getting it from here to there

i was asked recently about the technicalities of shipping encaustic work. i'm sure every medium has it's issues, and i know for a fact that every artist freaks out about the wreckage which can be made of your work going from point a to point b. encaustic has it's own peculiarities, and especially my ribbon pieces with their fragile sides and surfaces. so, let me plant a few thoughts in your head about handling the goods. items to consider in shipping:

  • edges and surface of your work
  • weather and ambient temperature
  • special circumstances

what is the condition of the surface or sides of your painting? do you have a lot of drips on the sides? it's something i believe all those who work with encaustic face - what are you going to do about the edges? leave all the cool drippings which are fragile and break off so easily? do you trim them off and clean up the edge. i usually edge the pieces, revealing the layering, and then paint the edge of the board. it breaks my heart, but honestly, i usually break most of it off while i'm working on the piece. and no matter how much bubble wrap i use, i think you're sure to lose at least half of what's remaining. if someone else has a great tip on this, i'm more than happy to hear. the only solution i've found is crating which is just not cost effective.

that being said, it's important to protect the surface of the painting with a barrier layer, and what i use is glassine. it comes in sheets, rolls, envelopes, and think of it as fancy waxed paper. straight waxed paper is also equally effective, but it's coated with paraffin wax, which may and probably will adhere to your work. since paraffin is an inferior wax, you really don't want that. glassine won't leave anything behind and prevents your packing layer (bubble wrap) from leaving little bubble marks all over your work. especially if you take pride in the silky smooth surface of your works? take my word for it - not fun. and if you're work is roughly worked, trust me, you won't get off either. wrap your work in glassine and rest easy, knowing when the work is received by the curator or buyer, it will look great and they won't be flipping about how to get rid of all those little bubble impressions.

as mentioned, now comes the bubble wrap. i wrap, a lot. it provides not just protection from impacts, but serves also an air barrier for temperatures, helping to insulate the work. the box might be driven around all day in the back of a delivery truck, which could be blisteringly hot or frigidly cold. this bit of insulation does make a difference, but how much also makes a difference. how much you bubble wrap do you use, you may ask? think about the package taking a side hit with something large and heavy. will your painting survive the hit? also think about how big your box is?  is there going to be a lot of extra space in the box for your work to move around inside? maybe some rolled up newspaper or something to fill up the extra space would be good. if the box is really tight, we're back to that side impact question again. do you have enough packing material to take a hit? you want your wrapped, insulated painting to fit snuggly into the box, no room for shifting or movement. if there isn't a box which is going to fit well, make your own. big sheets of cardboard cut to the proper shape can make sufficient boxes. or check uline, a great source for packing material.

i buy bubble wrap in big roles of one continuous sheet, perforated every foot. it makes wrapping easier. i also pack extra bubble wrap or place special foam corners on the corners of the piece. damage to a side isn't fun, but damage to a corner is really not good. take care of the corners. once the bubbles are in place, i wrap the whole with a plastic barrier, similar to industrial plastic wrap. it also comes on a roll, and you just roll it all together. it's a lot of work, but it makes sure everything stays in it's proper place and it's tight. unfortunately, none of this is very environmentally friendly, which really kills me, but until i find a better way, that's how it is. and i reuse as much as i possibly can without the packing job looking shifty.

although i have never done this, there are other artists who have found some form of metallic/foam insulation barrier which they wrap around the inside of the box. it could be something separate, or it could be incorporated into the box. i've been fine without it, but i've heard other artists swear by it. if you're interested, you might check a supplier like uline, or trusty home depot.

as an option, i've recently found some art boxes which have foam inserts which you cut to the size of your work. you can buy them with or without the metallic insulation barrier, and some artists say they are fantastic. i'm sure they aren't cheap, but check out this video. if you were to go with this type of scenario, you still want to encase the work in glassine. you always want to control what is rubbing or coming into contact with your work.

i often tell collectors that if my painting is melting whilst hanging on their wall, they have a much bigger issue than my painting falling apart, ie their house is burning down. the melting temperature of encaustic works is somewhere between 160 and 170 depending on what formula you're using for your medium. encaustic work will also get brittle in extreme low temperatures. so, you always want to think about what temperature ranges you're going to be shipping your work in, because this is important in the planning. if you're shipping in the middle of a heat wave or frigid weather, you might consider some form of expedited shipping. i  set up an account and ship fedex. it's great because i can pre-fill out the return shipping slip with my account number, and it gets charged to my account. the sender doesn't have to do anything and no worrying about the package having enough postage for the return shipping. all it takes to get an account is a credit/debit card, and bamm, you're a registered shipper.

although you don't have much control when the work will be delivered on it's way out, you have more control than you realize when the work is coming back to you. when i'm filling out the return shipping slip, i'm not using my home or studio address. i use the address of the closes fedex distribution center (remember, i'm shipping fedex). it's probably closer than you think. mine was about 15 minutes away. the reason why i do this is because my fragile, heat sensitive box is not being driven all over town all day. if i'm not at home, this great big box isn't sitting on my door step in 100 degree or 10 degree weather until i come home. and as much as i love my neighbors, there's no temptation for someone walking by. if you have the package signature required, then you're tied to someone else's delivery schedule of "whenever". but, if you ship to their distribution facility, it's sitting in a nice, climate controlled facility waiting for me to pick it up at a time convenient for me. any extra charge? nope. i love it!

there are special works, like my sculptural pieces, which would never work in the above kind of scenario. for these pieces, i build custom crates. i also modify the back of my sub-straights to accomodate the hardware in the crates. there are screw inserts located in each corner of the sub-straight which match up with wholes located in the bottom of the crate. a screw passes through the bottom of the crate, through a layer of dense foam cushioning, and into the back of the sub-straight. this screw is made tight so there is no movement of the painting within it's crate. this happens in each of the four corners. inside the crate, there is also ample room on all sides and top to prevent a side or frontal impact from hitting the painting. the lid, with instructions for installing and removing the work, is put in place. the crate is then packed into a box with packing material surrounding it to prevent movement of the crate within the box. it took a lot of work to figure out this packaging, as well as retrofitting older works to handle the crate. the retrofitting worked, but it was difficult and not pretty. if you plan on working out of the ordinary, i recommend thinking about how you're going to ship beforehand and save yourself a lot of headaches.

questions? thoughts? comments? throw it at me...