Hot Tips on Shipping Your Artwork
April 23, 2013
(As deadlines approach for shipping work to SDA in•ter•face Conference, NewsBlog asked Patricia Malarcher to assemble a list of helpful tips based on her experience. If you’re shipping work to San Antonio, exhibition coordinators will send you specific directions & deadlines. Thanks to former SDA Conference Manager Dot Moye for suggesting this article after the last conference. – NewsBlog Editor Leesa Hubbell )
Is there an artist without a horror story related to shipping?
How about this one:
I was invited to exhibit in a quilt show in France. The deadline was close, but UPS assured me that a week was enough time to get the quilt to Texas, where the show would be assembled and sent overseas. I packed my piece in a reusable Sonotube, sent it off via UPS, and 2 days later, it was delivered—to my own front door!
When the tube had been returned from a previous show, I’d neglected to remove the shipping label so that’s what was scanned at the dispatching center. Fortunately, I managed to curb my panic, and re-sent the package via FedEx’s overnight service.
The lesson learned—when re-using a box or container, remove or cover up any addresses or bar codes from previous use—came at a very high price.
COMPARISON OF SERVICES: FedEx / UPS / USPS
FedEx is never the cheaper route, but using FedEx Ground or FedEx Express/Third Day Delivery keeps the cost down. FedEx and UPS will pick up packages from your home or studio for a nominal fee in addition to the shipping cost. Otherwise, UPS Stores and FedEx Offices, where both packing and shipping services are available, are widely accessible.
When you’re sending more than one piece in more than one container to the same address, FedEx will ship them all under one label rather than as separate items. (The barcode is the mother hen that keeps them together.) That ensures their arrival at the same time, and whoever accepts them will have only one form to sign. It also means that if your package is picked up at your address, there will be a fee for only one item. UPS requires a separate form for each piece.
Go Small with USPS: For smallish packages, US Postal Service’s Priority Mail is the most economical route. USPS won’t guarantee arrival on a particular day—unlike FedEx and UPS, it doesn’t have its own fleet of planes—but you can track delivery.
Both FedEx and UPS have international service. However, a FedEx representative advised contacting customer service about customs regulations that differ from one country to another. Rates became an issue when I was sending work to South Korea—the cost for the trip there and back via FedEx was close to the value of the piece being sent.
Chunghie Lee, a Korean artist who frequently ships internationally, recommended US Postal Service Express Mail International. I followed her advice, and found that service to be fast and reliable at a surprisingly reasonable price. Lee also said that using USPS rather than a commercial service avoided time-consuming paperwork at the receiving end.
Shipping Myth or Hot Tip?: This may be apocryphal, but ’tis said that it’s best to ship during the middle of the week so your package doesn’t get sidetracked over a weekend.
When to Go Pro: For domestic and overseas shipping of artworks too large or complex to send via standard carriers, professional art handlers are the gold standard. FedEx offers a service for artworks called FedEx Custom Critical, but in most major cities there are specialized art shipping companies that pack, crate, transport, and deliver artwork. A long list appears when you google art shipping services. You might also check with a local gallery for a referral.
I no longer cruise around scavenging abandoned refrigerator cartons from which to make boxes, or haunt carpet dealers for discarded rug tubes. Now there are plenty of retail sources—notably, at UPS Stores, FedEx Offices, Staples and Home Depot—for boxes and tubes in a range of shapes and sizes.
If you have space to store boxes in quantities, check an online source such as Uline.com, for an enormous selection at excellent prices. USPS Post offices carry a variety of free boxes for use with Priority Mail, and sell a limited supply of others in larger sizes. They also sell 24- and 36-inch tubes (intended for shipping documents) that I use for rolling up large 2-D fabric pieces in preparation for packing in larger tubes or boxes. Sometimes I tape 2 of these tubes together, end to end, to get the right size. FedEx Office carries 48-inch tubes.
Sonotubes (tubular molds for casting concrete) are almost indestructible as shipping containers and are great for holding quilts that are rolled. Available at building supply stores, they come in different diameters (e.g., 8, 10, and 12 inches) and lengths; you may have to saw the ends off to get the length you need. Their open ends have to be covered, but you can make lids from corrugated sheets or other heavy cardboard.
Recently, I started shipping rolled quilts in ski boxes—2 long boxes that telescope into each other so the length is flexible and the walls are extra sturdy. Available at UPS Stores, these are normally strong enough to re-use. If you fold quilts or tapestries for shipping, rolling plastic dry cleaner bags and placing them in the folds can help prevent creases.
To ship fragile items, DC-area artist Saaraliisa Ylitalo recommends double-boxing—one box inside another—to absorb pressure from the outside. Fill any open spaces inside the boxes so the work can’t shift about or move around.
Recycling is a virtuous practice, but never use a carton that has lost its rigidity—it can collapse and break open, damaging the contents. Assume that your box may travel under something heavier than itself.
Wood crates are recommended for extremely heavy or hard-to-pack pieces, but be warned before building your own: wood used for international shipping must be provably sanitized to destroy any organisms therein.
PRACTICE CLEAR LABELING: A final word about boxes: Mark the outside with information useful to those who will handle it. For example, if you want the box positioned or opened at a certain end, print “This End Up” or “Open Here” legibly and confirm with an arrow. “Fragile” stickers usually are available at shipping centers.
INSURANCE AND LOSS
A FedEx clerk recently wanted to open a box for inspection because I’d valued the contents at $500. I didn’t want my careful packing disturbed – plus, there was nothing inside to validate worth – so I said “Cross out the value” and crossed my fingers. Like most packages, that one reached its destination, but inevitably some don’t, and disappear forever.
UPS insures art up to $50,000, while the ceiling for FedEx is only $1000, regardless of actual value.
We can claim whatever amount we want, but collecting insurance is reality-based.
All insurers require evidence to confirm the value of artwork beyond the cost of materials from which it was made. Claims are usually honored if a piece was sold and the artist has a receipt for the sale, or if the artwork had been appraised and documented by a certified professional.
In an unusual case, UPS fully reimbursed an artist whose package was lost en route to a gallery when she produced a copy of the itemized invoice listing prices for the contents, and stated that she could remake the artwork.
When USPS loses an uninsured package, a customer can request a search. This may seem like an exercise in futility, but it’s advisable to follow through (and then forget about it). With faint hope I filed a claim on a lost package of un-duplicatable photographs; they showed up a year later at a dead mail recovery center.
(Editor’s Note: Surface Design Association Members Only Group on Facebook has attracted informative discussions about shipping – especially international practices. If you are an SDA member, request to join the discussion at the top of that Facebook page, searchable via “Surface Design Association (Members Only Group)”. Then scroll through the recent posts to find the discussions. Click on Facebook icon at the top of this page to start the process.)
Patricia Malarcher is a studio artist and independent writer who was Editor of SDA’s quarterly Surface Design Journal for 18 years (1993-2011). She lives and works in Englewood, New Jersey.