Charcoal drawings are a favorite among beginners because of its versatility. Bold lines, smudges, edges that are blended and soft lines are all possible with an ease of use that isn’t possible with other mediums. But how do you frame a drawing or coloring book page that is drawn in charcoal when the charcoal itself is so malleable?
The most important part of framing a charcoal drawing is making sure the drawing itself doesn’t touch the glass it is framed in. If the drawing is touching the glass, it will smudge. Make sure that the drawing is properly secured away from the glass, and that the drawing will not move when the frame is moved and end up leaning on the glass. There are various processes to consider when preventing glass contact from happening.
Applying Backing to the Paper
A backing for an art piece is a section of board or cardboard that you’ll use to affix the charcoal drawing to a more stable surface that won’t bend or crease the page. Artist tape is available for this process at any major art supply retailer. You can also use V and T hinges, which are various ways of using artist tape to attach the charcoal drawing to the backing.
A T hinge is two pieces of tape, one going vertically on the crease between the page and the backing and another crossing the backing horizontally where the top of the paper meets the board. It is called this because it looks like a T when finished.
A V hinge is when a V is made at every corner, on the piece itself, to keep the artwork attached to the back board. This may look better, but it isn’t as sturdy as a T hinge, so it isn’t recommended for beginners as the probability of making a mistake is high.
The backing you use needs to seal the drawing into the frame so that moisture doesn’t get into the boxed in area inside of the frame. If moisture gets in, discoloration from mold spores or condensation will ruin your drawing. This can be done by covering the back of the frame with foil or using the artist tape you used to secure the drawing to seal the gap on the back of the frame shut.
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Using a Fixative
While some artists are against using a fixative for their charcoal drawings, it’s a viable option that needs to be considered. A fixative is a substance you’ll spray over the top of a charcoal drawing to keep the charcoal in place, which prevents smudging or smearing of the charcoal as it is placed under glass.
Before applying a fixative, make sure that all loose pieces or balls of charcoal on the surface of the paper have been removed. Using a fine paintbrush to do this will help you so you don’t smear the charcoal and ruin your coloring page or art piece. You’ll also want to make sure your drawing is on an angled surface when applying the fixative, so that it doesn’t pool and become thicker in some spots, which will affect its final appearance.
Use caution when using a fixative. It’s best to create a test page with different strokes on it to see how the fixative will look with the charcoal so you don’t ruin your finished masterpiece. Do not soak the page as the idea is to lightly coat the paper. Saturation of the paper will change the look of your piece and may be a total bummer if it ruins your drawing or coloring book page. Too much fixative can also cause drips to appear, and as the drips run down the page, it will pick up the charcoal particles you’re trying to preserve and smear them down the page.
Once you’ve applied a fixative, make sure it dries overnight to ensure that the fixative itself doesn’t stick, run, or ruin your piece before you’re able to frame it. You’ll also want to make sure you’re using a high-quality fixative that isn’t gummy when dry so that dust and loose hair doesn’t get stuck to the drawing during the framing process.
Matting the Drawing
A mat is a piece of thick paper, foam or cardboard that acts like a mini frame inside of the main frame that you are using to enclose the piece. It goes over the top of the drawing, obscuring the sides underneath it, so that the glass isn’t touching the actual art and is instead touching the matting inside.
Not only does a mat keep your work from smudging on the glass, but it also helps to centralize a gazer’s eyesight on the drawing itself instead of looking at all the white space around your drawing. Pick a piece of matting that will accentuate your piece instead of overtaking it or hiding it. Keep in mind that matting can be used to hide accidental smudges from your hands or shading utensils that may occur outside of your work. Matting itself is an art and affects how your final piece is interpreted.
It’s vitally important to make sure the piece is matted so the charcoal doesn’t rub up against the glass, so make sure you don’t skip this step! Even if you’ve chosen not to use a fixative, the matting process is not something that can be skipped. You’ll want to double or even triple layer the matting you use to make sure the glass won’t touch your artwork that’s underneath it.
Because charcoal is such a delicate medium in terms of smudging, it’s important that major care is taken during the framing process. When possible, let a professional frame your piece. However, using the techniques above, it is possible to frame your own piece at home. Make sure to mat your piece so the glass isn’t touching the drawing itself. Also make sure that the fixative you use isn’t sticky so stray dust doesn’t affix to the top of your drawing. If you take the proper precautions, your piece can be preserved for years to come.
Can I use hairspray as a fixative for my charcoal drawing?
While some artists do this, most charcoal artists will tell you this is a bad idea because hairspray causes yellowing and bubbling of the paper over time. Use one of the fixatives available in art stores specifically designed for artwork instead of hairspray.
Do I need to worry about static when cleaning a framed charcoal drawing?
Yes, static can cause the movement of particles inside your framing which can destroy your piece. That’s why it’s important to frame the work in glass and keep a decent space between the glass and the painting. Make sure the cloth you are using for cleaning is moist, as a dry cloth has the potential of creating more static.
I don’t like how my drawing looks. How can I fix it?
Walk away from your art for at least a day and come back to it with fresh eyes. When you work on a piece for an extended period, it’s easy to become too critical of what you’ve done and to lose perspective on what should come next. Over editing can be just as detrimental as a blatant mistake.
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