How do you get your artwork to an exhibition? How do you pack your paintings, without risking any damage, and ship it to your client? Packaging paintings sometimes seems like an art in itself. But don’t let it stop you getting your paintings out there into the world.
If you want to get your stuff organised and have made the admirable plan of getting your work out there – well, how are you going to get that painting to the exhibition? Many open art exhibitions are in in cities far from where you might live. I live in South Gloucestershire, for example, and need to get my work to open exhibitions in London (if I get through the first round that is). Or perhaps you managed to get a gallery interested in your work but it is 300 miles away? How do you get your paintings from A to B?
Open Exhibitions Couriers
In the UK, the Federation of Artists (FBA) consists of 8 art societies who all have their annual shows at the Mall Galleries in London. They are societies like the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, The Pastel Society etc. Most Mall Galleries’ open exhibitions (and they host mostly open exhibitions so do check their calls for entries) work closely together with a few art couriers that service the whole of the UK. Of course these services will also collect if you work is refused or remained unsold after the exhibition.
Art Moves of Chelsea for Bristol, Surrey, Sussex and Kent: I use the services of Sharon and Chris regularly. They drive their van from London to the west country and back regularly. They park in Bristol on designated days (usually the day before the handing-in days in London). Artists from all over the region come to Bristol to hand them their paintings, submission forms, fees, etc and they will take it to London and submit it for you. I have used them for many years and they are great. I’ve never had a painting returned damaged and they are always available to help.
020 7352 7492 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Picture Post for the Midlands, the North, Scotland: another well-known art courier that drives around the UK and parks at various ‘collection points’ where you can hand in your painting and paperwork. They will then submit your work for you in London and collect when you need them to.
email@example.com, Office: 01302 711011, Mobile (Tom) 07833 450788 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PicturePostUK
South Hams Express for Penzance, Plymouth, Paignton, Exeter and Southampton: South Hams Express – 07502 041139 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Aardvark Art Services is a great courier for art works going all around the UK on a weekly basis. They are more expensive than a normal postal parcel service but in return you get specialised art couriers who know what they are doing and know how to store and work with fine art and antiques. They drive from north to south and back again once a week so your work usually takes a few days to get where it needs to be. They have fairly fixed dates when they can collect your work. So Aardvark is not so suitable for open exhibitions where the work has to be delivered on specific dates. But they are great for less urgent deliveries to clients who want piece of mind. Aardvark is also often used to courier whole exhibitions from studio to gallery and back again. Extra insurance is optional.
Aardvark Art Services
Another art courier I have heard people use is HMC Packing. I have no experience with them however.
Insuring art is very expensive. So if you would use an art courier to ship something abroad, and you wanted it insured you need to count on hundreds of pounds in cost. Often artists and clients take the risk and send items via general couriers, uninsured, which would cost a fraction of a specialist insured art shipment.
Normal Parcel Services. Of course the normal parcel services can help as well. Companies like Parcelforce, Hermes, DPD, UPS, TNT and all the others are worth comparing for cost and service. A site like parcel2go.com is really useful as they offer a good comparison and discounted prices for all the main couriers. If shipping internationally they make the paperwork required a doddle too. They are often much cheaper than going direct via the courier service’s own sites.
Do make note that these services usually do not insure original art. Hence there is often (do check the small print!) little point in insuring your parcel. I do tend to clearly write on the parcel what is inside, in the hope that handlers realise not to start tap dancing on it. You never know, it might help. We all know that some of these companies are less than careful with the parcels and there is a significant risk using these services. I do use them often however. In fact I have an excellent relationship with my local Parcelforce guy! He is always interested what sort of art goodies I am sending or receiving and even once asked painting advice for his kid.
The only way to protect your work is to pack and wrap, wrap and pack extremely well.
Unless you are using a dedicated art courier (who will require no more than some bubble wrap, if anything at all, as they take care of the rest) you need to wrap your work really well. I have used normal parcel couriers to send work around the UK and to the US. Packaging materials used can be:
A wooden crate is worth building if you have a particularly large, fragile or valuable painting to send. I do believe that a wooden crate gives the best guarantee that your painting will arrive unharmed. On the other hand, building a crate costs money, time and hassle and sending it will be more expensive as it is heavy. There are many youtube videos out there on how to build a crate. It is not that hard, take a look at some of them here and here.
At most DIY stores you can have wood (plywood, hardwood) cut to size. So if you get your measurements right before you go to the shop, it will be just a matter of putting the pieces together with screws. Do not use nails as your client will want to be able to open the crate easily.
For most posting purposes I use cardboard.
To make sure nothing touches the paint surface I tie a piece of cotton tape ribbon around the painting (with frame protectors) which will keep any other wrapping from touching the paint surface. A large piece of cardboard that covers and rests on the frame is an alternative way to keep the paint surface from touching anything.
Then I wrap the painting in plastic, bubble wrap or foam. Put it in a strong box and another box if necessary. Add as much cardboard as you think appropriate. A minimum of two layers of sturdy corrugated cardboard should be used. So you can either use two boxes or add sheets of cardboard inside the box. Add plenty (more!) of padding: your parcel will almost be twice as large as your painting. If anyone decides to play football with it, it should still survive the journey.
The bigger the painting, the better it needs to be packaged. Smaller works are much easier to wrap.
The most fragile part of a painting is the stretched canvas. Anything sharp can easily go straight through it, so make sure to add plenty of wood or cardboard to give it some backing. Paintings done on panels or boards are much sturdier and safer to post. No sharp objects will tear or break the paint surface as it is protected by its own backing. So you can adjust your packaging accordingly.
For unframed works on paper, sandwich the artwork between sheets of archival glassine paper then add layers of foam board, cardboard etc, until it is thick and sturdy enough to not bend or fold. You can create a mount/mat from corrugated cardboard or foam board to make sure nothing touches the artwork.
Glazed Framed Work
Shipping paintings that are framed behind glass is a major headache. I have done it many times and with varying success rates. Glass inside a parcel is incredibly likely to break. One way to protect the art work is to stick masking tape over the glass. This way, if the glass breaks, the glass pieces will be stuck to the tape and will not start rolling around your parcel, damaging the art work. If the glass of a framed painting breaks there will usually be a way for the client or gallery to replace the glass. Yet, it is a hassle I rather not deal with.
Using acrylic glass is not an option for pastel paintings as acrylic sheets get static and will pull the pastel particles off the painting and onto the acyrlic sheet. It is really not a good idea. You can perhaps use acrylic sheets for watercolour paintings.
Generally I do not ship glazed paintings abroad. The risk is just too large. If somebody abroad wants to buy a painting that needs framing behind glass I will sell it unframed and advise to take it to a good framer. Within the UK I will always try to use an art courier like Aardvark or deliver the piece myself.
Corrugated cardboard, the stuff big boxes are made of, not the stuff shoe boxes are made of. I often keep the large boxes my canvas or frames come in and re-use them for shipping paintings.
Bubble wrap. Make sure never to let the bubble wrap touch the painting. You wont be the first artist who found imprints of the ‘bubbles’ onto your varnish or paint layer. Buy it at Jacksons.
Protective foam – useful replacement for bubblewrap
Picture frame corners. Buy at Jacksons.
Frame protectors. Buy at Jacksons. Or use pipe insulation from a DIY store.
Handy Wrap – useful transparent foil that sticks to itself to secure frame protectors
Stiffy Bags – great extra strong bubble wrap bags for art – reusable. Buy here.
Biyomap – reusable art storage and shipping bags. Buy at Jacksons.
Airfloat boxes – US only. Foam padded boxes. Buy here.
If selling abroad do some research on maximum sizes allowed, wood regulations for crates, customs etc. Most couriers will be able to help you with this.
Now go and get it out there!
Read further on why to submit to open exhibitions