting is since the words are French and mean "fresh air painting." There are many plein air painters today and even a great magazine dedicated to the subject that inspires one to want to go out with the group. I have been trying to get out more to paint on location having read how much it improves one's art and sense of color. I would have to say that those who tout painting outdoors on site are right on the money.   

Two weeks ago I packed up my French Easel, grabbed my Dakota pastel carrier, and Better Brella and a bottle of water and went off to paint a barn I had been wanting to paint. The barn is located on Wise Road at Linnet Lane on the back road way to Lincoln from Auburn. It was a sunny cloudless day, and a comfortable temperature when I arrived on scene at 9:15 am.  I decided that I would set up in the back of my Nissan P/U because it afforded a nice spacious level platform that was safe to stand on, and raised me a foot or so higher than if I had been down on the road.  

 My plein air painting setup

My plein air painting setup

I took out my viewer and made a decision as to the dimensions of my painting on the 9"X12" piece of Wallis sanded paper I had taped to the wood pallet board. I first did a value sketch in my sketchbook of what would be my painting using a #3 pencil. Once that was done, I sketched the barn lightly on the Wallis paper along with the trees in the background.  I then roughed in an undercoat using some NuPastels in the major blocks I had determined. I used an orange behind the trees, some light yellow, in the sky and a darker brown where the barn would go, and a dark ochre undercoat where the foreground grasses would be. I then used Turpenoid and a 1/2 brush I had brought along to liquify the pastel and give me a nice base to begin my painting. Since it was warming up quickly, it only took about ten minutes for the undercoat to dry.

I then began using various hard and then soft pastels to bring the painting colors together, and capture the essence of what I was looking at. The barn began to take shape with its rusted roof, and multicolored wood siding. I managed to lock down the values on the shady side and in the surrounding trees and grasses. There were a lot of corral fences around the barn, and I roughed them in to get the correct placement, figuring I would complete those details at home in my studio. The sun was getting warmer as it rose and I was grateful I had brought along my umbrella to shade my painting and part of me as I worked. I locked in the sky, tree and grass colors to bring the painting together and felt comfortable with the paintings foundations. I packed up around 12:30 to head home since it was getting quite warm and the light was changing significantly. I was glad I had shot a few pictures when I first arrived on scene as a reference.

 Sounds of Silence

Sounds of Silence

Once I was home and had a chance to have some lunch I began to tackle the fences and to add some detail and shading. I have entitled the finished piece "The Sound of Silence". Unfortunately, like many old barns, this one is no longer used and sits quietly, gradually deteriorating with no maintenance against the elements.





So Many Pastels to Choose From

I don’t know about you, but I am always on the lookout for new colors of pastels that will round out my palette.  I try to have one of every color I need whatever the subject I am painting plein aire. When I am in my studio I have my sets of Prismacolor and Gallery hard pastels for under painting. I also have quite a number of Rembrandt and Winsor Newton soft pastels that get me started on my layers of color. Once I begin building color, I add in the Schminke and Sennelier pastels in some of the light and dark ranges I have purchased to add different hues, and value.

Selling one of my paintings helps to give me justification to purchasing more supplies.  That was the reason I decided to splurge and buy the wonderful soft and lush Richard McKinley selection of Great American pastels at a demonstration last year.  In speaking with other pastel artists, one is always attracted to new colors, or wanting to try different brands that are offered at tantalizing prices. They are like eye candy to me.  I haven’t tried any of Dakota Art’s new Blue Earth pastels, but Richard McKinley said he bought a whole set and really likes them. They are organized by hue, value and intensity of color on a seven value scale and each one is numbered. The sets are arranged like candy and seem to beckon to me, saying, “Buy me!” I really want to have a reason to buy them and try them.

I have heard a number of people rave about the American made Mount Vision pastels, but to date I have not purchased any.  I did decide to try some of the beautiful soft and Rich Terry Ludwig pastels and definitely will have to get some more.  This month, Dakota Art offered a half stick set of Unison pastels, Jan’s Dark Side 30 piece set and I could not resist making that purchase. I was delighted when they came yesterday and I began checking them out on a piece of pastel paper to determine how dark they really were compared to my existing darks.  I was pleasantly surprised and pleased that they were darker than anything I had purchased to date.

 Dakota Pastel Case

Dakota Pastel Case

That purchase made me carefully reorganize my Dakota travel case and include 27 of the 30 pastels in the diverse palette that I carry. I have been able to wedge in 357 different half stick pastels in this case, and fill every available space.  I don’t plan on buying a bigger travel case, but I when the bug hits me, I may still have to buy new varieties to flush out my studio selection.

Protecting Plein Aire Paintings

Not many artists have a blank checkbook that will allow them to purchase all of the things they would like to have in their plein aire kit.  Having a light weight easel and a nice box to carry one's pastels or oil paints are two necessities that all artists must have to move their studio onsite into the great outdoors. Another item  of course is a decent umbrella to give one shade from hot sun while one works on that new masterpiece. The umbrella also allows one to shade one's painting and be able to see the correct values of your colors on the painting without glare. The one other dilemma most of us face, is a suitable and safe method of transporting our wet paintings or dry pastels safely back home to our studio.

No matter the place, you may choose, the elements can provide a tremendous challenge to your day or hours of painting. Whether it is bright sun, wind, unexpected rain or sudden chill temperatures, it can make one hurriedly pack up and head back to the warmth of your studio. Hopefully this particular day's outing you are not miles from your car, but if you are a considerable distance, will your old method safeguard your painting back to the car in a cloudburst?

Putting away the easel and the pastels is not usually the issue that gives one problems, the main concern on every artist's mind at that juncture is being able to safely transport the painting or paintings one has started back to the car and then get them safely home. Some artists carry an art bag with folders with glassine pages in them to put over the pastel so it will be protected. But even in that situation, if one is walking any distance and the bag that your folder is in is jostling about, your painting could get smudged, or damp from the rain. Therein lies the dilemma we all face,  bringing back our painting or in some cases paintings from the field safely and without any damage.

After considerable research I have found a product called PanelPak that I liked and subsequently purchased two PanelPak units, one that holds a 9" X 12" and one that holds 12" X 16" paintings. When I ordered the product, which comes in a number of standard sizes, I was pleasantly surprised by the workmanship, its light weight and the simplicity of the product. It is a frame that is routed like the back of a picture frame on both sides. It has two pieces of masonite board that act as covers that fit into the routed channel to back your paintings and keep them protected. Each PanelPak will hold two paintings. The panels are secured by two very sturdy rubber bands in a sandwich in which the paintings face each other but are separated by a half- inch of air space.  The units cost less than 25.00 each, which to me is a very good investment.  I have used the PanelPak several times since I bought them in plein air excursions, and have found that I can transport my pre-cut paper in them and of course transport the rough or finish pastels back home safely. 


I have supplied a photo of the PanelPak wet panel carrier for you to see how they work. They are not waterproof, but will fit easily in your waterproof bag. You may of course look them up online yourself at, and order them online in whatever sizes you wish. The company is quick to respond to your order and ships them out UPS within a matter of days. I hope you find this product a valuable addition to your plein aire kit.