The Art of Posting Art

POSTAGE AND PACKAGING - KEEP THE CUSTOMER HAPPY

Why do we pay so much for postage and packaging? It is a constant question that I ask whenever I look to buy specialist things online. I might want to buy something for £3, but add in shipping at £5 and it’s not such a bargain. When you sell art directly, packaging can be expensive, so this week I am going to let you into a few tips and tricks that I have been using over the years to make sure that artworks are less likely to be damaged in transit. I am also going to give you an insight in to what you can do to add a little value and show your appreciation to your customers when sending out the goods. The good news is that it really doesn’t cost too much to say “Thank You”.

The art of posting art
The Art of Posting Art

There is nothing worse than when a customer contacts you to say that their package has arrived damaged and the artwork had been ruined. Thankfully it only happened to me once in more than 30-years which is not bad considering that once the package has been handed over to the courier or postal service, the rest is really out of your hands.

It was pure luck that the piece that got damaged was a print and was easily reprinted and sent out again. The damage was actually caused by a machine breaking down in the delivery centre, trapping it between other items which had become stuck. It was something that no one could have really predicted, but luckily I always spend a little extra on insuring the works that I do send out.

There are occasions when things like this happen. A friend of mine reminded me last weekend that she had experienced a postal disaster when shipping her beautiful ceramics to an exhibition a couple of years ago. She had started a small business from her hobby of creating ceramics and decided that she would exhibit her work at a prestigious event in London.

She carefully packaged everything up and had everything collected a week prior to the event. But what she hadn’t factored in was that the courier did not realise that the contents inside the boxes were actually fragile. She had, in her excitement forgotten to write the word fragile on any of her packages.

Before the courier had even left her property, twenty-two boxes were thrown on to a trolley before the trolley toppled over and fell on to the packages. Within ten-minutes from the courier arriving, she had become one of the first mosaic artists in her area. Only five of the twenty-two pieces survived even the initial journey of 100 feet from the door to the van.

Realising that she should have mentioned to the courier that the contents were fragile, she also realised that she needed to work on her packaging skills. If pieces were to be sent around the world, then she would certainly need to factor in that they were likely to need much more protection.

THE CAROUSEL

We see from our travels abroad what can happen with suitcases. I once stood for half an hour at a luggage carousel waiting for a piece of luggage to arrive. I had noticed a handle going around the carousel during this time, in fact it was the first thing that came out. Everyone laughed, and I continued waiting until I realised that the handle actually belonged to me. It was just minus the suitcase.

I waited until everyone else had gone from the luggage hall before picking it up. The label proved that it was mine, and someone had actually added a yellow label to the handle. That label simply said, “Heavy”.

I took it over to a member of staff who asked me if there was a problem. Yes, I said before showing her the handle. I remember her expression when she too saw the yellow label. It was one of, I am trying to keep a straight face.

So how may I be of assistance she asked? Once again I showed her the handle, holding it up, and asked her if she thought this was acceptable. Do you think my wife packed my case and thought this was all that I would need for a fortnight?

After a lengthy 14-hour flight, my mood was less than cheery as I began to fill out the paperwork. This took me another hour or so before I could even leave the terminal. The taxi driver asked if he could assist when I finally went outside. I looked him up and down and said yes, you can take this trolley back. But this just goes to show how fragile everything is, especially when subjected to extensive travel around the world. The only upside to my story was that I did not have to pay a dollar for a trolley, and I eventually received the case without the handle some three days later.

BUBBLE WRAP

 

Bubble Wrap
Bubble Wrap has millions of uses. Probably.

Bubble wrap serves so many purposes and is one of the greatest inventions ever created. You can use it for packaging, but it is also far cheaper than a session or two with a therapist. I am a huge fan of its ability to pop, and the really big bubble wrap bubbles that you can jump on, well, they just blow me away.

If like me you very often find that you are using bubble wrap when sending art via a courier or postal service, you too will notice just how great this product is. But it is not necessarily the best option to offer good all round protection of your art. It has its place, but there are so many considerations that you need to take into account when you are preparing to dispatch an item that you have managed to sell.

This week I will be exploring various options to create the perfect parcel. All of which come from many years of experience with bubble wrap, paper, cardboard, and sticky tape, oh, and various postal and specialist art courier services.

It depends on what type of work you are sending and the distance and time that the artwork will need some kind of protection. Bubble wrap has its uses, but you may not want to wrap up that original Matisse and send it out relying solely on the use of this medium. It also depends on what you will be sending out, is it a print, an original, is it framed, unframed? How delicate or old is it? More importantly is it replaceable?

Have you ever stopped for a few minutes to consider how high value art is shipped? Is it just like a Hollywood art heist movie? Does the world’s rarest painting need a motorcade to be escorted under armed guard, only to stop at a set of traffic lights at the exact time that an elaborate heist takes place?

I have to say that I did wonder myself until I was involved in transporting a high value piece of equipment in my day job almost a decade ago. The planning was carried out with military precision, the timings were rehearsed over and over, and there was so much paperwork, insurance forms, and many, many meetings that had to be completed. People had to be in place at the exact point in time which they would be needed and additional people needed to travel with the equipment to provide security. If the driver needed a rest stop, someone would have to wait with the equipment to make sure it wasn’t stolen or tampered with.

Moving art is much more complex. There are various rules for various countries as to what they will allow to be imported, the considerations are many. If for example you want to deliver a piece of framed art you wouldn’t want to introduce any living organism to the frame or the artwork, so it would be essential to make sure that if you are using a packaging crate that the wood used has been properly fumigated and checked. At a broader level, countries too will be concerned about importing non-native species into their environments. Imagine that original Van Gogh turning up at an airport only to discover that the frame has been gnawed away on the long flight by a herd of frame eating beetles, and then have the art returned damaged or worse, completely destroyed.

PEST CONTROL

This was originally only going to be a short informative post about packaging artwork, but there is so much to consider and at some point in your career you will need to know if you ship art of any description.

It seems like forever ago now that I somehow managed to sign up to study pest control as part of a piece of work I was completing at the time. I ended up signing up for the first course and found myself intrigued, subsequently I ended up completing the advanced course too, despite the fact that if I ever see a mouse running along the floor I am the first to jump on the table.

But over the years since the experience and knowledge has helped me when considering and appraising artwork, and also when I ship any art. Simply I look for the obvious signs of damage to an artwork such as if there is any evidence of boreholes or “frass” which is a fine powdery residue or fragile perforated wood that has been produced from the activity of boring insects and the excrement of insect larvae.

When I look at textiles I tend to look out for small holes where the material is wearing thin. It’s surprising just how quickly insects can start to like a piece of artwork and they see it as a valuable source of food. When looking at paintings I always look for small surface holes, smearing, (rodents tend to leave a residue) and I look for damaged edges of paper where the paint or paint colour appears faded or has been erased.

These symptoms could indicate that a wide range of insects have been taking an interest, moths may be the culprit of those holes in delicate materials, silverfish moving across paper, and I have seen rodents nibble at the edges of frames that for some reason have been stored in the open.

Pests like warm, humid or dank conditions to survive and reproduce, so you should try to keep your artwork in a cooler ambient temperature, and certainly never in a basement or cellar. Keeping your artwork out of direct sunlight is also a consideration, even the best UV glass won’t always protect your artwork from fading.

Allow air to circulate around the artwork and occasionally check the piece for any signs of infestation. This is just as important in your home based studio as it is in any large gallery or museum. Most of the large museums and galleries will be taking pest control and lighting very seriously, as they will with the quality of the air and the ambient temperatures.

Good storage practice will prevent problems when it comes to shipping your artwork down the line. Good shipping practice is then the icing on the cake.

THE LOGISTICS

When you want to ship art and museum quality pieces it is worth considering getting a professional organisation involved who actually do this all of the time. FedEx for example have teams of people dedicated to offering services to registrars, galleries, dealers, collectors, and auction houses. You can find out more about their services here: http://customcritical.fedex.com/us/services/market-industry/art.shtml

Their core service provides a service and equipment that is matched to meet your artworks requirements. They have experience in shipping prized artworks, sculptures, and fine art in general, but they also offer a range of other options too. At this point I have to say that there are other organisations beyond FedEx who offer these types of services, and there are many who specialise only in the transport of art.

You might need to ensure that the environment in which your artwork is shipped is carefully climate controlled. Many of the organisations involved with delivering art will be able to supply facilities to enable your artwork to travel in an environment suitable to maintain climate and humidity, something that we often forget when we are shipping an original oil print halfway across the world. FedEx for example have various temperature controlled containers that fit within the aircraft and vehicles that they use.

One thing that most of us would not necessarily consider unless we are shipping that original Van Gogh we have hanging around, is the security of the item during transport. Many of the larger courier and delivery services will have a special facility to address this, although not all will necessarily offer something that is suitable.

Many of the larger and more modern services will have continuous shipment monitoring with two-way satellite communication in order to track the artwork at every turn. Other services will arrange security personnel to accompany the artwork throughout the journey, others will just sub-contract out the work to another organisation.

There are huge differences in the way that some companies operate in terms of the equipment that they have available. A company may have trucks with air suspension, climate control, track-and-trace alarm systems, equipped to mountain temperatures and relative humidity. Others, well they just have a van.

Some companies will have agreements in place with various air carriers to escort the artwork from the initial storage facility overseeing the palletisation and packaging, and then follow the artwork through loading, customs, and on to the aircraft, and then doing it all in reverse on arrival. Others will pass the artwork on, and at this point you are in the hands of the airline staff.

Handle with Care
Handle With Care!

There is a cost to this and it isn’t cheap. Depending on the service you need and the value of the transported work, the costs simply add up to a significant sum. But many of the specialist art removal companies will also handle customs procedures for both import and export shipments, and they will supervise any customs inspections.

FOR THE REST OF US

For many of us artists there will be no need to go to such extremes when shipping prints, and even originals. It really does come down to value and also what the customer is willing to pay. Engaging with a specialist art removal company to ship a $10 print would make little sense, but an original work that is worth somewhere in the thousands, it has to be a consideration.

Many of the large companies will though offer a consolidation delivery. This is when they will ship many pieces from various artists together to the same destination. The downside of this is that it can still be relatively expensive, but certainly less expensive than if you were to send the piece out on its own. The other downside is that you may also have to wait for enough works to be shipped together to make it financially viable.

But there are many other options. Many courier companies will have a process for shipping and transporting art, and you can buy insurance with many postal services and couriers. This week I shipped a piece of work to Yorkshire in the UK. Not too far away from where I live in Staffordshire, and I was pleasantly surprised when the art arrived the next day. The piece was 24 inches by 24 inches and was a stretched canvas. The total cost including insurance was less than £20 and the package arrived undamaged.

There is no fool proof method for shipping art unless you are willing to pay but there are certain things that you can do when packaging your artwork that will lessen the overall risk.

CREATE A SHIIPING FRAME

It depends on how the customer wants to receive their artwork. Cardboard postal tubes work well if you have smaller prints that can easily be rolled. Ambassador Cardboard Postal Tube, 50mm diameter x 450mm (Box of 25) costs as little as £11.30 from the Amazon UK site.

A heads up here, I will be posting some of my most used items on a new page soon so you can be sure to find the best prices on art supplies and supporting items.

When transporting flat unframed prints I tend to use multiple techniques depending on the size and the medium the print is actually printed on. I use a local carpenter who specialises in creating beautiful wooden frames. However, not everyone wants to purchase a frame so he creates transport frames from offcuts of wood. It’s not unusual to see one edge in cherry wood, and three others in Oak, but they serve a purpose.

The wood is carefully treated to ensure that it does not damage the artwork or introduce any infestation, but the transport frames are inexpensive and serve a purpose. I then sandwich the frame between two pieces of polystyrene, and wrap in a thick cardboard. I will shed more light on this process in a moment.

I also wrap the artwork in acid-free tissue paper and for additional protection depending on how far the piece needs to travel, I will also wrap the piece including the transit frame in plastic. This helps protect against moisture ingress during transit. A transit frame for an 11 inch x 14 inch print often costs around £2. I did actually have a customer who liked the four different woods in the transit frame and decided to not use her intended $50 frame, and went on to order five of these frames in various sizes. They actually cost more to ship than to produce.

I also wear a pair of white photography gloves whenever I am handling any art, this avoids leaving any smudges on the artwork. I am so in the habit of donning a pair of gloves for this task that I even do this with greetings cards.

For larger pieces that are framed I will use a transport crate, again created by my local carpenter, and they are made to size. Once again the wood is treated and in a way that will not damage the artwork inside. Every packaging crate also has FRAGILE stamped all over it.

THE BASIC PACKAGING

Other than the option of using a tube to send out your work, the easy option is to create what I call an art sandwich.

For this you will need tools no more complex than a craft knife and scissors, some sticky tape and a ruler. The ingredients are simple too.

• Packing Tape – I generally try to get the tape that you can put on a roll with a cutting edge.

• Sticky Tape – Artists must be a nightmare when in their day jobs they get access to a stationary cupboard.

• Plastic bags. Here you do need to be careful. I use a roll of polythene but you can use strong refuse bags. You need to be cautious because some refuse bags are scented and can actually stain your art.

• Insulating foam sheets (Styrofoam). These come in various thickness’s and are inexpensive. You could use polystyrene and I would suggest you buy sheets as opposed to polystyrene packaging blocks as the sheets are easier to store. The foam insulating sheets though tend to be more rigid and offer a greater degree of protection.

• Cardboard boxes. I really could not believe just how expensive cardboard boxes are to buy. They are sold for house removals in packs, but fifteen boxes at Argos in the UK can cost around £35. Far better to ask at your local grocery store for any spare boxes that they may have, but do bear in mind that boxes that have previously contained chemicals or may have food residue remaining inside can damage your artwork.

I use a roll of thick cardboard and it looks more professional than wrapping a piece of $200 art up in a used Twinkies box.

• Acid Free tissue paper

• Packaging Board (Optional) – I tend to use Xerox packaging board. It is a little on the expensive side compared to normal packaging board but it has some key benefits:

Xerox Packaging Board prevents product loss by effectively protecting packed materials against physical damage, contamination and light.

Product information can be printed directly onto the surface of the board, so no extra labels are needed. This information can be generic or personalised and offers a clear opportunity for branding and improved product placement and recognition.

The smoothness, whiteness and brightness provide excellent print results, and the boards range from around 240gsm to 350gsm and are usually supplied in packs of 100 sheets. It all depends on the size of board that you need and what you need to protect. But there are cheaper options, some of which are not too bad at all for the price. Take a look around and see if you can request a sample of boards.

Compressed foam packaging
Compressed foam packaging can be expensive. Look for suitable alternatives that work just as well.

 

THE PROCESS

Firstly if your print is framed or unframed you will want to wrap it in acid free tissue paper. Then to avoid moisture issues, wrap the framed print in polythene, but make sure that it is easy to remove and will not need scissors or a knife. I print of my own “no sharp objects – do not use sharp items to open this package” stickers and place them on the polythene.

For unframed prints I place acid free tissue paper over the print and then place the print and tissue paper between two pieces of cardboard, then I continue to wrap the polythene around the cardboard.

For unframed prints I use three options to send out the work depending on size, value, destination, and who the carrier will be. Tubes are my preferred option, and again I use the acid-free tissue paper to protect the work. I also wrap the tube in polythene to protect from moisture.

If the unframed print cannot be rolled, I always offer the customer a choice of rolled or flat; I will use the same technique as above but will place the unframed print between the packaging boards. Again, the print is wrapped in acid-free tissue paper. The board is then wrapped in cardboard and taped at the edges but I always put extra layers of tape on the leading edges and corners.

Framed prints are completely different, as are those I put in to my transit frames. For these I wrap polythene around the frame and then sandwich the frame between two sheets of insulation foam or polystyrene and carefully cutting the foam to the same size as the frame with a large craft knife.

If you need to send more than one framed print in the same package, simply lay the second and subsequent pieces on top and cut out some additional pieces to fill the extra space so that everything is uniform. This makes it easier when covering it with the cardboard. For additional protection you could then sandwich everything between two pieces of packaging board. This makes the package sturdier, doesn’t necessarily add too much weight, but reduces the risk of what I call “poke through”. You know, when something gets poked right through the middle of the parcel.

I also use packaging tape to bond the sandwich together. The result is that I have an almost box-like package and it is so much easier to dispatch.

When you wrap the cardboard around the package you will want to keep enough overlap at each end. Carefully score the cardboard so that it can be folded in, this way you will be able to wrap everything with a single piece of cardboard.

The thing to remember is to keep everything as tight as possible. Use extra tape on the ends, edges, and corners, and everything should remain in place even on the most arduous onward journey.

There are so many different ways that art can be packaged and they needn’t be overly expensive. However, paying a little extra to offer additional protection is worth it on a number of levels.

Firstly the protection that good packaging offers cannot be underestimated. Packages travel through lots of automated systems and will get handled by a huge number of people. Secondly, this adds to the perception of quality. I also add a couple of touches to all of my packages.

If you follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter you will have noticed my art cards which display the complete product line of any particular piece. I will be covering those in a future blog. They also allow me to create a brochure of work which I print out and bind, and send this with the parcel, or I will send out a few art cards. Sometimes I will also include a discount code for frequent buyers, but I always include a handwritten note to say thank you, and a signed certificate on premium paper.

It takes some time to actually package up a piece of art, usually I will spend around 20-30 minutes on each package, and I also encourage my daughter to assist in busy periods, reminding her that one day BeechHouse Media will be hers, but today it pays for her new Nike trainers. I started work at 14 running a market stall, so half an hour occasionally isn’t too much of a stretch. It is character building.

In terms of cost, a tube package is the cheapest, and in total I spend around £1.50 (approximately $1 US), for each tube plus postage. Framed prints vary depending on size, but they can range from £2-£3 to over £50 if crates are used. I often reuse crates by getting a local courier to collect them depending on where they are located. I don’t send out thousands, but every week I ship at least one or two prints somewhere. Except in the summer. Very few people buy artwork directly in the summer, but Christmas is usually frantic. Last year I was organising same-day couriers on Christmas Eve and I ended up transporting two pieces myself when most of the couriers stopped working at 4pm.

ADDED VALUE

There are a few other items that you can put into the package to add value to the buyer and let them know that you care. Good quality picture hanging hooks are a good example, again they need not cost much but worth mentioning that the customer needs to make sure that they are suitable for their wall type.

As I mentioned earlier, customers who buy direct from me also receive a handwritten note. I never send something generic. I always include a personal greeting with the customer’s name, and I always refer to the exact piece that they have purchased, and I also do this if someone refers another customer to me as well.

I never send a business card with a thank you note, generally I post the note a couple of days after the shipment has been delivered. At this point I am thanking them rather than selling to them, although it doesn’t hurt future sales.

Depending on how frequently a buyer purchases my artwork and the value, I will occasionally send a free print that has not been made available for sale, and sometimes I find a little time to create a little something just for that client. This might be a landscape of a landmark in their local area, but it could be something that is related to the art that they have purchased.

Sometimes I will print out a few photographs of the piece being created. Many people are interested in the process so a series of work in progress photos, or some concept art are always popular. I tend to start sending little extras after someone has purchased two or three larger pieces of work, or half a dozen or so smaller pieces. If someone buys a range of products and prints from print on demand, as long as they have proof of purchase and I can match the payment dates, I will send something to them, maybe a print, maybe a note. They just need to get in touch with me and let me know who and where they are.

As I say, none of this needs to cost a lot of money. A few prints here and there, a box of chocolates (which I sent out just last week!), or a note, but it really does add a nice touch. If someone wants to buy my art and display it, I really do want to shake their hand and say thank you.

I sell occasionally to corporate buyers and I make doubly sure not to forget them when it comes to showing my appreciation. Sending a box of cookies is a great way to engage everyone in the office. Next time there is an office meeting and everyone choses a piece of art, they will likely remember getting a free box of cookies last time. Trust me, this actually works with most corporate clients.

You might want to lean towards sending your client something that they can use every day that is unrelated to your art, but keep in mind that useful gifts have to be useful to your customer. I received a gift from a company last week for signing up on a new home energy deal. They sent me six bottles of wine. Unfortunately I don’t drink alcohol, not for any other reason than I am a lightweight and can’t handle the aftermath of the hangover. It will come in for presents to family and friends I expect.

You may decide to send a customer a copy of your latest free e-book. This dear friends is what is called routine marketing. There may be a book that you love and you decide that your customers will love it too. They might, but they might not. Send them a gift card for a bookstore though and they will go in and buy whichever book they want.

If your buyers are from overseas, it is also worth thinking about sending them something that they can’t easily access or buy in their country. Something from your local town, or something that your country is famous for. Remember that food does go bad, and that some countries won’t allow certain products through their borders. People love new things, and they love receiving something that they cannot easily get.

Whenever you receive personal information perhaps from getting a customer to sign up for email alerts, think about how you could use that information to make something a little more personal. Sending out an email or one of your greetings cards on the customer’s birthday would certainly put a more personal spin on your communications.

If you don’t have access to key dates that your customer might celebrate, consider having a customer appreciation day or week, or send them a discount voucher on holidays such as Valentine’s Day.

Feature customers in your social media posts, but do get their permission first. For the post, the customer could become the face of your brand that particular day or week, and this is especially liked by corporate clients who will get free advertising.

Make yourself accessible. Offer an online chat or Google Hangout, and answer customer calls. It doesn’t matter if you are a CEO of a multi-million dollar company, engaging with the customer will keep them coming back.

Few businesses thank people properly for their custom. If they do it is usually a marketing ploy to get the customer to spend more. Vouchers for discounts are fine, but a better way of saying thanks is to say thanks without them having to pay extra. Your little gift doesn’t need to be expensive, but knowing that you care enough about your customers to thank them with a note or a $5 box of cookies is what they will remember.

Next week I will be covering the art of self promotion, or how much self promotion is too much? If you have any promotional ideas that work for you then I would love to hear them in the comments. In the meantime, you can follow me on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will find some of my latest work and posts that amuse and entertain me from around the interweb.

STOP PRESS!

 

Round Beach Towels by Mark Taylor
Round Beach Towels by Mark Taylor

If you haven't heard about the latest beach accessory that's taking the Internet by storm you should check out my new product range which now includes this seasons must have ROUND BEACH TOWELS! What's more, if you order before the end of this Summer (2016), you'll receive FREE WORLDWIDE SHIPPING!

You can select from over 200 designs in my store today at http://10-Mark-Taylor.pixels.com or on my store page on this blog! The quality of these towels is superb, and they're a huge 60 inches in diameter. Take advantage of those warm summer days and nights by not only using them on the beach, but also for picnics, sunbathing in the park, or add a really on trend design to your home decor. Beach towels and larger beach sheets are also available.

 

Comments

Popular posts