As you grow and change in your art, you encounter new challenges and problems to solve. The challenges within the creation of art, you expect. Sometimes though, you encounter problems from directions you don’t expect.
For me, one of those problems has been the transport and storage of framed artwork. It started out with one or two pieces going to an exhibition somewhere. Then it expanded to 10 or 12 for different exhibitions and displays. Now I’m getting ready for my first Art Fairs this summer, and I’ll need a way to transport and store 25-30 framed pieces. These aren’t small pieces either, we’re talking the two-inch (5cm) deep gallery/shadow box frames that I really like to use.
They look great, don’t they? I’m really happy with them. But… they are a transport nightmare. First off, they are approximately 20×20″ (50x50cm) on the outside. Not a standard frame size. I’ve been toting them around in boxes made for 16×20″ (40x50cm) frames, so they hang out on the top. I had to carry them box by box into whatever building I was bringing them into, they couldn’t stack or lay flat on their sides, and they weren’t protected from the weather. Ever heard it rains in Oregon? Yeah, it was a problem.
Even taking just one or two frames to places was a problem. My boxes were made for four frames, and too big of a box just means the frames will rattle around inside. No box means the frames will slide and shift and bump into things in the trunk or back seat. In my ignorance of handling frames, thinking “it’ll only be in the car for a second,” I’ve broken glass, scratched acrylic glazing, and dented, scuffed and dinged more frames than I care to admit. What a waste! I’m always mad at myself for not thinking ahead as to what might happen to the frames if I stop suddenly or turn sharply.
I needed a new solution. My requirements:
- Fully enclosed – I need to be able to fully fit my 20×20″ frames fully within the box and to close it, and the box should be flexible to fit 16×20″ as well
- Lightweight – I should be able to carry a single box up a long distance from car to exhibit or stairs if I need to
- Reusable – It should be easy to open and close, and sturdy enough to withstand lots of use, in and out of house, car, exhibitions and booth
- Stackable – They should be able to be stacked in different configurations if necessary for transport or storage
- Cost Effective – I didn’t want to spend an exhorbitant amount on transport, considering I have a whole 10x10ft (3x3m) booth and display to invest in this year
- Quick to load and unload – I don’t want to take forever to prep and pack each piece or box. Can you imagine, if I have 25 pieces in a booth, taking a few minutes per piece to pack or unpack each of them? Ugh. I want to get them in and out, as quickly as possible
Oh, and on top of all that, I want a way to see what’s inside of the box while it’s stored. There’s nothing like having three boxes of framed art with four pieces each and needing to find the ONE piece you need for the next show. Everything has to come out, unless you are lucky enough to find it in the first box. Murphy’s law, and my experience, says it will always be in the last box you look in. 🙂
Now I had my requirements, based on my own experience and needs, and it was time to research. I did a lot of Google searching and reading of websites like Art Fair Insiders. I figured these folks are the ones that do this all the time, why not learn from them? I found some great ideas, like coroplast boxes you could order and boxes you could make from coroplast or wood. (I didn’t even know what “coroplast” was before this research. Now I do!) These all looked great, but they were more expensive than I could afford this year, with all of the start-up expenses I have for an art fair booth. I needed a less expensive solution to meet my needs. I thought I could find Rubbermaid-type containers, but none of them were large enough for this size of frame. Not to mention that their rounded corners and slanted sides would not be very efficient, space-wise.
So, I turned to a good old standby: Cardboard boxes. While a cardboard box is not the ultimate in weather-proof since it won’t survive and protect the art in a deluge, it could meet all of my other requirements and be weather-proof enough to protect from rain in a short trip from the car to the display, with some enhancements. I’ll go through what I came up with, step by step, in the hopes of giving you some ideas in making your own cost-effective frame transport and storage solution as well as saving a few frames of the world from unnecessary damage.
- Find the right size cardboard box. From experience, I knew I wanted no more than four frames per box. Beyond that, if the box is filled with frames with glass, it gets too heavy and awkward for 5’4″ (163cm) little me to carry by hand for any distance. My frames are actually 20.5×20.5×1.75″ (52x52x4.5cm) in outside dimension. The best boxes I found were 22x22x8″ boxes at Uline.com, which would hold four of my frames. The boxes were $2.39 each with a minimum order of 15. Even though I only needed six or seven boxes, I figured they would wear out with use and I’d be able to use all 15 eventually. Total cost: $54.43 ($35.85 for 15 boxes + $18.58 for shipping).
- Find a liner material. From experience, I knew I didn’t want the frames rubbing against each other or even the cardboard box or they could scuff. After looking at how other artists were delivering work to exhibits, I saw a lot of people using sheets or bags of 1/8″ (3mm) polyethylene air foam to protect their work. So I researched and decided the most cost effective thing to do was to order a 24″ (61cm) wide, 350′ (107m) long roll. I could cut sheets and tape into a 24×24″ bag if I wanted to, or cut the material to any size sheet up to 24″ wide. I found a roll on Amazon.com with Prime free shipping for a screaming good deal, $48.33. (The same roll of air foam on Amazon is now $96.73, free shipping with Prime. Still a good deal, compared to elsewhere!)
- Find separator material. You need to have a way to separate and protect each frame in the box. I decided to use cardboard sheets cut to the same size as my outer frame dimension, 20.5×20.5″, with a layer of air foam adhered to one side. I would need three of these per box. I didn’t want to buy new cardboard, so I’ve been scavenging by cutting down boxes any time one shows up that has large enough dimensions. (Boxes this large are few and far between, let me tell you.) The box the roll of air form came in was the best – it was double-boxed so I got eight pieces of separator material out of this one box! I could have checked with stores that have large items (furniture or appliances) or purchased something like foam core sheets if worse came to worse, but I managed to scavenge enough from the boxes I’ve received.
OK, now that you have your materials sorted out, it’s time to put the transport box together and load them.
- Line the box. Assemble the box first, taping the bottom closed permanently. To line the box, I cut the air foam material to the right size for the bottom of the box and each of the four sides. For the bottom, the easiest way to do this was to take a sheet slightly larger than the bottom, lay it in the box, and then use a craft knife or box cutter to cut along the edges (be sure you don’t cut into the cardboard box!). For the sides, I created a template from cardboard and then used that to quickly cut out the foam sheets with a craft knife. Then, these were adhered to the box. Based on my husband’s experience with using air foam like this to line boxes for his fragile model train cars, he suggested using silicone caulking as the adhesive. I found some at a local hardware supply store and it adhered everything great but boy, does it smell! I needed to let everything air out for at least a day before I put any art in the boxes. Another option would be hot glue, but my husband said the air foam tends to pop off the cardboard with use. Here’s the box, once it’s been lined:
- Make the separators. Start by cutting your separator material to the same dimensions as the largest frame you want to separate. An easy way to do this is to use the frame as a template, marking the dimensions on the cardboard with pencil. Remove the frame and cut the separators with a craft knife or box cutter. (DON’T try to cut using the frame as the straight edge – I can guarantee that at some point you will cut the frame with the blade, ruining the frame!) Once you have the separators cut, line them on one side with the air foam. Rather than trying to cut the stretchy air foam to exactly the right size, I adhered a piece of air foam larger than needed to the separator sheet. Once it was adhered and dry, I ran a craft knife along the edge of the sheet to cut the foam. Perfect match!
- Load the artwork. After everything had dried and aired out for a while, I loaded the artwork into the boxes. Here’s the sequence:
Put the first frame in, face down. Push the frame into one corner, leaving a gap on the other two sides. (If these were 16×20″ frames, I would also load a spacer to fill in the additional 4″ gap.)
Put the separator in, foam side up, pushing into the same corner as the frame.
Repeat to load all frames. The last frame will not have a separator on top. Fill the gap with large bubble wrap or air pockets, so that the frames are firmly secured into one corner and can’t shift around. The bubble wrap/air pockets were saved and reused from other packages I’ve received.
- Close the Box. I wanted a way to secure the boxes closed without taping them every time. I figured after a while, taping and retaping the box would have issues. I found these Globe Guard Reusable box sealers online. These are a great solution! They just slide on the top flaps and hold the box closed. A trial package of 20 was $30.00, which was more than enough for me. I placed one of my Kat Eye Studio labels on it, so in case it gets lost or misplaced, I might get it back. I will also use box tape to reinforce the edges of the flaps, to ensure the box sealer can slip on and off easily for a long time to come.
- Add the Labels. I didn’t want to label directly on the box, because I know that the pieces of work I’m transporting will change over time. I came up with this solution using Avery Pin-Style Name Badges. I removed the pin and then adhered four of these to the box with double-sided tape. I slipped identifying tags into each one. The great thing is, the identifying tags will be removed and displayed with the artwork. In an exhibit situation, I would adhere these to the wall or the frame with non-damaging Removable Adhesive Putty. For the art fair, I will use name badges with the pins left on, and pin them to my display. Easy peasy! Now I can see what’s in the boxes while they are in storage, easily change what’s in the boxes AND have labels at the ready.
All done! I’ve made the first two and I’m thrilled with the result. I now have four or five more to complete. The boxes are easy to transport, two at a time, using my new folding hand truck. They are quick to load and unload, because there is no wrapping or unwrapping involved. They fit great inside the back of my vehicle, either vertical, if I have multiple boxes, or horizontal, if I only have one. My artwork is now efficiently and effective protected for storage and transport, and I’m a bit more organized as well.
If you are struggling with a transport and storage solution for framed artwork that’s cost-effective, I hope this helps you! It may seem a lot of trouble to go to, but I’ve damaged enough frames in transport to know the effort is worth it.