Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Art Shipping Conundrum

Shipping of art is not as easy a task as you might think. Over the years and a few claims here and there, I have learned how and who to use.

Think that box is too big? Think again!

The biggest hurdle is insurance. Just because someone takes your money  for insurance does not mean that they will pay out for a claim. Read the fine print or ask VERY specifically if their insurance covers fine art. The major carriers- UPS and FedEx- do not insure artwork, regardless of how much money you pay to have it insured.  Currently the US Postal Service will insure fine art, but the recipient has to bring the damaged item and packing materials to the Post Office for inspection. Consider the recipient- because this step could be a hardship especially if the item was sent as a gift.

I use my local UPS store for shipping larger art work. They will use UPS & FedEx but contract through a third party for the insurance.  It is expensive but worth it. The volume of packages that all the major shippers handle means rough handling is inevitable. The third party insurance requires that the item meet their packing requirements.

I HIGHLY recommend that you let a professional pack it. The UPS store also provides this service. Packing standards are very stringent and insurance will probably not cover a claim unless you have followed industry packing standards to a T. This means at least 6" of packing in each dimension. So if your are packing a painting that is 30x24x2 the minimum the box will be is 42x36x14. I often get calls from customers saying that their package has arrived and it is as big as a couch, but it has arrived safely. A final caveat- reused boxes are frequently not covered by insurance.

I also recommend asking how much experience the professionals have in packing art. I have confidence in my UPS store because they have been working with me for years. They know what questions to ask. That being said- I always pre-wrap the art. I put a sheet of foam core on each side about 2" larger than each the item. This pre-wrapping makes me feel better about leaving something with a potential new employee who isn't familiar with handling artwork. 

A plethora of packing materials

There is a new alternative to shipping with the big guys. The US Postal Service has been trying to make inroads into small package delivery. They are reasonably priced and will insure the artwork. They also have no standards for packing. This doesn't mean that I wrap artwork in paper and send it out. My method of packing small items is to cut a sheet of cardboard about 2" wider than the piece  and about 4 times longer. Start rolling the artwork up in the cardboard- corrugated will automatically crease and fold to your piece. Tape this in place. Now repeat going in the opposite direction- remember to cut the cardboard a few inches wider. You now have about 3 or 4 layers of cardboard on each side. Tape these all securely. The artwork should be immovable in its little cardboard cocoon.

If you have artwork that is extremely valuable or have lots of artwork to move, I recommend a mover that specializes in art only. There are a few of them out there that I am familiar with. They will come into your space and carefully wrap a piece before it is put into their van to be taken to another location and crated for moving. I don't know what their claim rate is, but I bet it is very low. The companies I know are Artemis, which I have used numerous times through the Art in the Embassies Program, and Atelier 4, which I am familiar with through our participation in the AAF show in New York. If you are unsure, don't hesitate to ask for referrals.  I am also familiar with some more local and regional art handlers- call and ask!

Another little tip is to include an invoice or sheet of paper that includes your address and contact information and the information of the recipient INSIDE of the package. This enables the shipper to track you down if the shipping/tracking label has become damaged and unreadable.

So- those are my shipping tips, let me know yours. I hope everything arrives safely!


Lois said...

The shipping comments were excellent, clear, and helpful.


Lois Beatty

Luann Udell said...

Nice article, Sarah--thanks for sharing. I just tweeted & FB'd it, too!

McGowan Fine Art said...

Thanks for the comments. I never know if people are enjoying the articles... or if they are clear & concise.

Hugs right back atcha' Luann!

Lorraine Kulik said...

I am printing this out and saving for when I finally decide what i want to be when i grow up (something in the arts field!!) Will add to my file of "need to know art info". Great info, Sarah, thanks for sharing.
Lorraine Kulik

Marsha Hewitt said...

Very timely article. Shipping artwork always makes me nervous. Your tips are clear and insightful and will help to assure the safe arrival of my art work packages. Thank you

Michelle Paine said...

Thanks. Shipping artwork can be nerve-wracking, especially if the work is on the larger side. Have you ever used The boxes are pricey but reinforced and lined with egg-crate foam, so could beuseful if planning to ship the same work multiple times.

McGowan Fine Art said...

Michelle- yes I have used Masterpak boxes when I worked in a gallery in New Mexico....many moons ago. They are fabulous! I have not found out if they can be insured by UPS or FedEx yet. Do you know?

4Rider said...


great article with very useful remarks about using third party insurance company. It is a shame UPS and Fex-Ex doesn't insure artwork.
I use readily available strong boxes for shipping art. They are available at selected package supplies stores, enclose the artwork withing thick foam layer and can withstand between 150lbs on single wall and 350lbs double wall corrugated cardboard.

4Rider said...

great article with nice leads. It is a shame UPS and Fed-Ex doesn't insure artwork. As Sarah pointed find and use third party insurance company. Strong boxes, regardless of their brand is great way to package paintings.


El Salvador Shipping said...

Thanks for the post, it was a really good article.

-Panamerican Shipping