One: Building Shipping Boxes

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Using the floor… my biggest table.

Building shipping boxes is an inevitable part of being artist if one wishes to expand one’s universe. Different circumstances require different materials. For example, I shipped two paintings to Vancouver a few years ago. They both sold. Since I had made the box from plastic corrugated board and dense Styrofoam, I would have liked it returned to me. Empty. The cost was prohibitive, so I left it in Vancouver. I use paper cardboard for that venue these days.

Building shipping boxes

Since the Alberta Society’s selected one of my paintings for their traveling “Earth” show, I decided to again engage in building shipping boxes for the event. Sturdy, lightweight and difficult to penetrate, plastic corrugated sheets coupled with dense two-inch Styrofoam, although expensive, provide exactly what I need . First of all, I set about calculating the measurements. My painting is a thirty-by-thirty-inch canvas on gallery wrap stretchers meaning it is two inches thick. So with two-inch foam on each side, leaving enough leeway to accommodate the thickness of the corrugated board and the bubble wrapped artwork I would need a shell width of six and a half inches. The sides would need to be thirty-four inches square.

Lowering cost of building shipping boxes

Part of building shipping boxes is finding ways to cut cost. Years ago, when plastic corrugated sheets cost around ten dollars, I bought about ten for displaying my students’ work at the end of the year. I had scored the four-foot by eight-foot sheets down the middle so they would bend in half and create a solid triangle on an eight-foot table. Since then, I have been slowly using them for other things. As a result I reinforced the scored side with duct tape allowing them back into the useful category. As I put the box together the taped sides I carefully faced the repairs into the interior.

Exterior shell and interior lining

In addition to the exterior shell, building shipping boxes for artwork requires protective insulation against rough handling as they are transported from place to place. Cutting Styrofoam is easy with a sharp utility knife, a straight edge and the edge of a table to break away the unwanted remnant. I cut both sides of the foam in order to have a straight edge. This time the measurements formed around two side panels, thirty inches square. The ends, bottom and top each measured six inches wide with two end lengths of thirty inches and another two lengths of thirty-four inches for the top and bottom.

Putting it all together

building shipping boxes, protection, shipping, artwork, cutting board, utility knife, steel straight edge, calculations
Almost ready to ship

Once everything is cut, I proceed to put the outer shell together with duct tape. I hinged and labeled the top panel so the workers can easily remove and replace the artwork as required. The Styrofoam stands loosely in the interior ready to receive the carefully wrapped artwork. Sealed and labeled appropriately, the work is ready to ship. Actually, building shipping boxes is fun. It is a break in my regular routine and gives time for the paint to dry.


One: Shipping

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Ready to pack

T’is the season to ship to Vancouver. The Federation of Canadian Artists offer an array of different competitions in which its members are invited to participate. I have taken a bit of a hiatus from this smorgasbord recently because of the intense local activity requiring no shipping.

Something different

What has stumped me on this latest shipment, however, is the unusual piece I am shipping. Works on paper are for the most part watercolour or drawings, not mixed media. I wanted something different. I had decided on a thin panel of wood until I looked up the acceptable parameters for the show. Oops. I still did not want to put it behind glass.

Glass and shipping do not mix well

Glass is always problematic in the shipping process. Whatever precautions one takes, it may or may not arrive in one piece. Although in the past I have successfully used a method wherein one tapes the surface with wide masking tape in a design to ensure the possible shards will not damage the painting, I was looking for something more like a shadow box. The distance between the glass and the painting would give it too much room to move.


Naturally, when one attempts something new, one makes mistakes. My first attempt to frame the painting resulted in some ugly accidents. I had decided to place the piece centered on core board cut to fit the frame. Eyeballing the centre I used double sided tape to hold the work in place. Mistake number one. The tape refused to stick to the watercolour paper. So, I used gel.

Glass is dispensable

Cutting more thin slices of core board I prepared a ridge around the edge of the backing to fit under the frame lip and thereby install a deeper distance from the frame edge to the work. Slipping it into the frame ended up being impossible with the glass. Cutting thinner spacers did not work either. Somehow little unacceptable specks installed themselves under the glass, impossible to remove. I took out the glass.

Assumptions as not as accurate

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Rulers are just the right thickness for lifting.

Assuming rather than measuring the size required in a twelve-by-twelve-inch frame was my third mistake. The second one was not measuring, again, to centre the painting on the core board. Evidently the painting had to be detached and placed on a larger piece of core board. This proved more of a challenge since gel is a wonderful glue.

Measuring is best

This time I measured. Quite satisfied with the result and the bonus of reduced weight, I proceeded to create the necessary tools for shipping. First the 6mm plastic sheath with the name of the painting on it. Wrapped in half-inch bubble wrap I put a layer of corrugated cardboard around the bundle. Wrapping this again in one-inch bubble wrap the bundle had grown to about sixteen inches square. I made the exterior box to fit and it is now ready to ship.

The next show

I am tempted to apply to the next show in Vancouver. Now that would be a real challenge to ship since it is almost three dimensional mixed media on paper as well. It would require some kind of styrofoam box to protect the surface and prevent movement within the shipping box… Mmmm. I have until Wednesday to decide.

Now showing

Happy New Year by the way. The All Member Winter Show at VASA is still on. Do drop in. Have a great week.


Protective Sleeves

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Protective sleeves form part of the shipping and handling of the art world. Moving artwork out into the outside world, away from our studios saves on storage space. It also helps with sales as other people get to see it. Personally, I do not wish to be my own best collector…

Sleeves protect

Having spent many hours, years and decades perfecting my art, protecting the work increases in importance. Protection begins with isolation coats and varnish, or mounting on archival matt followed by glass and framing. Then there is the shipping.

Instead of Bubble Wrap

In the past, I have used bubble wrap. This practice has several inherent dangers. Eventually the bubbles disappear, especially where they are most needed, near corners. Corners take the brunt of moving. In warmer climates than mine the bubbles leave their perfect configuration imbedded in the varnish. Not a serious problem on surfaces loaded with texture, nonetheless, not what the artist ordered!

6mm Plastic Vapour Barrier

Recently I bought a roll of 6mm plastic sheeting used for vapour barriers in house construction. It is a lot stiffer and more durable than bubble wrap. The surface is smooth. Bubble wrap has moved into another position on the line of shipping necessities. Instead of next to the painting it serves as crucial protection in the middle layer between boxes ready to ship to other cities. Within driving distance the protective sleeves provide more than adequate protection.

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Nice and straight.

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On the floor and crooked.

Floor space

My studio is busy. I am thankful for the floor space my gallery provides for large scale cutting and shaping. Placing the roll of plastic sheeting on the floor I corrected the edge to ninety degrees and placed a small painting next to it. This gave me the measurement I required for the sleeves I intended to make.

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Measuring the next.

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Measured out.


Unfortunately, I did cut all the 12×12” sleeves out at the beginning instead of starting with the biggest canvases. As a result, I have a lot of left over sheeting that would have done well around the smaller paintings if I had left them for last.

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Smaller cuts.

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Cut and stacked.

Assembly line cutting

Using the roll as a straight edge, I ran a felt pen along the line and cut out the first strip. This became my pattern for the remaining strips in this size. Pulling the plastic around the painting I marked off the necessary length then used this as my pattern for the smaller pieces. I ended up with sixteen 12×12 sleeves.

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Placing the join in the middle.

Avoiding the strain

To avoid strain on an edge, I placed the join in the middle of one side and used packaging tape to secure the plastic. The bottom of the sleeve received another length of tape and then I turned the whole thing inside out.

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Sealing the outside.

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Grabbing the corners.



Inside out

The purpose of turning out the inside is to leave a clean surface next to the painting. Joins are never perfect and the glue off the tape can damage the work if it comes in contact. Once inside out I placed another strip of tape on the side joint and inserted the painting.

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Taping the bottom.

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Squaring off the bottom edge.

Last bit of tape

The edge of the painting helped me position the plastic so the final strip of tape could finish off the bottom of the sleeve. Only one more thing: labelling.

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Big enough to see.

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Label in place


Packing tape is easily removable from the protective sleeves should the label need to be changed. I begin with my name followed by the name of the painting, the media, the inventory code and my address. I cover the entire surface of the label with tape to protect it from moisture. Done.

Shipped for Show

Just finished delivering a painting to the VASA Member Show. The Opening Reception is on Thursday night at 6pm. Looking forward to it!