I am often asked how I manage to send my work outside the United Kingdom – especially when it’s so large and bulky. Well, over the last few years and with much trial and error I have developed a system that allows me to do this with efficiency, accuracy and speed. A long wooden crate, a round plastic tube and a little bit of common sense go a long way.
Whether you want to know how it’s done or are simply curious about the amount of work that goes into preparing an international shipment then let me share it with you.
Wooden crates and plastic tubes
The crate needs no explanation – suffice to say that it needs to be wood treated in accordance with ISPM15 (which means it will be stamped with the international symbol for treated timber and have a two digit reference for the country of manufacture) otherwise customs officials will send it back. Simple. Measure for your internal dimensions only and remember to ask your supplier for feet as a large crate may need to be moved with a fork lift truck.
The plastic tube is a 6″ diameter one and is cut down to allow the canvases to be rolled round it. This is the basis for the crate measurements and is the critical part of the assembly process as it contains the most valuable part of the shipment – the art itself.
Top Tip: Use water mains pipe from you local hardware/tool supply store
The next step is to cover the plastic tube with a layer of carpet, specially cut to fit round the diameter of the pipe. I do this because it prevents the canvas from slipping as it gets rolled and it helps keep the canvas warm. The last thing I need is the underside of the painting to be in contact with the cold surface of the pipe as I have no idea where it will be stored as it makes its way to its destination. If it ends up in freezing temperatures then it could harm the underside of the canvas and cause cracking.
Top Tip: Make some wooden supports for the pipe to sit on
Unless you do this the pipe will roll around inside the crate; not a god idea! You can see what I mean in the photo below. Using some joist timbers is ideal. Simply mark around the pipe and cut around the mark. Now the pipe easily sits into a custom cut seat. Once done the pipe needs some screw holes put into it ready for fixing to the supports when it goes into the crate.
Rolling and wrapping the canvas
I roll my canvases. Does that sound odd? Well I suppose it may do but it’s remarkably effective. The whole point of doing this is that it saves money on shipping. If I were to send a fully stretched painting it would not only cost four times as much for the crate to be made but the space it would take up on a plane would mean it becomes uneconomical to ship; that’s the whole point to disassembling them and rolling them up – a client pays less money to receive them. That has to be good for everyone.
Anyway. Always lay the canvas face down with the backside (blank) bit showing. It may help to do this on a surface like carpet to prevent damage to the painted surface. Next step is to brush the back and make sure it’s free from imperfections. If any bits are still on the rear they will become lumps when you roll it round the tube, so best get rid of them now.
Top Tip: Use some anti-static 2mm foam wrap to cover the canvas
When your canvas is successfully rolled around the plastic tube you need to cover it with anti-static foam. This will help keep moisture out and stop dust getting onto the surface of the painting. It makes sense to roll the paintings with the painted side out so that the curve of the paint is convex rather than concave. Doing it that concave may compress the paint in a way that causes irreversible wrinkling. Rolling it convex can sometimes result in hairline cracks but they are easier to fill than repairing a wrinkle. Admittedly this probably only applies to my own paints but it’s a critical consideration all the same. Finally secure the wrap with some acid-free tape (like masking tape).
Assembling the timbers and tools
It’s always a good idea do a trial run with the timber stretcher bars; if you get caught out with one missing when it’s 5000 miles away that’s not good! So I always have a dry run to make sure they are all there. Once the timbers are accounted for I pack them into the tube (now you can see why I use tubes right?). Put them through the centre (smart yes?); this saves having to have a massive crate unless you’re shipping multiple canvases, like I am in these photos.
Top Tip: You crate needs to only be as long as the longest timber stretcher bar
That’s right. The crate length should be dictated by the longest bar only – you won’t ever need anything longer than that. Next up is the list of tools that will be required the other end. Now this is where it can get a bit wishy-washy as each job and each client is different. Some are happy to stretch the painting back on the frame themselves but others want me and Adrian to do it for them. Fine. No problem. We can do that if required. We’ll fly anywhere to commission a painting. If that should be the case we normally pack a laser level, tripod, touch up paints, wooden corner wedges, a set square, a wooden mallet, a pin hammer, scissors and a few miscellaneous other bits and pieces. This will need to be documented on a packing list for customs officials to check over, should the crate be inspected. There is also a need to have some power tools available but I’ll talk about that another time.
Top Tip: Place the rolled up painting assembly in the crate last of all
Getting scags and nicks on the foam wrap, or worst still the surface of the painting, is bad news so pack all the other bits and pieces at the ends first then around and up the sides (if necessary), leaving enough room for the tube to be placed in the centre when you are done. Once the tube is in the crate then screw this down to the base so that it will not move during transit.
LIDS AND LABELS
Now everything has been fabricated, assembled and packed it’s time to get the lid on. Print off at least TWO address labels (in case one comes off) and stick them on with clear adhesive tape across the whole of it, not just round the edges.
Top Tip: Print off 4 commercial invoices and put each one in a document wallet on the crate
You may not ever need four but the carrier will most likely keep a copy, the outgoing customs officers may keep a copy, the incoming will probably want one and the last one may be taken by the forwarding agent once the final leg of the journey is underway. As a final consideration I have to ensure that the crate is disassembled and the timbers are recycled when the job is complete.
A little effort goes a long way
Like everything I seem to do this process revolves around effort. Taking time to ensure you make the best use of the materials and planning the packing carefully will result in a well-packed and robust shipment that contains everything needed to complete the re-assembly process when it reaches its overseas destination.
After all, I put my name to a bespoke personal service that I guarantee at any location on the planet so getting this part of the process right is perhaps the most important thing I do apart from actually doing the paintings. Oh and then there’s buying foreign power tools, transporting personnel and dealing with freight forwarders and customs officials to be considered as well as the frightening costs of sending 100kg crates across the globe! Ouch…