Framing Colored Pencil Drawings: Must You Use Glass?

Glass is so expensive. Are there any other options for framing colored pencil drawings?

This is a great question.

For the longest time, the answer was almost 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 bruising very easily 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. So any time you use paper, frame it under glass or something similar.


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.

Rigid Supports

Pastelbord and similar supports were originally designed for pastel work. They 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. Draw on them the same way you draw on paper, but when your drawing is finished, all you have to do is give it a light coat of varnish and it can be framed just 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.

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 will still tend to absorb moisture or dirt out of the atmosphere if framed without glass. If you want to frame it without glass, take care to hang it in a place that’s as free of contaminants as possible.

colored-pencil-on-woodWood is another rigid support you can draw on. Look for the same types of wood the Old Masters used. This landscape is drawn on a piece of Silver Maple cut from our own front yard.

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 as I did in the drawing above. The ground at the bottom is the wood.

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, then it’s ready to hang with or without a frame, depending on the thickness of the wood.

Semi Rigid Supports

Portrait of Blizzard BabeMat board can be used with colored pencils in a variety of ways. 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 it on all sides a minimum of three times, 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 or less—but anything that size or smaller should be quite safe without glass. Provide proper back support for larger works on mat board.

colored-pencil-drawing-on-sandpaperSandpaper 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. 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.

Keep in mind that although a drawing on a rigid support is less likely to be damaged by tearing or puncturing, it is still susceptible to other hazards if framed without glass. 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 a UV protective glass, framing under glass also keeps light from altering the appearance of your artwork.

For your best work, I recommend glass and further suggest a UV protective glass or glazing.

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