Look alive, pal! It’s time to hustle because your piece has sold and somewhere out there an eager buyer is counting the seconds until it arrives. Let’s pack it up and ship it out.
As an expert in your medium, you probably have experience in preparing your work for the rigours of shipping. Even if you don’t have experience, you surely have a pretty good idea of what your work needs to survive its upcoming journey. Before we get to specific packing advice, let’s review a few basics.
- Become a Hoarder. Yeah, we know, everyone is supposed to be minimalistic now, with all one’s worldly possessions fitting into a joy-sparking fanny pack, but if you have to go out and buy a box and tape and all that jazz every time you sell a piece, things are going to get ridiculous. Stock up on what you need and make yourself a tidy little mailing station where you can get your work on its way at a moment’s notice.
- Beg, Borrow or Steal. Ha ha, no, please don’t. Mailing supplies are expensive and the thought of possibly paying more to pack and ship your work than the cost of the work itself is galling, but there’s no need to go stealing from a Staples. If you ever shop online, you probably receive a fair amount of reusable packing materials in the mail, so do yourself a favour and save those boxes. Stash that tissue paper. Bag that bubble wrap. And when you do need to buy new supplies, consider buying in bulk and splitting the cost with fellow artists or mailing supply enthusiasts.
- Show Me the Receipts. Well, not us, actually; that just sounds snappier. Don’t forget to save the receipt from every dime you spend on shipping materials because, like your art materials, they are tax deductible as a cost of running your business.
- Give the White Glove Treatment. No, truly, it’s a good idea to use white gloves when touching your finished work. No gloves? Scrub those hands like you’re about to operate.
- Easy on the Corners. The pointy corners of frames or canvases need to be enclosed in foam, bubble wrap or cardboard corner protectors. These are available for purchase, of course, or you can fire up a movie and sit and make a bunch yourself.
- Stay Centred. Whatever you’re packing, make sure it is securely centred both horizontally and vertically within its shipping receptacle. This ensures the weight of the piece is balanced (and therefore less prone to being dropped) and that no part of the piece is making contact with the receptacle. Padding is your friend.
- Overdo It. Pamper and cushion that artwork really generously and save the restraint for vodka shots and tattoos. Now is not the time to skimp. Think one layer of brown paper is probably enough? Splurge and do two. Reckon you’ve probably added enough packing peanuts to protect your work from a hard knock? Toss in more until you’re confident it’s immune to any knock. Say to yourself, ‘Self, could this withstand a drop?’ (Only of a few feet, one would hope, and not from the CN Tower.)
- Tame the Tape. Gosh, tape is amazing. So useful. So handy you’ve probably made room for it in your fanny pack. Tape is The Best. Until the day a piece slithers from your grasp and lands sticky side down on the surface of your beautiful, perfect creation. Sob! Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t go anywhere near your work with super sticky or (shudder) packing tape until the entire surface is completely covered with protective material, which, we hasten to add, should be fastened with painter’s tape (like the green stuff available pretty much anywhere) or similar low-tack tape. And speaking of packing tape, try to find the coloured kind so the buyer, in her haste to open the package, doesn’t overlook a dangling bit of clear tape and snag the surface.
- Slap a Sticker On It. Affixing FRAGILE or HANDLE WITH CARE stickers to your package isn’t a guarantee it will receive especially careful treatment, but it’s worth a shot. (We choose to ignore the rumours that FRAGILE stickers actually mark a package for abuse because we have more faith than that in human nature.)
- Give Them Directions. If, because of the nature of your work, your packaging might be a bit of a challenge to unwrap, be sure to include instructions for the buyer. Write ‘Step 1’, ‘Step 2,’ and so on, if it needs to be unwrapped in a particular order. Even writing ‘Up’ or ‘Front’ on the packaging is a thoughtful touch.
- Pics or It Didn’t Happen. Documenting your flawless packing technique by snapping a few photos as you work might pay off if something bad happens to the package and you need to claim insurance. Better to be safe than sorry, etc.
- Listen to the Pros. This is Canada Post’s good advice about how to wrap packages for shipping, although we implore you to not use “an old t-shirt” when sending items to the buyer.
If you’ve already hit upon a successful formula for mailing your work, then carry on doing what works. But if you’re looking for suggestions on packing specific kinds of work, read on.
Framed Things – Wrap the whole frame in brown paper and slip on corner protectors. Add a layer or two of bubble wrap (the first layer with bubbles facing out and the second with bubbles facing in, if you’re feeling fancy) and nestle it into the padding in the box. For extra security, and especially with larger framed pieces, put a frame-sized piece of cardboard or foam core on either side of the brown paper-wrapped frame to make a sandwich before bubble wrapping.
Unframed Paintings – Wrap the work in Tyvek and place between two pieces of cardboard to make a sandwich. Slip on corner protectors, bubble wrap and box it. Unframed work with a delicate surface is trickier because you have to build a cardboard or foam collar around the edges to prevent anything from touching it. Collar attached, wrap the whole thing in brown paper or Tyvek, bubble wrap and box it.
Unframed Photos or Drawings – If you want to use a mailing tube, wrap the work in Tyvek or slip it into a Tyvek envelope, then wrap it around a smaller tube and low-tack tape it down. Add a layer of bubble wrap and carefully slide into the mailing tube. If you want to mail it flat, slip it into a Tyvek envelope and attach the envelope to a piece of cardboard, ideally by slipping the corners into paper triangles, scrapbook-style. Use a couple pieces of low-tack tape to fasten the edges, then cover with a second piece of cardboard. To be really cautious, you can make another cardboard sandwich around this first cardboard sandwich. Then bubble wrap and box it.
Ceramics/Sculpture/Stained Glass/Basketry – Pre-wrap any especially delicate or protruding bits (like a spout, say, or a handle) with small bubble wrap and low-tack tape it. Then wrap the entire piece in at least three layers of small bubble wrap, taping each layer in place. Top this with a layer of larger bubble wrap. If your work has multiple pieces, separate them and follow these steps for each piece. Nestle everything into a box of packing peanuts or foam and tape the box closed. Generously cover the bottom of a second, larger box with peanuts or foam and place the first box into the second. Fill around the sides and across the top with more peanuts before sealing. It is absolutely critical that your work be a minimum of two (heavily padded) inches from any surface of the shipping box.
Textiles – Wrap the perfectly clean and dry piece in acid-free tissue or a piece of white cotton (like a piece of clean bed sheet from the thrift store), putting more acid-free tissue between any folds to reduce wrinkling and creases. Slip the whole thing into a plastic bag for protection from moisture, wrap it in bubble wrap and box it.
Woodwork/Metalwork – Wrap the piece in Tyvek, if desired, before covering with a couple layers of bubble wrap and nestling it into a box surrounded on all sides by abundant packing peanuts. For extra security, this box could be nestled into a second, larger box also filled with packing peanuts.
Okay, your work is packed as perfectly as if you were about to stick your favourite child or pet in the mail so it’s time for it to go on a big adventure.
- Choose a shipping provider. We recommend Canada Post because of its extensive delivery network and, in our experience, the prices are lower than the competition. But if you prefer another carrier, it’s completely up to you.
- Decide on insurance. We don’t require you to purchase insurance on your shipment so this is a personal decision based on your comfort level with risk. If a package is lost or ruined in transit, we will refund the customer’s money and you will have neither payment nor insurance to cover your loss. How does that make your gut feel? If you shrug and think, ‘Oh well, I’ll just make another,’ then maybe you’re willing to take the chance of not purchasing insurance. If you get weak and weepy at the thought, then buy the insurance. If things go badly, at least you’ll have a bit of money to dry your tears and let you get started again.
- Send it. Make sure you choose a mailing option that includes delivery confirmation with a tracking number. Then, email that number with your name and the title of the piece to firstname.lastname@example.org. (If it’s easier, you can email a photo of the receipt with the tracking number on it.) We need the tracking number to verify the package was sent, verify the package gets delivered and (cymbal crash) pay you.
Have a suggestion for this list or piece of expertise you’d like to share? Let us know.