How to package artworks

Finding the perfect packaging for works of art can seem like a daunting task, especially when it comes to more fragile or delicate pieces. However, suitable packaging is a must since you certainly do not want to jeopardize the safety of the pieces. If you feel like you don’t have enough experience in this field, feel free to ask for professional help – in the meantime, we are going to provide you some tips on how to achieve the best results.

Oil paintings on canvas

The most common packaging material for traditional oil paintings is the endlessly versatile bubble wrap – however, it can actually damage the work if not used properly. Our advice is to always wrap the piece in tyvek or vetex first – they are both acid-free materials and perfect for protecting the surface of the picture from possible damage.    

Perhaps it sounds obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to keep in mind that you should always put bubble wrap with the smooth side towards the picture in order to avoid the bubbles leaving marks on it. Another solution for this would be to use a special three-layer bubble wrap whose both sides are smooth and the air bubbles are enclosed between these outer layers which guarantees extra protection for the piece in question.

The wrap should always cover the picture fully, front and back. If you are planning on keeping it packed up for a longer period of time, it is advisable to have it hermetically sealed – since the plastic wrap becomes statically charged, it collects dust more effectively, giving it a chance to get inside the packaging. A general advice would be to always pack the artworks tight.    

If you have concerns about the environment because of using a large amount of plastic, you can always be a bit more eco-conscious by applying a type of adhesive tape that doesn’t tear the wrap apart, so you can reuse it.

Paper-based works

Larger paper-based works should always be stored in cardboard tubes; the bigger the diameter of the tube, the less bent the paper gets. It is also a useful trick to wrap the works in tissue paper before putting them in the tube – this step cannot really be excluded when it comes to charcoal or pastel drawings since they smudge or rub off easily (especially if a fixative have not been applied to the surface. Smaller works can be put into folders, but you should always pay attention to smudging, whatever the packaging may be.

Sculptures and statues

Among the genres which we are covering in this article, sculptures are probably the hardest to pack properly. Due to the irregularity of shapes you are bound to work with, it definitely requires a higher level of creativity.

When it comes to sculptures or statues, we would definitely suggest seeking out and consulting with the artist (if possible), especially if we are talking about a more complex piece, because they are usually able to give you tips on how to best preserve their work. A general advice would be to wear gloves whenever possible; pieces made of metal are the most prone to gather fingerprints easily and removing those is no easy feat.

It is also worth it to invest in custom-made cardboard or wooden boxes for the pieces, especially for those that are moved a lot between exhibitions. If they are made of a more durable material, they will last a lifetime.

Photographs

We have already mentioned the necessity of wearing gloves – in the case of photos, there is no going around that if you don’t want greasy fingerprints ruining the works.  Photos printed on vintage paper should always be wrapped in dark paper in order to protect them from light damage; pictures mounted on diasec or dibond paper should be wrapped in regular or tissue paper or other lighter materials. As another level of protection, they can be wrapped in bubble wrap on top of that. To prevent damaging the corners, they should be covered with pieces of reinforced cardboard or foam board.

Textiles

Although they are much less common, artworks made of different kinds of fabrics or textiles do come up sometimes. In some respects, they are less delicate than others, but you should be careful when packing them, since a crease can be a serious aesthetic defect. These pieces should also be stored with the help of cardboard tubes – however, a significant difference is that you should always wrap them around the tube with their right side facing up, unlike a painting. 

Our last advice would be that however practised and precise you are when it comes to packing, artworks should be unpacked every year or two so you can check their general condition.  

“It is my experience that many people are mistaken in trying to save on packaging. The materials used for professional packaging are not cheap, but people often just want to save time and energy. In any case, it is advisable to change this practice because it is obviously smarter to spend more on expensive packaging than expose the artwork to possible damage and restoration. Beyond the material damage, this can mean a huge moral loss to a gallery because news spread quickly among professionals – after all, it’s a small circle; they may soon be suspected of not treating the objects they are entrusted with properly.” – Tamás Szetey

Sándor Pál Tóth
Co-founder of GalleryTool

 

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