Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. —
Packaging a Painting for Shipping
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Here is the painting sandwich so far, consisting of, from inside to outside:
- the painting
- 4 sheets of glassine wrapping
- cardboard corner protectors on each corner
- sheet of cardboard on each side
- 2″-thick sheet of styrofoam on each side
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.