Friday, September 16, 2011

Packing Art

Packing Paintings

Whether for a show or to private person, from time to time we need to entrust our artwork to others. It is even worse when we need to ship it. For most of us, it is scary and confusing.

So how do we do it?

Well that depends on what it is. How you prepare a painted canvas might not be the same for a photograph. Also, it matters why you are shipping the piece.

Works on Paper

For works on paper, drawings and such, you might consider shipping it unmounted and unframed.  If it is a non-ridged paper, it could ship quite well in a mailing tube. These are actually for mailing drawings. Most are large enough to allow you to soft-roll the pages up, and insert into the tube without damaging the artwork. This would work for many mediums as long as the paper was flexible enough. For the really heavy weight papers, however, rolling is not an option.

In that case, your best bet is to dry-mount and ship in a protective envelope. This would be placed in a rigid packing envelope. These are available from shipping companies and art supply houses. Many office supply stores will also have them. Most are for shipping large photographs. These envelopes will be clearly marked, “Do not bend”. I would make sure any company I was shipping with would clearly honor this. Make sure the mat is acid free, and expect the recipient to use this mat in the final mounting and framing.

For a large piece even on paper, I prefer a shallow box to the shipping envelopes, but this is a matter for each person to decide.

If this is a gift, most major art supply chains will allow you go include a gift certificate for framing at the destination. This is much easier and cheaper than having it framed and then shipping it.

For Shows

When you are shipping to a show, you will be expected to ship work fully mounted and ready to hang, and this would include glazing if needed. Please avoid shipping even framed work under glass. Glass is fragile and can break, even if the package is not dropped. severe temperature swings can cause cracking. So there is always a danger when shipping work under glass of it breaking. Not only is it dangerous to the person unpacking the artwork, it can also damage the artwork itself. Nothing would be more disheartening than to have your artwork unavailable for the show because a piece of glass punctured it. Instead, when mounting work that needs to be protected by glazing opt for acrylic glazing. It is not only safer; it weights less and so will save you money in the shipping. Most of the good professional framers offer an affordable range of acrylic glazing for this. Many prospectuses now specify acrylic glazing for all submitted artwork instead of glass.

Of course, acrylic glazing is more prone to glare when photographed, but that is the show’s problem, not yours. In any case, you have already photographed it prior to mounting and framing, haven't you? and previously submitted a slide or digital file for juroring, which would cover any problem.

For open entry shows, such as our Miniature Exhibition, we do ask for the artwork to be shipped instead of files, but again, photographing the work is our problem not yours, but if you wanted to send a digital file along, well I would not object!

Back to Packing

Paintings that do not require glazing, such as acrylic and oil paintings can also be safely shipped. I always use protective cardboard corners for this, similar to those you see on ready-made frames. These are simple to make, using one of these corners for a template. They can be made from any cardboard, even cereal boxes, although I prefer a thicker cardboard than tag board. I like to make mine from the flaps of boxes. While they are bendable enough, they offer real protection to the corners of canvases and frames. You just have to remember to make them wide enough for the canvas and frame, if any.

Shipping framed work is a little simpler than shipping unmounted canvas panels. The frame itself offers some protection. The corners should be protected with cardboard corners. These can be recycled from frame purchases, or home made. But sturdy cardboard corners are a must. They also provide a platform from which to protect the rest of the artwork. You can tape pieces of cardboard to cover both the front and the back to these corners, not touching the actual artwork, creating an air pocket around it. Then en envelope of bubble wrap will protect the artwork when it is slipped into the shipping crate. Use several layers of bubble wrap instead of packing peanuts when shipping to a show. Most shows have outlawed packing peanuts anyway, as they create a mess, are actually hard to keep track of, and make return shipping difficult. So no packing peanuts to exhibitions.

If you are shipping to family, friends or clients, that is a different matter. But still, don’t let the peanuts touch the art! They will tend to stick to oil paintings that have not fully cured, and anything younger than 2 years is not fully cured!

When shipping more than one painting/artwork, you will want to put them all in the same box. Try getting panels of protective foam board for this. How thick will depend on the size of the artwork, but for most pieces, between 1 and 2 inches will be enough. Check with your shipper for this.

We see a lot of boxes at The Renaissance Art Gallery. The best one was last year. This box had a lot of thought put into it and was very well designed. It offered great protection for the artwork, was easy to use and made the return shipping easy. The box was lined with foam sheeting. This foam comes in sheets, and the kind used was similar to the oasis used in floral arrangements. It is easy to cut to size and shape. A piece was cut to the size of the bottom. Then sides were cut, with notches to hold dividing panels for each piece of art. These panels slide securely into the sides. Then the artwork was tucked into bubble wrap envelops, and slipped into slots. Paperwork also fit into a lot, then a top piece slipped securely on top. Box could be closed and everything was secure.

Before you seal that box, make sure all the needed paper work is there. Entry fees, entry registration, return label, etc. Also include a packing list, listing what art is in the box, etc. Yes your artwork is labeled, but a second list helps. Also, double check, no triple check the shipping address. Do not assume it is the same as the organization sponsoring the show, it often is not.  All shows go to great lengths to make sure the shipping location is a secure location and that someone will be available to receive it. So read the prospectus and make sure you have the right address.

Mark your Calendar

Ship early enough to make sure the work will arrive is there is some delay. Nothing is more disheartening than to receive work the day after judging, and this has happened. Allow a reasonable amount of time for any unsold work to be returned after the show ends before calling to check up on it. Keep a duplicate of any paperwork and the packing list just in case and include the show dates so you will know when to expect it.


Insurance is typically the reasonability of the artist both coming and going. This should be included in the shipping costs, and noted on the return label. And do insure you artwork. It is worth it.


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