The best way for preparing, packing and shipping artwork depends on your objective.
It all began about six months ago. I was attending a critique session with local Watercolor Society of Oregon members. We got on the subject of shipping artwork and watercolor paintings in particular. I added my two cents worth, or was it forty-five? In any case, my friend Georganna Happel suggested I write an article about shipping paintings. Six months later, I think I’m ready to give it a try. I will discuss my lessons learned shipping watercolor paintings. I’m not experienced in shipping other media like pastel, oil paintings, sculpture, etc.; just watercolor paintings. My intention is not to be comprehensive; that might take several blog posts and will eventually get beyond my capability. I will provide you some links to other articles if you desire to learn more.
My purpose with this article is to share lessons I’ve learned and opinions. It is not my intention to present a fool proof way of shipping artwork. I don’t know of a fool proof method for shipping; damage can and does happen. And, as I indicated above, the scope of my presentation is limited to framed watercolor artwork with acrylic glazing, small in size.
Preparing to ship watercolor paintings starts with what are your objects; what are you trying to ship where, and why? The answers to these questions will help answer the how.
• To Collector (One Way) • To Art Shows (Round Trip)
To Collectors (One Way).
One of the happy occasions that we artists get to experience is when someone falls in love with our painting and purchases it, woohoo! And, from time to time, we need to ship said artwork to a collector. The easiest thing to do is to take it to the local shipping company and have them box it up and ship it. I’ve done this successfully and may do it again. Currently, it’s not feasible for me to keep large amounts of shipping boxes and packing material in my home. Its cost effective for me to take it to a local shipper and have them box it up.
For those of you who would like to learn more about do your own boxing and crating, I’d like to suggest you do an internet search. There are plenty of articles. I will recommend two articles, one from Jason Horesj and one from Lauren Den Hertog. Mr. Horesj is a gallery owner and does his own shipping on a routine basis. Lauren Den Hertog is an artist and does her own boxing and shipping.
I read both articles and found them to be excellent sources of information for how to do it yourself.
To Art Shows (Round Trip)
Another happy occasion is when you are accepted into an art exhibition, woohoo again! Once you get over your excitement, you realize you need to get the painting to the show and back home again. The reason I separated the round trip out from a one way is the crating.
With ship and return, you will want and need a higher grade shipping container because it is going on multiple trips. Something like a mirror box will not handle multiple shippings. Plus, the receiving art show volunteers will appreciate it if the crating arrives in good shape and is appropriate for the return shipping.
Here’s what my husband and I did and what I recommend. We did a search several years ago and purchased a Pro-Pak art shipping box. If you do an internet search today, you will see lots of options. The ProPak art shipping box was bare bones, it did not have any packing material. But, the boxing is sturdy and I’ve used it for ten years. We subsequently have invested in four of various sizes.
Note, I did a search for Pro-Pak art shipping boxes (or cartons). If you take a look, you will see that their box and the supplies they offer. I have been pleased with their boxes. We have their “Art Carton”.
If you look at Air Float Systems or Master Pak for example, they have an art shipping box that comes with a foam packing material that you can customize. This is the sort of system that we ended up creating for ourselves. But, the road there was fraught with learning points!
Initially, we tried packing with peanuts; that was a “non-starter” from the beginning. Packing peanuts are messy and no one likes receiving a box filled with packing peanuts. As a matter of fact, some shows will not accept paintings shipped in packing peanuts, or they will charge you an extra fee for dealing with the packing peanuts. Having worked on the receiving end as a show volunteer, the styrofoam packing peanuts get everywhere. Even on opening day, the volunteers are trying to pick peanut debris off of paintings. Please, resist the urge to use peanuts.
We considered other packing materials such as cardboard, bubble wrap and foam. Here’s my opinion:
a. Cardboard or corrugated paper can be purchased in large rolls. Its fine but I would recommend it for one way shipping. The reason is that it might get torn or damaged. You need something that holds up if you are going to do round trip shipping.
b. Bubble wrap sticks to acrylic paint if it gets warm. I paint most of my frames with artist grade acrylic. One summer, the acrylic on the frames stuck to the bubble wrap. Fortunately, it worked with the effect I was trying to achieve. But, I am careful with using bubblewrap.
c. In the end, we purchased a thick sheet of memory foam. Using an electric knife, like one you might have in your kitchen, we cut the foam into pieces specific for frame and box. Like the Air Float System, we can mix and match the pieces to ensure a secure packing of the painting.
Remember one thing if you need to ship round trip, there is going to be a volunteer on the other end who is going to need to unpack then re-pack the painting. Keep the packing simple; fewer pieces the better. Make sure it is adequate and will keep the painting cushioned.
My recommendation: Consider investing in a system like Air Float Systems, Master Pak or creating your own using an art box (like we did with our Pro-Pak) and memory foam if you are going to ship and return.
Preparing the painting for shipping.
- Wrapping & Inner Boxes
• All of the art exhibitions that I’ve participated in require that the glazing of your watercolor painting be acrylic (“Plexiglas”) if you are shipping the painting. Advantage of acrylic glazing: + Weighs less; reduces shipping costs. + Less likely to break and damage your artwork. • I have shipped watercolor paintings with glass glazing one way with success. I was lucky. My preference and recommendation is to ship with acrylic glazing.
Packing List: Here’s a tip I gleaned from Jason Horesj, always prepare and include your own packing list. I think this makes sense and will be something I incorporate in all future shipments. The purpose is to make sure the receiving end knows what they’re getting and that everything has arrived. Plus, I’ll have a record of what I shipped, sort of like a checklist.
While I’m thinking of paperwork, I would like to emphasize that if you are shipping to an art exhibition, make sure you have included all of their required documents. I often make myself a checklist of requirements and check them off as they go in the shipping box.
Wrapping and Inner Boxes.
Because my paintings are nestled in memory foam, I rarely have to worry about wrapping the painting. I will refer you to Jason Horesj and Lauren Den Hertog for tips on wrapping the painting. They also discuss inner boxes. Golden Paints has an excellent short video on preparing an inner box and how to keep it from touching the painting.
I ship my paintings through the major carriers Fedex or UPS. At the moment, I have an account with FEDEX. The way this works is that I give them my account number when its time to ship. If I need to arrange return shipping, as with a painting sent to a show, I can simply use my FEDEX account number. The painting can be shipped and I will be billed directly. The advantage for the art show is that they don’t have to worry about my credit card information or who will pay. For me, I’m happy because I get to safeguard my credit card information.
Links to Articles and Resources:
Jason Horesj, Gallery Owner, Xanadu Gallery: “How to Ship Paintings | A Step-by-Step Guide for Artists and Galleries”, November 24, 2012. Please see http://www.reddotblog.com/wordpress/index.php/how-to-ship-paintings-a-step-by-step-guide-for-artists-and-galleries/ Fedex: http://ask.van.fedex.com/learn/how-to-pack-artwork Lauren Den Hertog Blog: “Fool Proof Method for Shipping Art”, May 13,2009 http://lauradenhertog.com/blog/10972/fool-proof-method-for-shipping-art Also, do a search using the phrase “how to ship artwork” or something similar. You should find a listing of articles. For boxes, do a search for “art shipping boxes”. I recommend doing the search yourself to see the variety of companies with shipping boxes. I watched a short video by Golden Paints. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7HPKy5sW30. It shows how to make an inner box when and how to keep it from touching the front and sides of the painting. Clever. Fedex has a video on shipping artwork.