The sandbox is for random thoughts about art, marketing, communications and design...

What to know about pastels

by Linda Shepard

About pastel paintings

Artists’ pastels are similar to colored chalk because they are a dry medium, but that’s where the similarities end. Pastels are pure pigment sticks (the same pigments used in oil and acrylic paints) with a small amount of gum binder. Colored chalk is a limestone substance impregnated with dyes. Pastel artwork doesn’t rely on liquid binders that can sometimes cause other media to age/discolor, so it retains its brilliance over time.

Handling pastel paintings

Pastel paintings will smear when touched, so it’s important to carefully handle an unframed original as little as possible. Try to hold it by the edges. And getting the surface wet will destroy it, so be careful with it until it’s framed. No amount of fixative will make your artwork safe to touch. Fixatives are often used by pastel artists to roughen-up thick layers of color in order to be able to keep adding more color. Few artists use a final fixative as it can darken the colors and introduce weird spray/splatter patterns in the artwork.


Pastels need to be framed under glass (or glazing as framers call it). You can lay the glass directly on top of the painting, or you can use 1/16” plastic spacers. These spacers are adhesive-backed and are applied to the inside perimeter of the glass. They can be trimmed with ordinary kitchen scissors and sit directly on top of the artwork. They are hidden beneath the inner lip of the frame. Using a matte is another option if you don’t want the glass to touch the surface of the pastel.

Don’t skimp on the glass! When framing, sometimes the glazing (glass) will be one of the biggest expenses, but it’s well worth it to choose the best. Beware of ordering less-expensive non-glare (frosted) finishes that can dull and blur your artwork. Museum-quality “Tru Vue Optium” plexiglass is top of the line. It has been treated to eliminate static electricity and it’s hard to tell it’s even in the frame. Static in regular plexiglass will displace pigment particles and cling to the inner surface making your artwork look dusty.

You may be able to save money by ordering your frames online from sites like This site offers packages of everything you need and it is very straightfoward to DIY once you receive the shipment.

Praise for the unframed original pastel

by Linda Shepard

I'm an art collector. And I prefer to purchase unframed original pastel paintings. Here's why:

  • Pastel dust isn't going to displace and stick to the inside of the glazing during shipping
  • I can have the exact frame I want
  • I make the decisions about what kind of glazing is used
  • The purchase price of the painting is lower
  • Framing it myself will save me money
  • Shipping costs may be lower and it may ship sooner
  • I'm not a framing expert but...

    I am a pastel artist and need to figure out an affordable way to present and protect my work. I've picked up some tips from other artists along the way. The artwork I frame in the video below is 16x12". The supplies I used can be purchased online for a total of $54.70, not including shipping.

    How to frame a pastel painting using spacers

    Watch YouTube video

    Supply list for DIY framing

    What's glazing?

    Glazing is simply the glass/acrylic plexiglass inside the frame. There are many different options to choose from in both glass and acrylic. Glass is much cheaper and heavier than acrylic. And like acrylic it comes in plain old clear, non-glare, UV protected, anti-reflective, and virtually-invisible museum options. Glass could be a smart option if the artwork isn't going to be shipped and weight is not an issue. It's less prone to scratching and static than acrylic, but it can shatter. Due to its fragile nature, many online sellers will only ship acrylic.

Shipping artwork 101

It's rough travelling the country in a brown cardboard box. Protecting artwork from the hazards inherent to the shipping process is an artform within itself. Purchasing specialty packaging designed for artwork can be nearly as expensive as the artwork itself.

Anyway, here's the top secret method for making inexpensive "floats" that actually work and cost no more than the shipping cartons you put your paintings in.


  • 2 corrugated shipping boxes (add at least 3 inches to each side of the shorter dimension of the artwork and at least 1 inch to each side of the longer dimension)
  • plastic wrap roll
  • box cutter
  • bubble wrap
  • packing tape
  • pencil or marker

How to package:

  1. Cut and discard the edges (the depth) from one shipping box resulting in two large panels. For example if you had a 12" wide by 12" high by 6" deep box, you would cut away the 6" panels leaving two 12x12 panels.
  2. Center the artwork (eyeballing it is fine) on one of the panels and trace the perimeter of the artwork onto the panel.
  3. Turn the panel so that a side with at least 3 extra inches is at the top and bottom.
  4. Cut a vertical slit 1 inch to the right from the upper left corner of the artwork to the upper edge of the cardboard panel. Make sure to cut all the way through the cardboard. Move to the right 3 inches (same width as plastic wrap roll) and cut a slit from the perimeter to the outer edge.
  5. Repeat this process for all four corners.
  6. Lightly score the perimeter mark between each of the sets of slits so you can easily bend the cardboard tab down over the edge of the artwork.
  7. You now have a cradle for one artwork that fits exactly inside whatever size box you're using. Wrap it with a few turns of the stretchy roll film and your ready to pack it inside your box. Use bubble wrap on the tops and bottoms of the boxes for cushion, tape it up and ship.
  8. Because the cradle fits exactly to the edges of your box, there is absolutely no room for movement within. Your paintings are riding on air and as you can see, when you remove them from the box, they still have that protective surrounding edge that prevents frame corner damage.

    You can put 3-4 paintings (or more) in a single box, depending upon the height of the box. Lots of bubble wrap top and bottom makes it just about bullet proof.

    Special thanks to Steve Hill for providing the information for this article. Visit his website here.

    Free shipping isn't really free

    by Linda Shepard

    FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and the US Postal service work for fee—not free. According to, Amazon paid $37.9 billion in shipping expenses in 2019, a $10 billion increase from the previous year. These costs include sorting, transportation, and outbound delivery, including third-party carriers.

    Business Insider estimates that the $119 cost of an annual Amazon Prime membership is actually worth around $785. So how is it possible to be profitable and offer free shipping? When Googling "free shipping effect on sales," you'll come upon countless articles and research leading to the conclusion that free shipping leads to increased sales. In addition, many online shoppers have come to expect free shipping.

    So what exactly is free shipping?

    "Free shipping" could lead to hidden charges that may or may not work to an individual consumer's advantage. When launching, we were advised to increase the price of artwork to cover the worst-case-scenario shipping expense. This could totally work! Customers would be happy by not dealing with those extra charges during checkout; and Artists could stay in business by preventing shipping expenses from draining their income. And here's the big BUT... shipping artwork is not like shipping other stuff.

    Why is shipping artwork so darn expensive?

    Artwork is rarely something that will fit in an average, everyday, run-of-the-mill shipping box. Often times it's oversized or awkward with a lot of surface area compared to its weight. Shipping artwork is often charged by dimensional, or DIM weight. DIM weight is the amount of physical space the package occupies in relation to its actual weight. To arrive at a DIM weight for one of the 24" square paintings on this site, calculate the cubic inches of it's 30x6x30"= 5,400". Then divide by the carrier's rate divisor, 166 (UPS) to arrive at a DIM weight of 32.5 pounds, What that means is that the package is priced as if it weighs 32.5 pounds instead of its actual weight of 10 pounds. Different carriers may also charge an additional flat "oversize" charge when the dimensions exceed certain limits.

    The bottom line

    Our website is integrated with the United States Post office and UPS to calculate the actual cost of getting artwork from our home base in central Ohio to wherever our customer calls home. This allows us to skip the "inflate the purchase price by a hypothetical shipping expense" step. Customers are smart enough to know shipping isn't ever really free.

    Feature photo by Hello I'm Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

    Why plein air?

    Let's face it, plein air painting is a pain in the butt. You have to schlep your materials on foot for what can be long stretches of uneven terrain. There may not be a bathroom. You can get rained on or sunburned. Wind can topple your easel and break your pastels. Curious bystanders may disturb you... So why do it? I've often wondered this myself and I think I'm beginning to understand. I just don't feel the same way about a scene when looking at it in a photo as I did when I was there. Painting in plein air helps capture the feeling of being there. The human eye can see much more detail than can be captured in a typical photo, especially in low light and shadow areas. Plein air also requires you to work quickly, which I find helps me be more spontaneous and expressive in my work. When you're out in the field, you can use a viewfinder to quickly find your composition and expedite your sketch process. Dakota pastels sells a nice one. Always take photos to help remind you of the scene if you want to keep working on it in the studio. Video can be helpful to see the movement pattern of water.

    I'm a self-taught pastel artist. What I mean by that is that we didn't use pastels in college. I started using them with techniques I picked up in books, magazines and YouTube. That said, it was a real treat to get to work alongside Steve Hill, a master pastellist in northern Washington State. Here's clip from Day three of the workshop:

    Mount Baker: the completed demo painting.

    Here's a little practice painting I did a couple of weeks after the workshop.

    Below are my take-aways from the workshop experience:


    • Practice using a light touch (soft pastels often crumble beneath my death grip). Let the edges come together, finish by defining those edges.
    • Where two very different colors meet is a good place to add pop colors and emphasize the edge (think unsharp mask in Photoshop).
    • Forget what you've learned about hard vs. soft pastels. Use either at any time depending on the color you need. That said, hard pastels are excellent at making small, sharp shapes.
    • Unwrap your sticks and organize them by value. Value is more important than hue.
    • Let your sticks do the work: find a stick close to the physical size of your desired mark or shape; air bubbles creating oddly-shaped edges can be used to randomize your strokes.
    • Paint treeptops into the sky (edge again).
    • Practice your strokes, try wiggling your stick.
    • Alcohol wash can be used anytime to create a brushy, splatter, random vegetation effect.
    • Drag your water color into the tops of foreground vegetation.
    • Let your rooftops intersect (like form an X at the top instead of just an inverted V). Fix the top after.
    • Pay attention to the edges of your shadows.
    • Reflections in water will have some wiggle to the edges.


    • Clear blue skies are typically light ochre-ish towards the horizon, followed by a slightly greenish (pthalo) blue in the middle with the darkest ultramarine on top.
    • Vary your colors within the same horizonal plane in the sky.
    • Many artists typically work from dark to light then cool to warm.
    • Distant hills are often darker at the top than the bottom and can seem to float in the sky.
    • Greenery likes to be paired with tones of purple and orange.

    About this website

    This website was built using the Uikit3 framework and is hosted on GoDaddy. We've built sites using WordPress, Magento, Business Catalyst and Foundation. UIkit 3 is our current favorite because it's lightweight, well-documented and easy to use. Business Catalyst is being discontinued from Adobe, so we're currently evaluating other content management systems for medium to large nonprofits and governmental entities.