Packaging a Painting for Shipping

The package packed and almost ready to go.

The package packed and almost ready to go.

Shipping a stretched canvas painting cross-country can be a little bit daunting.  How do you pack it to insure that your painting arrives completely intact without any damage?  That was a question I was faced with last week when packing the largest painting I have yet shipped.  I thought about the story of a friend of mine, who sent one of his very large impeccable paintings to a gallery across the country for consideration to be accepted into that gallery.  Somewhere along the way, a forklift rammed its forks right through the box containing the painting and right through the painting.  Needless to say, his beautiful painting was irreparably damaged!

I have read about quite a variety of packing methods: remove the painting from the stretchers and mail it rolled in a tube (a hassle for the buyer, and what if it isn’t stretched perfectly again?); wrap the stretched painting in thick sheets of styrofoam, then in sheets of plywood, and duct tape liberally (kind of heavy, no?); ship it in an Airfloat Strongbox (a very expensive, though also, apparently, a very safe option); wrap it in cardboard, then add bubble wrap and/or packing peanuts to fill the box (OK, this seems as good as option as my own ultimate solution); build a package that floats within a larger box (couldn’t that still get crushed?); build a box completely from wood on all sides (again, the heavy issue)…and more.  You can read many options for yourself at this excellent Squidoo post.

Wrap painting in glassine

Wrap painting in glassine

I started by wrapping the painting in 4 sheets of a very thick glassine, thoughtfully provided to me by the online shop through which this painting sold.  Then I altered the provided cardboard corners to accommodate the exact depth of my stretched gallery-wrapped canvas.

Add cardboard corners, unfolded

Add cardboard corners, unfolded

In this case, I did not turn the top surface of the corners under as you are supposed to, as I felt the extra thickness of cardboard in that area might add too much pressure on the canvas, causing it to become dented.  The important point was to protect the corners of the painting from damage, and without folding that last flap into a triangle, these did a good job of that. 

I then tried to cover the painting in bits of odd-shaped cardboard and then foam sheets, all carefully held together with tape, and then insert it in a box I already had on hand, but in the end, the box was just a tiny bit too small, and I feared the painting might not make a safe journey packaged like that.  Plus, it looked very unprofessional.

First failed attempt with too small box and packing materials

First failed attempt with too small box and packing materials

So began the search for appropriate materials.  U-line carries a huge selection of boxes and other packing material, but you must purchase in quantity for any given size, and I wasn’t prepared to purchase that much packing material at this time.  And while shipping is very quick to my locale, depending on what materials you buy, it can also be very expensive.

In Central Texas, there are quite a few EcoBox stores, including two in Austin; they have a pretty good selection, though not as comprehensive as U-Line.  So I searched through their online offerings to sort out what I might need, and headed over to the closest local store, where I picked up a variety of new packing materials.   (They also carry some used boxes.)

Add a sheet of cardboard on either side of the painting; tape each one all the way around.

Add a sheet of cardboard on either side of the painting; tape each one all the way around.

Newly armed with appropriately sized materials, I cut out two sections of cardboard the exact width and height as my painting, and taped one to each side of the painting, running the tape all around the perimeter.

Score the styrofoam sheets as the exact outside dimensions, and snap them across a table or counter-type edge to separate

Score the styrofoam sheets as the exact outside dimensions, and snap them across a table or counter-type edge to separate

I then cut two same size sections of 2″ styrofoam, using the scoring and snapping method, and taped them to each side of the painting, again running the tape all around the perimeter.

Looking back, I think it would have worked just as well to run a couple strips of tape around the styrofoam-painting-styrofoam package horizontally and vertically rather than around the perimeters (because I later enclose the whole thing in a plastic bag to prevent moisture)…and would have been easier for the customer to open as well.   Next time.

Be sure to tape the styrofoam to the painting all the way around.

Be sure to tape the styrofoam to the painting all the way around.

Here is the painting sandwich so far,  consisting of, from inside to outside:

  1. the painting
  2. 4 sheets of glassine wrapping
  3. cardboard corner protectors on each corner
  4. sheet of cardboard on each side
  5. 2″-thick sheet of styrofoam on each side
I added some extra protection to the top and bottom of the painting package.

I added some extra protection to the top and bottom of the painting package to further protect the edges and corners.

I then added some cushioning to the bottom of the painting package in the form of more 2″ thick bits of styrofoam attached to cardboard edge protectors I had saved from previous deliveries.

Measure how much to cut down your box; don't forget to include the flaps.

Measure how much to cut down your box; don’t forget to include the flaps in your mesurement.

Then it was time to see how all this would fit into a large mirror box, and measure down to remove excess height.  I measured and cut the slits and the flaps, and scored the flaps so they would fold neatly. I then put the box together with lots of tape!

Put the whole painting pakage in a plastic bag and seal the openings, to prevent any potential damage from moisture.

Put the whole painting package in a plastic bag and seal the openings, to prevent any potential damage from moisture.

I wrapped the whole painting package in a large garbage bag and sealed the openings, to prevent any possible moisture from coming in contact with the painting.

You can buy a set of 4 styrofoam corners for a little over a dollar; then score them and snap them apart.

You can buy a set of 4 styrofoam corners for a little over a dollar; they snap apart along the score lines.

I put the whole thing in the box, and laid in another piece of 2″-thick styrofoam on top.

I used a couple of these styrofoam corners, turned upside down, to secure the top piece of styrofoam, and provide further cushion between the top of the painting and the box top.

The package packed and almost ready to go.

The package packed and almost ready to go.

Everything fit very snugly into the box; all the corners and sides of the painting are completely protected from crushing and moisture, and unless a forklift rammed through the whole box, the painting should have arrived in perfect condition.  (I’m sure I would have heard by now if not).

I wrapped the box a few more times with tape; all the way around both the horizontal and vertical dimensions, all the way around the side, as well as covering all the seams.  Then all that was left to do was to add some fragile stickers and mailing labels, and take it to the Post Office.

Of course, I insured it and paid for delivery confirmation and tracking.

Do you have a favorite method of packing your paintings for shipping, or have you had any problems shipping them safely?  I’d love to hear any interesting experiences you have had packing and shipping artwork.

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The role of art for me is the visualization of attitude, of the human attitude towards life, towards the world. And I think I’ve said before that there is no difference between science and art when it comes to creativeness, productiveness, to come to conclusions and to formulations. That’s the same I think. And scientists can be just as creative as an artist. — Josef Albers

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