Thursday, November 19, 2009

How do I ship a painting?

I have a 16" by 16" commissioned painting that I need to send to California. It's on canvas, stapled to stretcher bars.

I haven't the slightest idea how to get it there safely, for a reasonable price. Should I use a cardboard box filled with peanuts? Do I need to acquire carpentry skills and build a wooden protective shipping container? (This seems a bit out of my skill set.)

Any advice would be appreciated.


  1. Brian, I'm the least-qualified to advise you on this, but maybe a comment will get the ball rolling.

    I'd put some sort of plastic (like a large plastic shopping bag) against the paint to keep it from scuffing. (I'm assuming the paint is dry and tough, so nothing will stick to it.) Then sandwich the canvas between two panels of sturdy chipboard to keep anything from poking thru it. I'd find a sturdy corrugated box that matches the size of the canvas, allowing about a half-inch all around. I'd then wrap the protected canvas with 1 or 2 layers of bubblewrap and put it in the box, using crumpled newspaper to fill in any remaining gaps. Seal all ends with strong plastic postal tape.
    Lastly, insure it at the post office and track it.
    Not too cheap, and a bit of work, but at least there's not a lot of weight to it.

    I'm curious to hear what Ryan and John advise.

  2. Brian,

    Good advice from Chuck...I've shipped lots of pieces up to 30x40 (mostly on Illustration board, but some on canvas, loose or stretched) by sandwiching them between 6 or eight pieces of foamcore, cut to size, including some that were "matte-cut" with spacers facing the artwork if I wasn't absolutely certain the paint was dry with oil washes. Putting something hard on either side is also a good idea whatever you do to prevent the poking that Chuck mentioned. With the foamcore I just tape the %*#@ out of the edges and send it FedEx - never had a piece damaged - so far. One thing I was told by a shipping agent years ago; conspicuously mark the outside - both sides - with something like "Photo Materials - DO NOT BEND!!"...if you say the content is "artwork" it's more susceptible to getting "lost" somewhere up the line.

    All that said, I know guys that build wood crates for everything they ship...not my area of expertise and I'd like to keep most of my fingers. Last year I had to send a piece measuring almost 60" long; I didn't like the idea of patching together the foamboards so I got a hollow-core door at Lowes, cut it to size and sandwiched the art between it and some foamcore - not pretty, but extemely cheap in both time and labor and very lightweight. I've been gessoing and painting large pieces on these doors (that word keeps coming up), built-in shipping strength and easier for me to draw on compared to stretched canvas.

    Good luck!

  3. John, You earn every penny you make.

  4. Brian,
    I used to pack, crate and ship artwork to galleries and museums all over the east coast and NYC when I worked for the Ohio Foundation on the Arts. The standard way to ship a painting on canvas is to crate it. It is pretty easy just cut foamcore to fit on either side of the painting and the ends and then build a crate around that dimension. It should fit as snug as possible. Actually, you could also get away with Chuck's or John's method as well. Especially, if you do not have any power tools or experience working with wood. If I were you I would build a box out of cardboard. For a painting 16 inches square - you can just get a bigger box and cut that. Like a box that matboard or foamcore comes in from an art store or a refrigerator box. I would wrap the painting in bubble wrap then cut foamcore to fit around the bubblewrapped painting. Measure that and then cut a cardboard box to fit those dimensions. Again the key is to have it fit very snug. Add more or less bubblewrap around the painting to insure that it is very snug.
    Like John said - insure it and send it FedEx with clear markings on every side that says Fragile and Do Not Bend.

  5. Thank you. I now understand the effective and inexpensive way AND the "right" way to ship paintings. I appreciate the advice.