Framing drawings

I don’t offer framing for my portraits, however I hope you will find some of this advice on framing a drawing useful. Feel free to contact me with any questions once you’ve received your portrait and I’m happy to make suggestions.

Frame examples

where to get your portrait framed?

Generally most portrait framing shops offer excellent advice on what type of frame will complement your portrait, and if you have one locally then I recommend that you use them. However you could also try an online framers – there are many options but I have sometimes used eframe which sells both off-the-shelf frames in standard sizes and also an easy to use ‘custom frames’ section where you can choose a frame in any size and fully customise your mount options. You can view your mount and frame choices and see what they will look like when put together.

Framed pencil portrait with mount

how pencil portraits are traditionally framed

Pencil portraits usually look best when framed with a mount (called a ‘mat’ in North America) around them like this. Mounts (once also known by the French name ‘passepartouts’) are also helpful in conserving drawings over time. This is because the glass in the frame should ideally never touch the drawing directly and the mount helps to separate the two, preventing the graphite from being rubbed by the glass and discouraging condensation from damaging the paper by causing mould and mildew. A drawing needs an air gap to ‘breathe’.

A good framer should be able to advise you on a neutral-toned mount colour to complement your artwork and to go well with your frame. Usually the mount border will be at least 5 centimetres (and can go up to any width you like, and the width may be equal, or greater at top and bottom as in this example) so when deciding what size of portrait to commission, remember that the mount will add width all around.

types of drawing mount

Drawing mounts come in endless varieties and in just about every colour. In addition there are many decorative options available when choosing your mount, such as v-groove bevelling around the opening or shaped openings such as ovals or shaped corners. Decorative features may be created with single or double lines created by ‘V grooves’ bordering the opening, or by double edges created by using two (or even three) thicknesses of mounting board. These edges may be staggered (perhaps in different colours – for example you could have a white board over a grey one which would just be visible around the artwork) or they may just be glued together to create a really deep opening and then bevelled, and painted in a contrasting colour or a metallic finish for extra definition.

Examples of picture mounts

The width of the mount may depend on the frame you have chosen since a thin frame may look better with a really wide mount and a very thick frame may be complemented better by a thinner mount width. An unequal width (as above) may give a more modern look but more usually the mount is equal all around. Sometimes it may be as wide as the drawing itself – you’ll see this style often in art galleries and it can look very artistic. Whether you choose a thick or a thin frame the golden rule in visual terms is that the frame and the mount should never be the same width – one should be significantly wider than the other.

Below are three examples of some fancy mout styles. The first frame has two layers of mount in different colours. The next has a thick mount with a metallic-painted thin timber fillet around the opening. The last has everything! An indented pattern, several layers of mount and a rounded corner.

Picture mounts

Mounts are sold as either ‘acid free’ or ‘acid neutral’. Acid free (or ‘Archival’) is the option I’d recommend to conserve your drawing – these mounts have a white core and are sometimes known as ‘conservation standard’. They are made from 100% rag. Acid-neutral mounts on the other hand have a slightly cream core and are more likely to discolour and potentially damage your paper over time. Your framing shop should advise you on the quality of the mount you are buying, or if buying off-the-shelf frames be sure to check for an acid-free mount.

what style of frame to choose

This is really hard to advise on as it is such a question of personal taste. If your room is traditionally furnished then you’ll probably want something a little more ornate. If you have a modern room then the general advice would be to frame an artwork according to its age – so a very old picture could still look great in a modern room with an ornate frame, but a new portrait will look better with something plainer and more modern.

examples of framed portraits

Framed portrait examples

Above are photos sent to me by one of my favourite customers showing her portraits ‘in situ’, and I think they are particularly nicely framed. The first two are silver frames and the last is wooden with a silver painted detail around the opening. All three have extra thick mounts – in ice white for the first and an off-white/pale cream for the second two – with a silver-painted bevel around the aperture of the mount to really set off the drawings. I draw my portraits on an off-white cartridge paper, so an ice-white or pale cream mount will contrast well – whereas an off-white mount might be too similar to the paper colour. Ideally, you want a little bit of a contrast.

Below – the same portrait framed 6 different ways!

Child portrait frame examples

glazing options

Frames are sometimes sold with clear perspex rather than glass, which is much lighter and safer to handle. The disadvantage to perspex is that it carries a static charge and will attract dust to it. If you choose a glass frame, you may prefer to get non-glare or non-reflective glass. This is more expensive than ordinary glass but the etched surface reduces the shine on the glass in bright light which can obscure the drawing.

conservation – how to look after your pencil portrait

It’s important to keep your drawing away from extremes of heat and damp and away from very strong light. Here are some rules to follow:
• DO use a mount to separate the drawing from the glass. Don’t allow the glass to sit directly on top.
DO buy an acid-free mount if you can. All my drawings are supplied on acid-free paper.

• DON’T touch a drawing with your hands more than absolutely necessary as the oils in your skin can damage it. Wash your hands before handling a drawing even if you think they are clean – it’s very easy to leave grease spots! I spray pencil portraits with a fixative spray once they are finished to ensure that the pencil doesn’t smudge, and then place them in a cellophane envelope so you can keep them protected right up until they are ready to go in their frame.
• DON’T hang a drawing in direct, strong sunlight as this may cause the paper to warp. Never hang it over a source of heat like a radiator or fireplace.
• DON’T hang a pencil portrait on a damp or newly plastered wall.

framing a watercolour

Watercolour paintings are framed in exactly the same way as a pencil drawing, and need to be cared for in the same way too. It’s particularly important not to hang them in very direct bright sunlight, as this may cause certain pigments to fade over the years. In terms of your choice of frame and mount, your framer can advise you on which colours will best compliment those in your painting. You can see an example of a framed watercolour on this page ›

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