Shipping Pastels (A Fragile Matter)

42-shipping-boxes.jpgThis topic will be broken (no pun intended) into two blogs: the first One will concern boxing a painting for shipment; the second will cover record-keeping and other considerations when a painting leaves your hands. 

Shipping artwork is always nerve-racking. If you want to participate in national and international exhibitions, you’ll need to employ a suitable shipping method to accommodate your precious pastel paintings. Having helped with the intake of artwork for some of these exhibits, I could tell you more than a few horror stories of artist’s work showing up with broken glass, damaged frames, and pastel dust all over the inside surface of the mat and glass. Pastel artists have worked for years to gain the respect afforded the other mediums. Exhibiting work that shows any of these problems does a huge disservice to the pastel community’s reputation, and reinforces the public belief that pastel is fragile and not as permanent as other media.

Since pastel must be protected with either glass or Plexiglas, the container should be rigid enough to withstand the rigors of shipping. Commonly, cardboard is utilized and occasionally plywood. The advantage of cardboard is its weight. If the painting is at all large, plywood will become quiet heavy and ends up being prone to mistreatment by the carrier. Some shippers are now adding a surcharge if wood containers are used. If you’re shipping to exhibitions, you will want to invest in something that can be returned at the end of the exhibit if the work is unsold. There are companies that specialize in making boxes for this purpose, producing strong, easy to use, returnable boxes (see my packaged painting in a box by Airfloat Systems in the photo above, for example).

If you plan on make your own case, put some thought into the ease of opening and repacking, in order to make things easier for the volunteer helping on the receiving end. Make sure, whether your box is commercial or homemade, that it has at a minimum of 2 to 3 inches of space around the painting to adsorb shock. Bubble wrap works well, but foam sheets available at upholstery and fabric stores are even better. Packing peanuts should be avoided as they are difficult to deal with when unpacking and repacking a painting.

Many exhibitions are now requiring Plexiglas (plastic), avoiding the possibilities of glass breakage. Plexiglas is prone to warping and on a large painting can easily be pushed against the surface of the pastel. Try to allow as much space as possible between the painting and Plexiglas to prevent this situation. Plexiglas also suffers from electrostatic cling. The act of cleaning the outer surface can produce considerable static, lifting pastel off the surface of the painting. There are plastic cleaners or polishes that help relieve the static buildup and are recommended if Plexiglas is utilized (Novus 1 Plastic Clean & Shine, for example). Check with your art supply store or local glazer for more information. It is worth noting that Plexiglas, because of its flexible nature, can easily become dislodged from a frame if it’s not fit tightly to the inner frame rabbet, especially on large paintings. If glass glazing is used, it is helpful to use a glass-skin over the outer glass layer to protect the artwork in the event of breakage. This is similar to the protective film found on most new appliances when purchased and is available from many shipping supply companies (such as Airfloat Systems). It’s easily removed with no effect to the glass, and it helps to hold broken shards of glass from falling against the pastel painting should the glass becomes broken in transit (Note that this is not advised for museum glass).

Be sure to check back next week for Part 2 of this discussion.


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3 thoughts on “Shipping Pastels (A Fragile Matter)


    Just a note
    I used an air float box for shipping and then my pastel arrived bad the whole center was missing! When the foam and the plexi touched and just barely rubbed they built of enough static to lift my painting.

    Just to be safe place a piece of mat board between the plexi and foam

  2. chewie

    the glass skin is a real saver–another option is contact paper, i use the diamond foggy patterned type. the client can see its suppose to be removed, leaves no residue, and even in my town that has very little, its easy to find. and cheap!

  3. Elsie H. Wilson

    As usual, Richard has taught a great lesson. I loved his point about Pastel artists have work for recognition and respect and how treating our painting well is a reflection of this. The tip about the anti-static plexiglass clearner is wonderful!
    Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us.