You know framing colored pencil drawings can be expensive due to a variety of factors. The frame itself, matting costs, and glazing. Often, the glazing is the most expensive item, especially if you opt for UV resistant glass.
Must you use glass for framing?
This is a great question.
For the longest time, my answer was always the same. Yes.
Why Framing Under Glass Is Usually Necessary
The reason is simple.
For many years, colored pencil drawings were almost always on paper. Paper is vulnerable to damage by tearing, puncturing, or denting if not properly protected. Stains also pose significant risk to unprotected paper. Unprotected paper also tends to absorb moisture and dirt out of the atmosphere.
So when framing drawings on paper under glass, it’s the paper more than the drawing itself that needs protection.
Alternatives for Framing Colored Pencil Drawings
However, there are other supports available that do not require this degree of protection. If you work on any one of these, you can safely frame your drawing without glass.
The best way to eliminate the need for glass in framing is to use a rigid support to begin with. These days, there are plenty of options. Here are just a few.
Pastelbord and Similar Supports
Originally designed for pastel work, these supports are, in essence, pastel papers mounted to a rigid support such as gatorboard or wood. They come in a variety of sizes and some of them also come in a variety of colors.
However, they’re great for colored pencil work, too, and your finished drawing needs only a light coat of varnish. Frame like an oil painting.
Some popular drawing papers are also now available mounted on rigid supports. You can also mount your favorite paper to a rigid support and use it that way. Make sure you use an archival adhesive.
Keep in mind that these drawing supports are less vulnerable to mechanical damage. It’s much more difficult to puncture or tear them. But paper is paper and it tends to absorb moisture out of the atmosphere if framed without glass.
It also gets dirty just as easily on a rigid support.
If you want to frame it without glass, take care to hang it in a place that’s as free of contaminants as possible and is temperature and humidity controlled.
Wood is another rigid support suitable for colored pencil drawings. Look for the same types of wood the Old Masters used for painting. Many online art supply companies offer wood supports like Birch or Basswood precut to standard sizes. I have a 16×20 inch piece of Baltic Birch originally purchased for oil painting, but waiting now for colored pencil work.
Most of the time, a good sanding is all it takes to prepare a wood panel for drawing, especially if you want to use the wood grain and color as a background or for accents.
But you can also paint it with acrylic paint or gesso before drawing. In this way, you can work on a background of any color you wish. You can even do preliminary work with the paint for a mixed media drawing.
Varnish finished artwork like any other painting with an final fixative made for colored pencil. When that’s dry, the artwork is ready to hang with or without a frame, depending on the thickness of the wood.
Semi Rigid Supports
Semi rigid supports offer additional alternatives to drawing on paper. These supports are thicker than paper and often behave like rigid supports in smaller sizes.
Mat board is perfect for colored pencils. If you draw on it unprepared, as I did with this portrait, you will need to frame it under glass.
But if you prepare the mat board by gessoing all sides, the mat board is properly sealed and will not absorb moisture from the atmosphere. While the layers of gesso do not protect the mat board from impact damage, it will allow you to frame smaller works without glass if you protect the back with a rigid support or foam core.
You’ll have to keep artwork relatively small—11×14 inches or less—but anything that size or smaller should be quite safe without glass. Provide proper back support for larger works on mat board.
Consider a protective coating of final fixative no matter what size the drawing.
Sanded Art Paper
Sanded art paper is another good drawing support, and doesn’t need to be framed under glass. Even if you don’t mount it to a rigid support, most sand paper is sturdy enough to do quite well with a rigid back board of some type when you frame it. It’s also less likely to absorb moisture or dirt out of the atmosphere.
This colored pencil landscape is drawn on Uart Sanded Pastel Papers, which comes in a variety of grits and makes for a very “painterly” drawing.
Final Thoughts on Framing Colored Pencil Drawings
There are, of course, other options available that allow you to frame colored pencil drawings without glass. Canvas is one that comes immediately to mind.
Although a drawing on a rigid support is less likely to be torn or punctured, it’s still susceptible to other hazards if framed without glass, so take appropriate precautions.
I prefer glass for the simple reason that a colored pencil drawing framed under glass looks more complete and is easier to clean. If you get UV protective glass, framing under glass also keeps light from altering the appearance of your artwork.