Since there are so many artists interested in glassless framing of watercolors, colored pencil and pastel, I thought I'd share the process of my latest attempt.
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I've been experimenting with glassless framing for a long time. Glassless watercolor preparation or glassless colored pencil preparation is no problem and very easy. However, trying to prepare pastel for framing without glass did not work well for me.
I tried the methods of many artists who had gone before me in this new, experimental process but my light colored pastel areas always "melted" away or dissolved and I wasn't happy with any project I tried.
However, with Libby, I'm on my fourth coat of the diluted PVA and have not had to touch up much at all! Whoooo hooooo, praise God! So, what have I done differently this time?
I used the Ampersand PastelBord as usual (you can use other surfaces and I'll explain how later) but I did not use the pastel pencils much on this painting! That's evidently the key to successfully framing pastel without glass! I used mostly the Richardson pastel sticks and some Rembrandt soft pastels this time around with touches of the pastel pencils in the details.
I also used diluted PVA as my isolation barrier instead of the Golden Soft Gel but I don't think that was a major factor in the success this time.
Anyway, I am very pleased with the glassless prep of this painting and look forward to more paintings prepared this way.
I know you're wanting to know the exact process and I can only tell you how I do it. I've had input from many different artists who were very generous in sharing their methods (you can go back in my blog for their names and links) but the main thrust came from Jana at Phinearts blogspot. I just modified her methods to suit my way of working and chose products that were convenient for me to get and that I knew were archival.
OK, here we go:
1. Choose a support that can handle water and will not deteriorate over time - paper by itself is not a good choice. As I stated above, I use the PastelBord but I've heard of artists using the PVA to glue paper to hardboard cradles then proceeding with the painting after the glue was dry. Or some (brave souls if you ask me!) glue their finished work on paper to a hardboard cradle then proceed with their glassless method of choice. (You can find out about either method by searching on Google or some other search engine.) I have not tried to use velour or other "fabric-like" supports for the glassless framing & don't think it would work well. I think the nap of the fabric may be difficult to seal. However, maybe some day I'll take a small test piece and try it.
2. After your pastel is finished, we begin the process of preparing it to be framed without glass. Because your typical varnish will probably yellow over time, most artists use an isolation barrier of some kind of archival, non-yellowing material between the art and the varnish. That way the varnish can be removed and re-applied without damaging the actual painting should it become necessary.
I use about 4 coats of the PVA glue/sizing as the barrier in my paintings. I spray these coats to avoid disturbing the layers of pastel and I found a nifty gadget that is the perfect sprayer! I do have an airbrush but it's a real pain to drag out and the compressor is kept in the barn because my husband uses it more there. Anyway, it's just a whole lot easier to use a Preval sprayer. These sprayers can be found in automotive parts stores, some paint stores, and some home improvement stores. They're extremely reasonable in price and the gas canister lasts a very, very long time.
I dilute the PVA to the ratio of 1 part PVA and 9 parts water, stir it well and start the spray off the painting then sweep across it lightly back and forth until it's all been covered. Then turn the painting on its side and do the same thing again. I spray with the painting propped up but lay it down on its back to dry.
Clean your Preval sprayer thoroughly after each use: spray some warm water through it for a few seconds then I store the nozzle and the stem in water until I'm ready to use it again. I've had the nozzle and the screen in the stem get clogged even after I thought the sprayer was completely clean so it's worthwhile to take extra precautions.
Let each coat of the PVA dry thoroughly. This doesn't take long if you haven't sprayed too heavily. If necessary, touch up the pastel between coats. The PVA does darken the painting some but not nearly as much as other sprays have done. On the painting of Libby, I decided it wasn't enough to worry about.
3. After your coats of PVA have thoroughly dried, you can varnish the painting to protect it. I use Golden's Polymer Varnish with UVLS which is both archival and also protects against ultra violet damage. I use 3 coats of the varnish letting it dry between coats.
A note of caution here - even if you want a matte finish to your painting, make the first 2 coats a gloss finish with the final coat the matte finish. That is because there are particles in matte sprays that dull the shine. Too many coats of a matte finish will make the painting look "milky" or "foggy". The gloss finish is totally clear, and, to be honest I actually prefer the gloss for all 3 coats. It's not as shiny as you might think it would be and you save by not having to buy both the gloss and matte (or satin) varnishes. However, you'll have to make that judgment for yourself. Experiment to see what you like best - you can even mix the gloss and matte to get the perfect look you like.
I use the Golden products in my Preval sprayer because I've heard they're the most archival and there's no smell and less harm to the lungs than when using aerosols. Jana and others use aerosol UV sprays like Krylon UV Clear or other products like it. It's certainly more convenient to use the aerosols but, again, that's a decision you'll have to make for yourself. It's best to spray them outdoors though. If you look at the photo above, you'll see that I made a cardboard "spray booth" so I can spray indoors where drying factors are more consistent. However, I wouldn't want to spray an aerosol inside.
And that's it. It's really a simple process. It does take some time and some touch up may be necessary but I think it's actually quicker than trying to frame with glass if you don't count the drying times of the PVA and the varnish. Plus, it's a much safer way to ship a painting!
If you have any questions, please let me know and I'll try to answer them. If you don't know about the products I've mentioned, please do a search to learn more about them. There's a plethora of information on the internet!