What is art handling?
Art handling is the process required to pack, prepare, store, and ship artworks and paintings. The primary purpose of every art handling is to move artworks safely and unharmed from one location to the other. Not much is required when handling inexpensive art pieces.
However, if you are dealing with more sensitive pieces, then you will need to pay a little closer attention to preserving the integrity of your paintings or artwork. When you purchase an artwork from a gallery or a professional painter, they would typically do the handling for you.
However, if you need your paintings handled for some other reason, such as a move or sale, then you must learn how to handle your art correctly. Proper art handling is not only essential for the quality of your paintings and artworks to be maintained. But it is also critical for long-term care and preservation of your pieces.
The first two steps
1. Create a condition report
When preparing your artwork for transport, it is always a good idea to note down the condition that the artwork is in before packaging it or boxing it up. Be sure to note down any damages; even the smallest of details should be noted down. You also need to record if the art piece has undergone any repairs. Some of the details that you should jot down include any scratches, uneven surfaces, chips on the frame, and so on.
Should anything go wrong during the shipping or transport process, you can rely on the condition report you created earlier to contact your insurance. If you are handling your paintings because you sold them successfully, remember to include a copy of the condition report so that the new owner can double-check their condition upon arrival.
2. Work with a reliable company
If you can, consider having your painting transported by a respected and well-reviewed handling company. You need to make sure that the freighting service that you pick has experience handling art. That’s because express courier services that have never handled art before tend to handle art, whether fragile or not, haphazardly.
As such, if you cannot find a freight company that has the experience, at times, the best option is to transport the artwork yourself. This way, you will be a lot more responsible for the painting because you would be aware of its delicate nature. However, if you choose to handle the transport yourself, then proper preparation and packing are vital.
Preparing & packing your artwork for transport
1. Use a crate
When packing your artwork or paintings for transport, you need to provide sufficient protection so that the piece can arrive in tip-top condition. You need to offer cushioning from pressure, knocks, vibrations, moisture, and drastic temperature changes. You can do this in many different ways.
First and foremost, you should always go for the highest standard of packaging, protection, and transport that you can afford. For large paintings or vulnerable costly pieces, it is always best to stick with crates. Crates will provide your artwork adequate protection against anything, whether it is direct impact or climate change.
If you cannot access any crates in your location, sometimes it is best to make one yourself or have a professional make one for you. When having the crate made, try and incorporate as many features as you would typically find in a museum setting. This includes water-proofing and internal foam lining or polystyrene.
2. Use poly sheeting & bubble wrap
If yours is a short trip, you can carefully wrap your pieces in poly sheeting. You can also add an extra layer of bubble wrap for the corners and edges. Sometimes some people have been known to use blankets. You can easily get poly sheeting in different thicknesses from a hardware shop near you. Some people also prefer to use acid-free tissue paper over the work before actually placing their poly sheeting.
Bubble wrap, on the other hand, can be purchased in bulk from any office supplies store. Art supplies and hardware stores sometimes stock bubble wrap in small quantities. You can also use cardboard sheeting and boxes for some basic protection. If you are moving your painting over a long distance, consider going for tougher protection such as plywood, a lightweight and affordable solution capable of offering a tough and puncture-proof surface.
3. Be careful when wrapping the artwork
When wrapping your paintings, make sure that the location where you are doing the wrapping is clean. It should be free of any screws, tools, or anything that could potentially cause damage to your paintings. Use just enough wrapping material. Small delicate pieces can be damaged easily when you use too much packing material. Before you start the wrapping process, check that all the parts of your painting or artwork are intact and secure.
If you are handling a framed painting where the frame is raised above the surface, using unbleached cotton tape can help prevent your poly sheeting from sagging on the painting’s surface. Only position your tape on an area where pressure will not be placed on any vulnerable part of the painting or frame.
If you are dealing with a glazed painting, you may have to look for specialized glass tape to keep your artwork protected. However, please note that some artwork comes with low reflective coated glass that should never be taped. In addition, chalk or pastel pieces should also not be glass taped because removing the tape during unpacking may lift particles of the paint’s pigment, which is the last thing you want, especially with a rare piece.
In case you are transporting 2D artwork, it may be a good idea to strap the piece directly to the truck so that you can secure it firmly. In addition, you can use a sheet of firm cardboard to cover the surface, which will ensure that no damage is caused by the surface.
4. Other tips
If you are transporting several pieces, you can use layers of sheets to provide extra protection between each piece while stacked together. Always be present when the paintings or artworks are being loaded or unloaded. This way, you will be able to offer guidance or instructions as to how you want the pieces handled.
When packing, ensure that the space in the vehicle or truck is free of clutter. If your piece contains any glass elements, note that down. You should also notify the driver that he or she will be transporting sensitive pieces so that they can drive carefully and use routes likely to cause the least vibration.
5. How to move & handle sculptures?
You should handle sculptures in the same manner as you would 2D works. Before you handle any sculpture, you must educate yourself about the material or construction before handling or moving anything. Some sculptures are made with delicate materials that may break off during transport.
If that’s the case, you will need to carry out your research to learn how to handle these delicate materials without causing damage to your piece. If any delicate parts are likely to break apart, be sure to note this down clearly on the outside of the packaging. Sculptures created using porous materials or delicate surfaces should always be handled using gloves. If you are handling a small sculpture, use a padded container so that you can move it easily without placing any pressure on it.
Installing the artworks
Once you transport your artwork or painting successfully, you will then need to install it. If you are handling a large piece, then it stands to reason that you will require some assistance. It is advisable to know where you want the art installed ahead of time to avoid any problems from arising. If you will need any fixing or materials for the installation, remember to have these ordered and delivered in advance.
You should know that different wall types will require different mounting methods. For instance:
Plaster and wooden walls
If yours is a plaster or wooden wall, you can fix screws directly to the surface. Make sure that the screw that you pick is long enough to go through the thickness of the plasterboard. You can easily repair any holes made afterward.
Plaster masonry walls
If you are dealing with walls constructed purely from plaster, you will have to utilize plasterboard raw plugs. If you are handling a super heavy piece, additional reinforcement may be necessary. The good news is that several plug types and expansion bolts can be used for this purpose.
A few things to remember when handling art
1. Have a plan in place
When it comes to art handling, failing to plan is planning to fail. Unlike moving furniture, handling art requires a little more foresight. Every piece of art or painting is fragile in its own way, so the last thing you want to do is damage an artwork purely due to negligence.
2. Always be prepared for the unexpected
Handling art sounds simple enough, but it is both a science as well as an art. You must always be prepared to think outside the box and on your feet, particularly when handling expensive or one-of-a-kind pieces. For instance, a common problem you might experience when handling art is when a painting fails to fit through a door or inside an elevator.
Typically, you might be required to carry up the painting several flights of stairs. In rare cases, you may have to place a huge painting on top of the elevator. Depending on the type of painting, you may have to hire tools for the job, such as a crane operator or anything that can help you move a large painting through the window. But these are unusual instances that you need to prepare for.
3. Invest in protective material
Something as simple as a pair of gloves can go a long way in helping to protect your paintings. Not many people know this, but sweat and skin oil have been known to leave lasting marks on gold-plated surfaces. As such, do some research before the handling process to find out exactly what will be required. Depending on the quality of art you are moving and the size, different materials will be needed for the handling to be done right.
4. Handle your painting well
Apart from wearing special handling gloves for your special paintings, you should be particularly careful when handling your pieces. Always hold your paintings in areas where the frame is sturdiest and strongest. Avoid gripping your painting by any of the ornate parts of the frame because these areas may not be strong enough, thus leading to breakage.
You should also never carry a painting by the top of its frame or by its stretcher. You should purpose to carry your painting with one hand underneath and one at the side. If you are handling a small painting, you can handle it with one hand on each side of the frame.
5. Don’t rush
When handling art, take your time and don’t rush through the process. That’s when mistakes happen and things are forgotten. The smallest slip or tiniest mistake can end up costing you. So be careful and take your time to ensure that everything is handled correctly.
6. Remember insurance
Handling art is not something that is done regularly unless you work in a gallery or you are constantly moving from place to place. If your paintings are expensive or of value to you, you should go above and beyond to ensure that they are secure. The best thing that you can do is invest in insurance.
If you are moving your paintings or artworks across the borders of the country, you will also need licenses and special permits to be allowed to do so. Sometimes permits are also required when handling local art, so you should carry out your due diligence to determine exactly what will be needed for a smooth move. You will also need your insurance just in case your paintings get lost or are stolen in transit.
Art handling is not for the faint of heart. Shipping art is expensive, highly specialized, and often technically challenging. So if you are finding it challenging to handle art, it is best to leave the job to a group of professionals that will do it for you. Even if your paintings have little or no financial value, they still have a considerable sentimentality attached to them.
Therefore, you don’t want to handle them incorrectly, thus causing damage. As always, you should ask for help, especially when valuable pieces are involved. Moving companies with experience in art handling usually have well-honed techniques for packing and transporting paintings of any shape or size. As such, it may be worth it to hire a professional team; it will certainly give you peace of mind knowing your pieces and paintings are being handled properly.