Show off your portrait to its best

How to Frame your Pencil Portrait

I’m often asked about framing my work, but I generally prefer to leave that to the experts, because: glass doesn’t travel well, even with the most substantial packaging, and breakages would likely cause irreparable damage to the portrait inside; a professional framer will give you more choice and plenty of good advice; and it would actually work out cheaper for you to manage this process yourself.

However, I do have a few tips and considerations for you to think about when buying a frame for your new pencil drawing portrait.

Firstly, as mentioned above, use a professional framer rather than an off-the shelf frame – it will be more expensive, but will give a much more pleasing result. As well as increased choice, they will use good quality materials that won’t react with the paper to keep your portrait in top condition, and they will size the frame to fit your portrait rather than you cutting the portrait to fit the frame (having said that, I generally leave you plenty of spare paper around the drawing so that they can work with it easily). They will also be able to guide you through the choice of styles and recommend the most suitable for the style of portrait and your tastes/decor.

How to Frame your Pencil Portrait
Choosing your frame

Your choice between modern and traditional, simple and decorative, colourful or black will largely be down to your personal tastes and you need to suit you room’s existing decor as well as your portrait. Black, or a lighter wood such as beech will provide a clean contemporary appearance, antique gold or darker wood offer a more traditional feel. Remember that the frame needs to enhance the portrait and draw attention to it, but not dominate.

So, for graphite pencil especially, I find a simple, crisp black frame a safe bet as pencil is quite a subtle medium. Coloured pencil offers a little more flexibility, particularly if the portrait has a dominant colour that can be reflected in the frame.

With ‘shabby chic’ style all the rage at the moment, you may be tempted to find an antique frame, or repaint an existing one in off-white or pastel grey. I think this suits pencil well, but you will still benefit from a professionally-cut mount, and leave plenty of time for all those nasty paint fumes to disappear completely before installing your portrait.

Choosing a mount

Remember, your frame will do much more than simply protect your pencil portrait from dust, moisture and the effects of UV light – it will enhance your picture and create a dramatic focal point in your room. Your choice of mount style and colour will make a big difference here and, even if you choose to buy an ‘off the shelf’ frame, I would encourage you to get a museum-quality acid-free board professionally cut. Your mount also serves to prevent the portrait from coming into direct contact with the glass which may cause condensation and smudging.

Light-coloured mounts can make your subject appear larger, and dark mounts draw your eye inward, making the picture seem smaller. Neutral colours, like Ivory and White are safe choices, as they will work with most styles of room decor too. Graphite pencil portraits look good with white mounts. A good rule of thumb is to go no lighter than the lightest colour within the portrait and no darker than the darkest.

For even greater impact, try a double mount, with a neutral colour for the top layer and something stronger for the base – picking a colour from the portrait is a good place to start.

Glass or Acrylic

The traditionalist in me chooses glass over acrylic every time – it’s infinitely preferable to the stuff you get in cheap, ‘off the shelf’ frames which bends and scratches easily and can attract dust. However, I’m assured that PlexiGlass – a top-end form of acrylic is a very good alternative – visually, it’s almost indistinguishable from glass, but lighter, less reflective, and even more UV resistant than traditional glass. Speak to your framer, and I’d be delighted to hear your opinions too.

Hanging tips

The most important recommendation is to hang your pencil drawing out of direct sunlight as the UV light will cause the colours to fade and the paper to yellow. Equally, humid conditions such as a kitchen or bathroom should be avoided as they will cause the paper to wrinkle.

When considering exactly where to position your portrait, you may simply aim for the middle of a wall but, especially if it’s a large open wall, it may look a little lost and lonely. Instead, you could hang it off-centre or in an alcove, or as part of a group.

Generally, you should position your portrait so that the subject’s eyes , or the centre of the frame, are around the same level as your own eye level when standing – usually around 5’ or 1.5m above the floor.

I’d be delighted to hear your own tips and experiences, and see your portraits framed and hung.