Several weeks ago we received an order through our website for a painting by an artist from Europe. We contacted the artist and asked him to ship the piece to us (the client happened to be local). The piece arrived within a week (amazing, considering the artist shipped it to us via parcel post) and the box appeared to be in good shape. Unfortunately, when we opened the box we found a problem. The artist had wrapped the painting in bubble wrap, the smaller bubbles. The bubbles had stuck to the varnish on the painting, and, upon removing the bubbles, we found that we had a bubble wrap pattern in the surface of the piece. Normally we would have shipped the piece back to the artist for repair, but it seemed that we would be risking additional damage with the piece crossing the Atlantic two more times.
After talking to the artist we decided to have a local artist assist us by re-varnishing the piece, which was easily done and the piece looked great again. Had the artist take just a small precaution however, it would have saved everyone the trouble and concern.
Over the years I have been involved in (directly and indirectly) thousands of art shipments. The vast majority of the shipments are delivered without a hitch. Unfortunately, as you can see from the picture above, from time to time, things go terribly wrong. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years:
- If bubble wrap will be in direct contact with the art, turn it so that the bubbles face out. We never let the bubble wrap come in contact with the art – instead we use palet wrap as our first layer of protection. You can see what we use by clicking here. Keep in mind that this stretch wrap can create an air-tight seal, not something you want if the art is going to be in transit or storage for a prolonged period of time. Carefully cut holes in the wrap so the art can breathe.
- Invest in high quality tape. I know we are all on a budget, but packing tape is not an area where you want to skimp. Think about it, you might save $4-5 by purchasing low-quality tape, but is it worth it if your box comes apart in transit and you have hundreds or thousands of dollars of damage as a result? I also find that high-quality tape requires less taping, so in the end you might not even be spending that much more. Having said that, don’t skimp on tape or other materials.
- Try buying your materials in bulk. This is especially important if you start shipping a higher volume of art. Buying boxes at the corner shipping supplier is not an economical way to go. The mark-up these retailers put on the boxes is tremendous. Ask other artists in your area if they have a local supplier (most major metro areas will have several commercial packaging suppliers), or order them online.
- Plaster your boxes in “Fragile” labels. I know there will be many out there who say that this is a waste of time and money, but I don’t care, I use the labels. I know that the delivery companies don’t pay a lot of attention to these labels, but at the very least I feel it helps my client know that we care. I also think that the freight companies don’t set out to damage art (okay, maybe some of them do) and if a fragile label occasionaly helps them identify the more fragile packages, it’s worth the small investment.
Several years ago I did an extensive video podcast on shipping paintings, take a few minutes and check it out at http://www.xanadugallery.com/Webinar/Shipping/index.asp . I also gave one on shipping sculpture: http://www.xanadugallery.com/Webinar/Shipping/shipping2.asp.
Do you have additional tips about shipping art? Have you had your own personal shipping horror story? Please share in the comments below. Please refrain from using the names of the offending shipping companies – we all know who they are and I don’t want to unfairly target any one company – they’ve all messed up at some point.