Thursday, January 27, 2011

Framing Colored Pencil Without Glass

Today is an art working day, but no new artwork has been worked on. Why? Because I needed to finish off and frame the 2 pieces I just finished and deliver them to the gallery. This blog post will explain what I do to finish off a piece of art, but first I'll have to explain the process and supplies I use.

Most of you know that my still-lifes are framed without glass.  I do this for a couple of reasons:
 1. to make pictures seem more approachable/intimate.
 2. to bypass the perils of framing with mats & glass.

I've tried quite a few surfaces for colored pencil that can be framed without glass, but my favorite is Ampersand Pastelbord which is described as "a clay and gesso coated hardboard panel with a granular marble dust finish comparable to a sanded pastel paper..." It was first recomended by my friend/artist Louise Sackett who thought I was a little nutty trying to make my own sanded board with grit, paint, etc. when Ampersand has a pre-made board. 

Choosing a Color

It comes in grey, green, tan and white. I find the white board unusable for my techniques unfortunately. The grain is quite large on Pastelbord so whatever the color the board is, that color  will show in the "grain" as dots in the finished artwork. The white is just too white when seen in dark areas of the composition, throwing the values of the piece off. I prefer working with one of the colors and choose the color based on what I think will look the best in the grain of the piece. If I have a piece like Tea with Milk  that is mostly cool colors, I'll choose the grey board because the little specks of grey in the grain will influence the overall tone of the piece. 

Pieces like Italian Decadence is a bit harder to choose. The overall tone is warm, but the tan board is light and would lighten the dark areas of the cloth and bottles of oil too much... so I'd be better off using either green or grey board. 

Building Up Your Lights. 

Using colored board is a bit different than using white or beige paper because you have to make sure that your light and medium colored objects look bright enough on that color, especially after varnishing. What I do is build up my lights in the light and medium  areas to make sure they glow.  Since this post is on what I do when I finish a piece, I'll save this explanation for another post. 

Colored Pencils That Can Be Varnished

 Not all colored pencil brands can be varnished. Faber-Castell Polychromos (which I use for all my portraits) can not be varnished. The paint thinner that is in spray varnishes to keep them liquid eats away at the colored pencils, and the oil binder in Polychromos can't withstand it so your drawing literally dissolves away. I've found that Derwent Coloursofts, Prismacolors, and Caran d'Ache Luminance pencils all do well with spray varnish, although you still have to be ready for some colored pencil to dissolve and color changes with the process. 

Using the Prismacolor Colorless Blender to Minimize Dissolving Pencil

Despite these changes in the drawing when you varnish, I still think it is worth doing to stay away from glass. Plus you can anticipate the changes that will happen and minimize the changes or use them for your advantage. One thing that happens when you varnish is a small amount of colored pencil will dissolve, making more of the color of the board show through. That is why I build up my lights in light areas when working on a dark surface.  If there are enough light layers of colored pencil under your color, it will darken less (demonstration in future post). Also if you regularly build up your pencil to burnishing levels it seems to not have as many significant changes. I don't usually burnish however, so I've found that  if I put a layer of Prismacolor's Colorless Blender on my pieces, especially in the lighter areas, the colors stay brighter. Going back through the piece to add the blender pencil takes time, but it also gives you a chance to blend the pencil in some of the grain and soften edges if needed. I've found that adding the blender only on the areas that I don't want to darken is sufficient and actually adding the blender over black or dark areas leaves some light colored wax, so I wouldn't do it. 

After you finish adding colorless blender over your drawing just make sure you remove any colored pencil dust before varnishing (or hair or whatever else has fallen on your artwork) as it will be a permanent fixture to the piece if you leave it there!   

Varnishing, Finally

I use canned spray varnish over my pieces. I once sadly tried a brush on kind and wiped my entire drawing off, so using a spray on varnish ensures the pencil stays in place until it dries. There are matte, semi gloss and gloss versions of the spray and any of them will work, so choose the look you like best. I've used them all, and right now I am enjoying the look of the glossy finish. Today I used Grumbacher's Picture and Oil Painting Varnish in the Gloss finish which I purchased locally at Michael's. You can use other brands; I've even used Krylon's Kamar varnish from Walmart, but you need to make sure it says "Non-Yellowing" and test it first on a scrap drawing. 

When you spray, hold the can at least 8-10 inches away from your piece and only spray a fine mist at a time. If you spray a whole bunch so it pools, more colored pencil will dissolve. After spraying the whole thing in a fine mist, let it dry and do it over again. Repeat until it is evenly coated and the entire surface has a glossy wet sheen. I hold my drawing up to the light and tilt it to see if there are any dull areas that indicate missed spots. That's it, if you have a nice even finish without any exposed colored pencil purchasers of your artwork will have a protected surface that they can then wipe clean with a damp cloth  if need be. 

You might notice that the dark areas of your drawing got a little deeper or that very subtle glazes of colored pencil disappeared with the varnish. The more you varnish your colored pencil work, the more you will be able to anticipate these changes and work them into your design, As a last note... if you are going to photograph your artwork you may want to do that before you varnish so you don't have to work around the glare of the varnish finish. 

Italian Decadence and Tea with Milk are now showing at the Monadnock Fine Art Gallery in downtown Keene, NH. Call 603-352-3201 if you are interested. 


Katherine Tyrrell said...

Super post Nicole.

I'm going to help spread the word - it's going straight into my resources for artists website for coloured pencil artists.

Belinda Lindhardt said...

Fantastic post Nicole :)

Malcolm Cudmore said...

Hi Nicole. Really pleased that I saw this post (via Katherine Tyrell). Most of my CP work is on wooden panels and I don't use conventional frames or glass. However, now that I've seen your method, I'd also like to try this approach with smaller works too! Thank you.

vivien said...

excellent post Nicole :>)

Jo Castillo said...

Ah, Nicole. Thank you so much for such a detailed explanation. I did one of these a couple of years ago. I'm now keyed up to try again. :) It did work well. Thanks again.

Sarah Knight said...

Interesting. I don't mean this to sound snarky, but it might. The funny thing about being an artist is always reading the tutorials. Prismacolors are my go to medium. After years of experience, I found that I only like using them on bristol, vellum finish.

I've been using them since I was a teenager. I actually first found them in AP art class in high school. So, by the time I was sitting in scientific illustration 1 class in college and the teacher was giving a similar tutorial... well, that's just one of those moments where you sit there and think, this comes inherently to me, because I've been using these for years.

I have to say, being aware that prismacolors are essentially pigment and wax, I have never felt the need to varnish my work, and yes, I just frame it with glass. If you "varnish" something and your details literally disappear, then your varnish has dissolved your pigment. So, I would caution against doing that.

Lovely work : )

Katherine Thomas said...

This is so interesting. But I'm still frightened to try to varnish! I'll stick with old fashioned glass until I get braver.Your work is amazing!

Nicole Caulfield said...

Thanks Katherine for promoting it!!

Thx Belinda!

Malcolm - I'd love to see your approach too!

Thx Vivien!

Oh good Jo - they are a lot of fun! & thanks for posting this on your blog!

Sarah - Thanks for the comment. This technique is definitely not for everyone. If you are at a gallery that doesn't allow works under glass, or want to fit in with a bunch of oil and acrylic painters, I would suggest trying it! I've found that buyers enjoy them more when they don't have the glass barrier but framing behind Museum Glass (non-glare) and no matting gives a similar effect. I just can't afford Museum Glass!

Thanks Katherine!

Nancy Goldman said...

Thank you for sharing this information Nicole. I've never thought to use pastelbord for colored pencils and I didn't know that they could be protected without glass. I'm looking forward to trying this out.

EL said...

Hello Nicole
thankyou so very much for all the info on cp without glass. I learned so much. I have been using polychromos but so glad I read that you cant varnish them.I would never have known.Also love your art work so much. it is beautiful

EL said...

Hello Nicole I thankyou for all the info on cp without glass. I learned so much especially that you cant spray varnish polychromo's. I use them with my other pencils and never knew this. I will be watching your blog and hope to learn more.I love cp but I am fairly new to them. I always liked the idea of no glass on my work. I dont like to look at are through a barrier.

Shuma said...


Thanks for this instructive post :)

I have a little question: you said: "What I do is build up my lights in the light and medium areas to make sure they glow. '

Do you mean that you first apply white ( or light color ) colored pencil before applying the other colors on light and medium areas ?

Hope you'll answer :)

Nicole Caulfield said...

Hi Shuma. :-) On sanded paper I don't usually put white under my lights. I could, but I choose to put lighter versions of the colors am putting down under first. Sort of like when you tint your primer before painting a wall. So for instance, if I want a vibrant red I might put pink underneath. The reason I don't use white under on sanded paper is that white is very very soft and will fill in the tooth of the paper too quickly.

Shuma said...

I use canson mi-teintes paper ( i wonder if is comparable with sanded papers ) .. You're right, white and light pencils are usually quiet soft.

Thanks for the precious information Nicole ! :)

Hild said...

Today is an art working day, but no new artwork has been worked on. Why? ...