Coyle Studios | Tips & Thoughts
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Inside the Crayon Portrait

Hanging in our studio is a softly colored pastel, octagonal portrait of two brothers in war uniforms. Clients take notice and comment, “My grandmother has something just like that. What is it?”


It’s a crayon portrait – a photograph that is hand embellished with colored pastels or charcoalIMG_4283[1]

We live in a minimalist society where the trends with wall art is clean and simple. Crayon portraits, by their nature can seem gaudy and cumbersome. People think of them as artifacts that are never meant to leave grandma’s walls, or if they do leave the walls, the portraits are headed straight to the attic, basement or worse, trash.


Do you hear that noise in the distance? That’s Mary Lou sobbing about trashed photos.


You see, the crayon portrait was once the height of fashion for portraiture. Paintings were expensive, but crayon portraits were cheaper, faster, and easier to make. These prints blended the accuracy of the photograph with the artistry of a painted portrait.


At first, photographers created the prints on fiber paper, mounted them to linen and stretched on strainers in order to give the appearance of a painting. However, in the pursuit of cheaper and efficient ways to print, photographers started to print on paper alone. It became popular to print the portraits in trendy Victorian shapes – octagon, oval, cathedral, oblong, convex, etc.


While cheaper than commissioning an oil painting, a crayon portrait was not inexpensive. These portraits could cost 1 – 2 weeks of wages for the average consumer, and the average family paid for it by photo layaway (cents at a time). Most families had these portraits created when a significant life event occurred, a wedding or christening (not some random Tuesday). One of the more popular styles was to have a baby pose on a rug in the heirloom christening gown.


Families also commissioned photographers to take a cabinet card of a deceased person and create a crayon portrait from the photograph. It was common to have them produced posthumously and honor their memory by displaying the portrait in the parlor.


Sitting for a portrait was a major event. The subject wore their best outfits and jewelry. We have clients who share with us that they still have that brooch or pocket watch that their great- great- great-something is wearing in the photo. After the photo was printed, the photographer would embellish the photo and draw in the latest fashions (hair piece, collar/lapels) if needed.


The hairpiece on this crayon portrait was an artistic interpretation that reflects the fashion of the times.

The hairpiece on this crayon portrait was an artistic interpretation that reflects the fashion of the times.

Crayon portraits fell out of favor when the Brownie camera revolutionized photography and gave way to the hand-oiled portrait. We’ll expand more on that in another post.


Today, you’ll see most crayon portraits as faded images, but the hand embellishing is still strong in detail. The pastels or charcoals are unfixed and are sitting on top of the photographic emulsion.. They break down at a slower pace than the photo. If you try to clean the portrait, you will wipe away all of that artistry and history. As freaky as their eyes may look, don’t touch them or even think about putting them in a scanner.


Here are a few ways that Coyle can help you handle your crayon portraits:

  • Digitize the photos for sharing with family and genealogy sites
  • Restoration of the originals
  • Create smaller prints for your album or photobook
  • Provide proper storage solutions
  • Reframe – refit the original print for your family wall


Growing up in a world where we are drowning in photos, it is easy to underestimate the value of older photographs. Crayon portraits capture a single moment – many times a single image – for a lifetime. Take care of these images as they can be your one window into your heritage.

Mold crop

Put the Lysol Down: How to Deal with Mold.


The word makes you want to bathe in bleach. It is bad enough that you have to battle the mold growing in the shower, but what do you do when it appears on your great-grandmother’s face?

Believe it or not, mold can grow on photographs and documents. It is tragic and horrifying, but it is not uncommon.

How does mold happen?

How to make moldy photos: Mix one part moisture with one part cellulose. Bake at 70 degrees F (or higher) for a long time.

This is a tried and true way to curate your own brand of fungus. Moisture can be introduced easily by improper storage (in damp basements or hot attics), spraying glass cleaner directly on framed photos, or having humidity in the home.

Mold and mildew can grow easily on rag matting, antique prints, and cellulose base prints.  These quality art materials are made of things of the earth – cotton, plants, even animal skin. These materials will react and feed off of the environment they live in unlike today’s RC prints that are made of plastic.

Ewwww. How do I prevent mold?

The easiest thing to do is to take moisture out of the equation. We live in the Mid-Atlantic region where temperatures are unpredictable and humidity is constantly in the air. You can combat humidity by:

-. Keep art in living spaces. Keep art out of damp basements, hot attics, or garages.

– Run your air conditioner or heat to keep the environment dry. Stability is essential to image preservation.

– Bathrooms that experience steam/condensation are not an option. You can have art professionally sealed to help protect it from the steam/condensation, but we recommend keeping the art you truly love out of the bathroom.

– Use albums with air tight slipcovers.

– Put silica desiccant packets in storage boxes to absorb moisture.

mold square

So, I found mold. What do I do?

First and foremost, put the Lysol down. Do not try to clean photos yourself. A quick internet search showed a dozen or more pages dedicated to helping people clean their photos at home. Methods included using a Q-tip with water, a dry paintbrush, and a Clorox/water solution.

These methods have the potential to destroy the photograph and spread the mold into the air.

We have had a few clients try at-home photo restoration techniques, and most of them have resulted in the client creating more damage. You could accidentally wipe off the hand coloring of a crayon portrait or burn through the emulsion. A simple fix by a pro just turned into a full blown restoration.

The best DIY that you can do is prevention. Buy silica desiccant packets here and album slip covers here.

Have more questions? Give us a call or email us. We’ll help you out.

wedding invite

Wedding Gifts: Be anti-gravy boat

Wedding registries are boring. It’s a bold statement, but it’s true. Want to know why?

  1. I don’t like people telling me what to buy.
  2. Most people feel pressured into putting items that they think should be on a registry instead of what they actually want.


Most of the items on a registry end up being returned or living in the basement for 15 years. How many couples seriously use the gravy boat their great-aunt bought them?

Be anti-gravy boat. Give them something unique.

Most newlyweds neglect framing. They register for silver frames from Pottery Barn as an afterthought instead of choosing something special. I’ve had a few newlyweds tell me that they wished they’d had their wedding photos custom framed, but they didn’t think of it during the registry process.

Of course not. Couples are busy being swept up by fancy blenders and shiny silver pieces.

Think of custom framing for them. We have a few recent projects to inspire you.

 new DSC_3232

Frame a wedding invitation

One of the easiest gifts you can give is framing a wedding invitation. Framing an invitation says, “I cherish your union and did not haphazardly stick this behind a magnet or in a book.” Be bold and get funky with their wedding colors, or stay timeless and opt for a classic look.




new Gayler wedding working 8x10


Restore their family photos

A current trend is to display family photos at wedding receptions. Wedding photos of the bride and groom’s parents, grandparents, siblings, etc.  are placed throughout the venue to celebrate the heritage of this union. Restore a family photo for the wedding or for their new home.





new wedding DSC_2064


Create a custom graphic

Not all gifts need to be given at the wedding. This client wanted to create a graphic that the bride and groom could display in their new home. We took the couple’s favorite wedding photo and included the location and date to create a unique art print.




3x3 wedding DSC_6981Frame their favorite photo with their wedding announcement

This is a piece that tells a story. This client went beyond the traditional framed wedding photos and decided to pair it with their wedding announcement from the New York Times. A silk navy mat was used to pay tribute to their wedding colors.  We used a romantic Italian frame and later discovered that the groom proposed in Italy!




Don’t settle for a blender. Give a memorable gift that will be cherished forever.

Belief in the Photo Album

I love having framed photographs and mementos in my home and office.  I don’t need a reminder to know how hard I work each day for my family, but it is a lift to see them smiling at me from my desk.  My wedding photo takes me back to one of the most wonderful days in my life.  The photo of my dad and his family brings back precious memories of visiting grandma’s house and being teased by uncles.

One of my favorite past times has always been to curl up with the family photo albums and watch my mother and father, or my in-laws light up as they share stories of our families adventures and heritage.  It’s flipping through these pages of skinny kids in tube socks and faded Polaroids that trigger the stories and share our unique history.  Without them, I never would have known that my grandmother had to work in a silk factory making doll’s hair, when times were tough.   These albums unlock the past and help families remember where they started.

When my husband turned 40, his uncle surprised us by renting a slide projector and screen.  He showed slides to our friends and family at the party.  It was beyond wonderful.  I learned so much that evening about my husband and his family growing up. The stories poured out, only cut off by how quickly they flipped through the slides.  I could have listened for hours.

I think it’s wonderful that technology today allows us to take innumerable snapshots and store them in the “cloud.”  We can store the pictorial history of our lives to keep them safe from fire and wine stains. What happens to the stories, the oral traditions when we file everything away in the “cloud?” Will this cause us to forget?

For myself, out of site means out of mind. The older I get, it seems the more my head is divided with just keeping up with daily routines – work, my son’s school and extracurricular commitments, not to mention laundry. As a physical being, I need physical reminders.  Notes to help me get through my day to day operations to headstones to honor the loved ones gone before me.   Being able to pull my albums off the bookshelf and share the stories with my son is important to me.  He’s fascinated by where I went to school, photos of me and my seven siblings, and all the trips we took together.  I never want to lose that opportunity.

I believe that is one reason people come to Coyle Studios for restoration services.  They know we recognize these treasures.  We preserve them.  We convert images, negatives, slides and film to digital format, but we do so much more.  We mend and preserve original photographs, documents, albums, scrapbooks, and slides to make them last.  Our clients’ memories become engrained in our company history.

A colleague of mine, Paul, asked me, “What do you actually do with photo restoration?” We make a moment in time infinite.  We bring memories to life.  We show you where your son got “those ears.” We make slides shows set to your favorite songs and bring your travels to life.  We print the negatives and create the wedding album you couldn’t afford 25 years ago when you were married.  We transfer the VHS of your grandparent’s 50th anniversary.  We create the photo album from the suitcase jammed with old photos.  We transfer photos to digital files for you to share with your new found cousins on We remove the broken glass stuck the emulsion of your mother’s only baby photo.  We preserve your originals in their original frames so they last another 100 years. It’s an honor to do what we do.

Nasa Shadow Box

Custom Framing: NASA Memorabilia

These frames are part of an ongoing project that Mary Lou worked on. A customer brought in her NASA memorabilia but wasn’t sure of what she wanted to do with it. Mary Lou worked with our customer and created a few different ways for her to display the pieces. She designed four frames (including these two), a scrapbook, and framed a Neil Armstrong magazine that could be easily removed for reading. Each piece was separated and designed by the mission. The goal was to keep the story within the frame or scrapbook.

6 inch wide final overview of 2nd nasa box

We love getting interesting projects like this that allow us to create unique pieces for our clients. One of the services we offer is design consultation, and we’d be happy to help you design a frame like this, album, or a collage of frames for your home. Just contact us. We’d be happy to help!

Framing Sample: Woman in Blue

February Framing Samples

Here’s a sample of a few of our recent framing projects. We’ve had some beautiful photos and art brought in for framing and thought we’d share a few of them. When it comes to framing, the goal should always be to enhance and showcase the piece. The frame should never outshine the photo. Our conservator, Amy, did a fantastic job on these!

Check out more frame jobs here, here, and on our Pinterest page.


Photo Restoration Before & After: Crayon Portrait

This was an interesting piece for a few reasons. The customer brought in this crayon portrait that had been adhered to a sheet of lead.

The original was a hand colored crayon portrait. It was printed on a thin piece of fiber paper. A family member thought it would be helpful to glue it to a sheet of lead to give it some stability. Over the years, the glue bubbled in places and the photo started to deteriorate. At this point, the risk and price was too great to try and restore the original. The glue was still strong in a few places and would have destroyed the photo if we tried to lift it.

Instead, we decided to shoot the photo and restore it digitally. Our conservator stabilized and sealed it behind the reproduction in a new frame the customer picked out. The customer chose a Shenandoah frame, a Bainbridge mat, and a Larson Juhl fillet. It  gives the feel of that early 1900s look and really makes the photo pop.

Here are some photos of the before, after and framing details from the project.


Corporate Framing: Sugar Bags

Corporate art doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, we love it when it’s different and unique. Chip from AN Smith & Company did just that. His company specializes in all things sugar, and he wanted us to frame a few old sugar bags to hang in their office.

Instead of framing the bags, we decided to stretch them like a canvas print. We had to be very careful with these bags. Each one was very fragile and a few were too small for the strainers. Our goal is to preserve original art, and we don’t cut or destroy anything. Our conservator stretched the bags without cutting them and used furniture tacks on the sides to secure the smaller bags. The furniture tacks gave the pieces an old world look.

This art gives a little bit of history and character to AN Smith & Company. Click through the gallery below to see all of the bags!

Modified Stacked Details

Frame Ideas: Stacked Framing

At Coyle Studios, each person has a specific role. John is the amazing photographer, and Mary Lou is the master framer. Custom framing allows her to take a beautiful photo or piece of art and make it into a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. It’s always fun to see what she’s going to create. This is one of her recent framing designs. We restored this original family photograph, and our customer wanted to turn it into a work of art. Mary Lou decided to use a modified stacking technique.

For hundreds of years, stacked frames were used to signify affluence and status. The more frames a person had on one photo and the wider it was, the more wealth they had. When you walk into a museum and see portraits that have four to five frames on them, you can assume that they were a very important person. We wanted to bring that aspect of framing history to this photo.

6 inch width 100 dpi Working Hopkins Frame Details Original DSC_2062 copy

To get this look, we used Larson Juhl frames and a Bainbridge mat. The outer Jarson Juhl Marais II frame had a gorgeous floral design with hints of burgundy in it. We played on the burgundy color for the mat. The silk mat enhances that regal look that we were aiming for. We used the Larson Juhl Calais as the inner frame because it offered a complimentary floral pattern.

This photo was a family original. When it came to us, the surface had abrasions on it. We restored it to the photo’s original quality and preserved it behind Conservation Clear glass. This piece will now last for generations.

What do you think of this design? If you have any stacked frames, send pictures of them to us. We’d love to see them!