Monday, April 19, 2010

Shipping Two-Dimensional Art

One of the biggest headaches (and heartaches) I have when I put on the Dancing Horse Farm Art Show is dealing with art that arrives poorly packed.  Today I spent the afternoon at DHF staring at some damaged paintings that probably wouldn't have been damaged if they'd been packed properly.  I've written articles and blog posts about the proper packing of art before, but it seems the message still hasn't gotten across to everyone, so here I go again.

Many shows won't allow glass on artworks.  I've been told that pastel artists prefer glass to Plexiglas because Plexi can develop static and pull pastel dust from the painting onto the inside surface of the Plexi.  If you can ship your art without glass, please do so!  If you must use glass (and if the art show allows it), many artists put a masking tape "X" on the glass to try to protect it from shattering.  (With the tape in place, if it does shatter, it may not break in as many pieces and may not damage the painting.)  If you use Plexi, leave the blue plastic film on the face of it to avoid scratches in shipping.

Sandwich (one piece in front, one piece in back) your frame in either thick cardboard or Styrofoam board.  You can connect the two pieces of board with masking tape to make it easier for the art show personnel to take it apart and reassemble it.

If you use cardboard to protect your work, wrap the entire "sandwich" in bubble wrap.  The bubble wrap MUST be wrapped thickly enough that you can no longer feel any corners or sharp edges!  If you can feel an edge or a corner, that edge or corner is not well enough protected.  Even if you use cardboard corners to protect your frame, it is not protected enough unless the face of the painting (or its glass), the back of the frame, the corners and all sides of the frame are protected by thick enough wrapping that you can't feel any edges at all.  That usually means at least six layers of bubble.  If you use small bubble, it will take more layers, if you use large bubbles, you may get away with less, but more cushioning is better than less.

Once you have the glass protected and your painting well-wrapped, slide it into a box made of heavy enough cardboard that the sides can't be pushed in by hand pressure.  You may want to line the box with more layers of cardboard or Styrofoam board. 

If you think I'm being overprotective, you should be aware that UPS standards say if a package isn't cushioned well enough to survive a 4-foot drop to concrete, they won't pay the insurance claim.  That's a good standard to use for all shipping.

You may think your painting is well-packed now.  Nope!  Now it's time to get a larger box and line it with Styrofoam boards - NOT PEANUTS!  Many shows, including mine, will  not accept work shipped in peanuts unless the peanuts are confined to plastic bags.  The box you just packed will be slid into the larger box lined with Styrofoam or BAGGED peanuts, and THEN, dear friends, your art is well packed - well, it will be when you close the box.  Be sure and mark "Open Here" if it matters which end should be opened first.

There is a much better and easier way to ship two-dimensional art than what I described above.  Art Float boxes ( are as strong as plywood boxes, but lighter weight, and have sponge foam fitted inside it which you can adjust to fit different paintings.  These boxes are well worth their cost and can be used over and over and over.  They can't be easily punctured like most cardboard boxes and they really are lightweight especially considering the amount of protection they give your work.  Trust me, art show workers LOVE to see this kind of packaging!  It's easy to unpack and easy to pack - wonderful!

I have received shipped work with one thin, limp strip of bubble wrap just loosely wrapped around the painting in a single box with no other packing.  Guess what happened to the painting?  Yup, serious damage.  I have received shipped work wrapped in blankets, in a box stuffed with chunks of sponge foam.  Those paintings were fine but it was heck trying to repack them to return it after the show.  I have received paintings where the artist trusted UPS to pack them right.  Yes, the art arrived intact, but when I opened the box, loose peanuts exploded all over the room.  It was a nightmare to clean up and a nightmare to repack it and it frustrated me and took way more time than it should have.

PLEASE be kind to those who have to unpack and repack your art.  And please, be kind to the art you spent hours and hours planning and creating.  Protect it like you would your children -send it off safely in packaging that will be easy for the folks at the other end to use to return it if it doesn't sell.  They and and your art will all be better off for it.