When artists create
paintings their focus is typically on issues of aesthetics. Concerns
over the substrate, ground, painting materials and the overall durability
or integrity of the work are typically either built into the working
style, or not. Usually, last among the concerns for the work is its
stability in regards to its storage and/or shipping. An artist may have
looked at any given painting hundreds of times to assure it meets certain
criteria of the show, event, or new owner; but, in order for the work
to survive, it is critical to look at the work from the unusual perspective
of the mover. How fragile is this work? How heavy is it? What are the
dimensions? Are there any special concerns for this object
that need to be considered? Successfully transporting artwork hinges
on several key factors. Understanding what sort of things can go wrong
and what precautionary measures must be taken, will greatly reduce potential
with acrylic artist paints seem indestructible compared to many more
delicate painting mediums such as gouache, watercolor, encaustics and
tempera, or drawing mediums such as pastels or charcoal. The common
understanding of the advantage of acrylic paints over oil is that they
will not suffer the problems
caused by oil paints' embrittlement over time. Under most conditions,
acrylic paintings remain flexible and are able to withstand considerable
abuse. It is just this sense of ease of care that artists have presumed,
which has led to carelessness and caused significant problems when transporting
or moving acrylic paintings.There are many helpful resources for artists
to consult before packaging and transporting works. This issue of Just
Paint offers some excerpts from these resources. The purpose of this
article is not to recreate those resources, which are rich with examples
and suggestions, but to examine some of the significant issues with
works completed in acrylic that may not specifically be covered in this
compilation of literature. A resource list is included at the end of
this article for invaluable references regarding appropriate care when
moving and storing acrylic paintings.
(or the disclaimer up front)
This article is organized starting with the most protective of all the
packaging techniques, crating.
This is done to call specific attention to best practices; realizingthat
artists more often than not find other creative ways to transport work.
Best practices are provided for these other methods as well, with the
important caveat that none of these methods is without risk. As one
moves down the ladder of best practices, the risk significantly increases
that something untoward may happen to the work.
What is being
Acrylic paintings have several unique attributes that create value as
a fine artists' medium, but these attributes can also be significantfactors
for concern in addressing the packaging and moving of the paintings.
Under most environmental conditions, acrylic paintings are very flexible,
which dramatically reduces the potential for cracking in most situations,
yet the price paid for this flexibility is a softer film; one that can
be scratched, scuffed and marred easily. This is even more of a challenge
when working with very matte or underbound acrylic paintings (meaning
overloaded with pigment or other solids, exceeding the critical ratios
of pigment to binder). Another property of this flexible paint surface
is the relative permeable nature of the waterborne acrylic. This property
allows for dirt or pollutants to become embedded (especially in a fresher
film). Finally, the most significant property of the acrylic film (again
especially representative of fresh films) is the potential tackiness
of the surface.
The nature of the
acrylic surface leads to one inevitable conclusion: that for an acrylic
painting, it is critical to protect the painting's surface. This is
probably obvious to every reader so far, but as opposed to oil paint
films in which the greatest danger is fracturing the painting's film,
protecting the acrylic painting does require at least some different
considerations. Although protecting the painting's surface must be the
primary directive for packing and shipping acrylic paintings, it does
not provide for all the
Acrylic paint films
become brittle at low temperatures, usually around 40° F. Transit
by air freight or in unheated trucks in cold winter weather can result
in cracked paint films due to vibration during
transit. The obvious way to prevent this problem is to ship in a temperature
controlled truck. In the case of shipment by air, steps must be taken
to assure that the paint layer does not vibrate during transit. The
use of a rigid backing board will sufficiently dampen transit vibrations.
How a painting is constructed is crucial in determining the potential
methods of transportation.
A canvas can be transported either stretched or unstretched and therefore,
it's important to consider the consequences of both. A rolled canvas
may ship more easily and cost efficiently, but when it arrives it will
have to be unrolled and re-stretched - both actions may damage the artwork.
Rolled, the surface is seemingly protected, yet in this condition, care
must be taken to avoid the potential of the painting surface picking
up fibers in the overlying canvas. If the stretched canvas is to be
moved, the surface and back must be protected and the corners must be
able to sustain an impact from handling. Additionally, if the work is
transported in cold weather, provisions
must be made for reducing shock to the painting surface. These issues
will be addressed later in the article.
A panel painting
or works attached to rigid board will also need the surface and corners
protected and although it is significantly protected from vibration,
it will have to potentially withstand other objects being stacked on
top of it.
The age of artwork
is also of
importance during moving.
While acrylics dry very quickly, they can take much longer to fully
cure. Film thickness, materials used and environmental factors determine
the time required for paint films to cure. An uncured acrylic film will
be softer and more prone to blocking and ferrotyping, while an older,
more fully cured piece will be less prone to damage.
THE IMPACT OF PAINT FILM CURING DURING SHIPMENT
There are four stages involved in the drying of acrylic paint films
(See Figure 1). The first stage is
the initial evaporation of water occurring at a linear rate, throughout
which the paint remains wet and workable. The second stage begins as
the acrylic solids in the film become more compacted. In the third stage
of drying, the acrylic polymer solids - more or less spherical in shape
- begin deforming as a result of capillary action caused by the flow
of water to the surface, thus eliminating interstitial area and forming
a continuous, honey-comb like structure.
At this point, the paint film feels dry to the touch. The last stage
of drying involves the final evaporation of water and coalescing solvent,
particle compaction, along with chain entanglement of the polymer solids,
forming a continuous film. Critical properties such as adhesion, hardness
and clarity are not completed until the film is fully cured. (For more
information about acrylic film formation, refer to the GOLDEN "Technical
Notes on Drying" Information Sheet). An acrylic film is at its
greatest risk during this curing process.
If the artwork is
shipped before the paint has been allowed to fully cure, several negative
situations can occur. Since the paint film is still developing, it has
the greatest chance of adhering to anything and everything with which
it comes in contact. Packing materials such as glassine and cardboard
can become permanently bonded to the paint surface. Two paintings facing
and in contact with each other can easily become bonded together, most
likely resulting in the damage of both surfaces. Additionally, a fresh
paint film is more likely to attract dirt and dust particles that will
potentially become permanently embedded in the paint film. Thick paint
films can develop cracks and crazes during excessive movement while
curing. Cold temperatures can harm the film formation process and may
even result in early delamination. Temperatures below 49° F do not
allow for the proper alignment and deformation of the polymers.
A paint film retains
its shape as it cures. If a partially cured painting is rolled up for
shipping and stays rolled while the film cures, it will be very difficult
to level out the canvas when unrolled. This rolled film will be more
likely to crack as it's unrolled, especially under lower temperatures.
Folded paintings would suffer even more so.
A new set of parameters is created each time artwork is transported.
Ideally, the best shipping method for any acrylic painting is one where
nothing is allowed to touch the surface of the work. It cannot be stressed
enough that most damage in shipping occurs because something came in
contact with the painting surface, causing one or more of the following
types of damage:
Figure 2, Art in Transit Handbook, National Gallery of Art, Washington
transfer of texture from the packing materials to the surface of the
alteration in high spots.
texture created on smooth surfaces, or the reverse.
Back and Forth
Across the Painting Surface
loss of paint
adhering to the surface
plastic and other packing items physically attaching to the painting
removal may pull up paint or harm substrates.
likely permanent damage
generally requires sharp impact to substrate or surface at temperatures
below 45° F.
can also occur when a painting, still drying, receives a gentle impact.
If you want your
paintings to have the best chance for longevity, put each painting into
its own packing container. This eliminates the opportunity for surface
contact, assuring a greater chance that the artwork will arrive without
impairment. Careful planning and packing will increase the likelihood
that the support will also remain undamaged. Of course, this is also
the most expensive means of packing and transport, and admittedly, artists
are forced to make significant compromises in shipping. Yet it must
at least be an important consideration before going to lesser protective
For a packing case to be most effective, it must fulfill these functions:
the painting, insulation and cushioning foams
the contents from impact and puncture without serious distortion
a sealed environment
against intrusion of moisture
handles for lifting and moving
a multi-venue tour without compromise of any of the above functions
and Size Limitations
The volume of the case depends on the size and number of paintings to
be packed, thickness of thermal insulation and thickness of cushioning
materials used. The type and amount of foam materials to be used in
the packing case must be determined prior to case construction. There
are limitations to the size case that can be accommodated by transport
vehicles. For dimension and weight requirements contact your local transportation
The majority of cases are still constructed from plywood, which has
inherent advantages over
aluminum and fiberglass. Plywood has a high strength-to-weight ratio,
provides some insulation, some relative humidity buffering, and is relatively
If plywood is used as a construction material, the thickness of the
plywood has a considerable effect on the puncture resistance of the
sides of the case. Plywood thicknesses between 3/8 inch and 1/2 inch
are typically found on small-to-medium sized cases, up to 72 inches
long. Plywood thicknesses up to 3/4 inches are found in the larger cases.
and Structural Rigidity
The construction methods of the case, particularly where materials are
joined, have a significant effect on the strength as well as the rigidity
of the case. A case having edges and corners that are well joined can
have over ten times the strength and one-hundred times the rigidity
of a case that has corners and edges that are poorly joined. It is recommended
that the edges and corners be both screwed and glued together.
For cases light enough to be lifted by one or two people, handholds
should be provided on the case. For cases requiring mechanical means
for lifting, such as forklifts, blocks (skids) should be provided that
allow the forklift tines to slide under the case.
and Topple Resistance
Large packing cases containing a single painting can be high and narrow.
This can make them unstable and prone to topple even if slightly jarred.
Provisions should be made to prevent such accidents.
FOR CANVAS PAINTINGS
It is advisable to attach backboards to the reverse of all paintings
to reduce the potential of damage caused by puncture, vibration and
shock.l A stiff backing board will enclose an air cavity behind the
painting. As a consequence, the painting's tendency to vibrate is reduced
due to the stiffening effect of air trapped between the backboard and
the reverse of the painting canvas.
flexible backboard may have limited effectiveness. Relatively stiff
materials are best for backboards, or securing the center of a flexible
backboard to the cross braces on larger works.
stretchers usually have crossbars. Several small pieces of the backboard
material should be cut and attached to each open rectangle bordered
by crossbars and outer stretcher members, if possible.
During handling and transport, slack canvases on large paintings can
strike the crossbars of the stretchers. This can be avoided by attaching
pieces of foam to the backboard. (See Figure 3)
Figure 3, Art in Transit Handbook,
National Gallery of Art, Washington
foam should be very close to the back of the canvas without actually
low-density polyester urethane foam works well because it is soft
and relatively lightweight. Polyester urethane foams are not chemically
stable and should not be left behind the painting for extended periods.
Many factors affect the rate of the foam's deterioration, making it
impossible to estimate how long the foam can stay behind the painting.
foam can be attached to the backboard with double-stick tape or hot
glue. The foam must be securely attached to ensure that there is no
risk of it pulling away from the backboard and coming in direct contact
with the canvas.
backboard should be secured to the stretcher with screws.
Stretcher lining is a procedure developed by Peter Booth at the Tate
Gallery for reducing the vibration of a canvas painting. It involves
attaching to the reverse of the original stretcher a new piece of fabric,
preferably a thin but exceptionally stiff fabric such as polyester sailcloth.
The painting is not in any way disturbed. The procedure should not be
confused with the process conservators call "lining," which
is a procedure where the original canvas is adhered to a new fabric
in order to strengthen it.With the fabric in position, there is less
risk of crossbar-related cracks developing through impact, as a continuous
surface, rather than the crossbar's edges, would be contacted. A further
advantage has been demonstrated in vibration tests showing a marked
reduction of canvas displacement in response to low-frequency vibration.
Method of Attaching
the Stretcher Lining:
a piece of fabric approximately the same size as the painting.
attach it to the back of the stretcher with a few staples.
out curved segments of the fabric to allow space for the crossbar(s)
and wedges (stretcher keys).
the staples to free the material that should be folded and inserted
between the canvas and crossbar(s).
the fabric is unfolded and correctly positioned, attach fabric along
the edges to the back face of the stretcher.
the fabric while attaching it. (See Figure 4)
Museums often use a shipping collar to protect their paintings. The
wooden collar adds rigidity to the structure and a backing board can
be attached to the back of the collar. The collar should project beyond
the face of the painting so a rigid cover of foam core can be attached
to the surrounding collar without touching the face of the painting.
The entire package of collar, backboard, and face cover can then be
wrapped in plastic without fear of damage to the painting surface.
One trend in art transportation that must be acknowledged is the increasing
use of soft packing, as
Figure 4, Art in Transit Handbook, National Gallery of Art, Washington
the cost of exhibitions and the associated shipment of paintings increases.
Soft packing is common for graphic works such as prints and drawings
and the practice has spread from commercial galleries and artists to
museums. Soft packing is the replacement of plywood sided cases, with
one having cardboard or foam sides.
No work of art should
be soft packed unless the institution is willing to risk major damage.
Also, while there is extensive experience in soft packing, there has
been little scientific research into how the best protection can be
offered at minimal cost.
If soft packing
is chosen, then it should be limited to local moves. The National Gallery
of Art recommends a wooden collar or travel frame should be attached
to the reverse of the painting or frame for protection. Nothing should
touch the surface of the painting. Any materials used to wrap it should
be kept above the surface and made of non-abrasive materials. Foam should
be used around the painting to offer temperature insulation and shock
Of course, there will be times when rolling a painting is the only way
to transport work, but the following tips can help minimize risks:
adequate time for the paint film to completely cure.
an interleaf of polyethylene plastic no less than 4 ml thick onto
the surface of the canvas before rolling. It should be cleaned of
release agents, dust and other contaminants. Do not use bubble wrap,
plastic wrap or thin plastics for this purpose, because they will
likely ferrotype the painting surface.
and unroll paintings at room temperature. Rolling while cold may result
in cracking, especially in thick paint films.
relatively loosely to reduce the risk of ferrotyping or adhesion.
with the paint film facing outward. Rolling with the paint film facing
inward increases tension by causing compression of the paint film.
packed, tape securely, but not too tightly.
up the canvas as evenly as possible.
a cardboard core six inches or greater. Tighter rolling increases
the compression of the film.
the rolled canvas into a larger tube. Use additional packing material
to assure that the inner tube fits snugly in the larger tube.
possible, the tube should be kept upright to reduce weight on any
one side. This is most important for large canvases.
not store paintings rolled up for extended periods of time. Unroll
the painting as soon as reasonably possible.
are a product used by many artists who roll their artwork for transportation.
Sonotubes® can be found at www.sonoco.com.
AND UNPACKING INSTRUCTIONS
If the painting is going to be opened by someone other than the sender,
an envelope with explicit instructions for unpacking and repacking should
be securely taped to the outside of the container. The taped envelope
should read, "To avoid damage, read first before unpacking,"
or something similar. These instructions become invaluable if there
is a dispute about any damage occurring during shipping, unpacking or
repacking after an exhibit. Be sure to urge that all packing materials
be kept with the crate(s). Do not assume that the person who unpacks
will be the same person to repack the artwork. If the painting is being
shipped to another country, it's imperative that documentation in languages
of those countries be used, so that an unwary inspector does not carelessly
open a container without proper precautions. Check with all applicable
agencies as to the preferred documentation.
AND TRANSPORTATION RESOURCES
While the risks and problems surrounding the transportation of art are
formidable, they are not insurmountable. Education on this issue will
allow transportation of artwork with minimum risk and expense. There
are professionals dedicated to just this task and they may be hired
if the artwork is
sufficiently valuable. There is also literature that can give guidance
in this area. Some helpful resources are listed in this article. If
you have any further questions regarding this issue, feel free to contact
the GOLDEN Technical Support Department at 1-800-959-6543 or go to www.goldenpaints.com.