Framing & conserving your drawing

I don’t offer framing for my portraits, however I hope you will find some of this advice on framing a drawn portrait (or any type of drawing) useful. Feel free to contact me with any questions once you’ve received your portrait and I’m happy to make suggestions. The advice  on this page is applicable to framing pencil, charcoal or chalk drawings, and also watercolour paintings.

Pencil portraits should be framed with a mount (called a ‘mat’ in North America, and occasionally known by the French name ‘passepartout’) which traps the picture in place behind the glass. The mount will ensure that your drawing is conserved over time, because the glass in the frame should ideally never touch the drawing directly and the drawing needs an air gap to ‘breathe’. 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.

The width of the mount surrounding the image is a question of personal preference. A minimum 5 centimetres (2.5 inches) is standard, so when deciding what size of portrait to commission, remember that the mount will add space all around. Usually the width will be the same on all sides but for a modern look you can also opt for a greater width at top and bottom, as in this picture. Sometimes it may be as wide as the drawing itself – you’ll see this style often in art galleries and museums and it can look very artistic and would work well with a small image.

Framed pencil portrait

Relationship between mount and frame

It may be wise to decide on your frame before settling on the width of the mount. A thin frame may look better with a fairly wide mount whilst a very wide frame may be complemented better by a less generous mount. 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.

WHERE TO GET YOUR DRAWING FRAMED

You can of course buy a standard-sized frame off the shelf or order a specific size from 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.

However if you are unsure as to exactly what you want, most specialist portrait framing shops offer excellent advice on what type of frame will complement your drawing and if you have one locally then I’d recommend that you use one.

My top tip when visiting a framer is to show them a photo on your smartphone of the room you are going to hang or place your portrait in. This will help them to suggest appropriate complimentary colours and give them a sense of what sort of frame (traditional, modern, etc) will suit your decor.

MOUNT VARIETIES

Drawing mounts come in endless varieties and in just about every colour. 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. An off-white is probably the most common, but I’ve seen portraits framed with pale blue or a pinkish heather colour mounts that looked very nice.

Whilst the simplest mount will be just a 2mm board with a bevelled edge (ie, a cut made on the slant) around a straight-sided opening, as in the example above, there are numerous additional decorative options you could consider. Some mounts will have shaped openings such as ovals, or shaped or rounded corners. Others may have single or double line borders around the opening created with ‘V’ groove bevelling, or with painted lines. Double or even triple ‘stepped’ or staggered edges may be created using a number of pieces of mounting board in either the same or in complementary colours- for example you could have a white board layered over a grey one to create a grey border around the drawing. Thicknesses of mounting board vary and you may see them from 1.5mm up to a chunky 8mm thick. Very smart mounts may have thick bevelled edges painted in a contrasting colour or a metallic finish for extra definition.

Below are three examples of some more complex mount styles. The first frame has two layers of bevelled 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 embossed decorative pattern (something you may see on antique frames) several layers of mountboard in different colours and a rounded corner.

Picture frame with mount
Picture frame with mount
Picture frame with mount

Mounting boards vary in quality and price depending on the conservation level you require. Make sure to ask your framer for acid free board, as regular card that’s not specified as PH-neutral will contain acid may eventually leave mat burn, or brown marks on the paper behind it. Acid-free board will provide reasonable short-term protection against this, but to really ensure long-term stability over 75+ years, ask for ‘conservation’ or ‘archival’ mountboard. This is made of 100% wood pulp. Even better is ‘museum’ or ‘rag’ board which is made of cotton or cotton and cellulose.

CHOOSING A FRAME

It’s really hard to advise on what sort of frame to select because this really is a question of personal taste and there is no right or wrong. The subject of the artwork doesn’t dictate the style of the frame, unless it’s something very modern or abstract in which case an ornamental frame might look odd. If your room is traditionally furnished then you may prefer something a little more ornate and traditional. If you have more modern decor, my advice would be to choose a frame style appropriate to the age of the artwork – so a very old picture could still look great in a modern room in an ornate frame (indeed could make a striking contrast) whereas any contemporary artwork will look better in a simpler more modern frame.

Examples of framed portraits

Framed pet portrait
Framed pet portrait

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 is wooden with a metallic coated stepped detail, the second a smart silver frame with just a little detailing around outer and inner edges. Both have fairly thick mounts in a cream, with a silver-painted bevel around the aperture of the mount to really set off the drawings. I draw my portraits on a slightly off-white cartridge paper, so when choosing a white-toned mount you want to make sure there’s a bit of contrast – either an ice-white or pale cream mount will work well.

GLAZING OPTIONS

Frames are sometimes sold with clear perspex rather than glass. This is lighter and cheaper, but it doesn’t really look the same. A major 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

If you’ve ever seen any old paper – even something from a couple of decades ago – you’ll know how it can deteriorate over time. Even for short-term conservation it’s important important to keep your drawing away from extremes of heat and damp and away from very strong light. Here are some rules to follow:

How to look after your pencil portrait

  • 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, preferably conservation grade. 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 PAINTINGS

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