Your first exhibition… elsewhere.
It’s 2016, being and artist is more challenging than it has ever been, if not more so because of the competition and how easily you can find resources. Pre-Internet, you would usually start small: your family and friends, local community, town, country etc. But now, thanks to the Internet you can connect with galleries all over the world and organize exhibitions wherever your heart desires. It is quite satisfying to reach the “exhibit in another country” milestone, and I would deeply recommend the experience. With this post I’d like to share how I’ve tackled the challenges of packaging, shipping, useful tips and tricks I discovered along the way, and how to get your work back to you safe and sound.
A little bit of back story
The first time I exhibited abroad, I was a featured artist in a festival called Woman’s International Comic Art Festival (WICAF), hosted in Brussels (Belgium) during September 8–11. I showcased 6 pieces, which were framed in hand-painted wooden frames with UV (museum) glass. They remained in the hosting gallery Art Base until the end of October. Afterwards, the curators were nice enough to keep them safe until I myself went back to Brussels to pick them up.
It’s worth remembering that since this was my first time shipping artworks, I’ve gone the extra mile in order to preserve them. After this experience I would definitely be more relaxed about things. Here are some steps I took to get my work from Denmark to Belgium.
Depending on the dimensions of the piece/s you need to package, you should get enough materials to cover twice that — trust me, it’s better to have a lot of materials leftover than missing a layer or barely covering an edge here an there, that might turn into a nasty headache later on. Bellow I’ve listed what I used to package my pieces.
- duct tape / regular tape
- soft wrapping plastic fabric
- corrugated paper
- carton (to cut from)
- carton boxes
- bubble wrap (normal and heavy-duty)
- scissors / exacto knife
Total packaging time: ca. 6 hours (fiddling around and learning-as-I-go included).
1. Get the soft wrapping plastic material. Wrap each piece individually. Make sure the material is taut and fastened well with some tape. For extra security add a bit of duct tape to each corner.
2. Cut a piece of cardboard out, make sure it’s the same size as the pieces, put the cardboard in between each piece as you stack them, and on the outside of the pile. Tape together to ensure they don’t shift around in transit.
3. Time for the ordinary bubble wrap. Wrap the pieces as they are in a pile. Several layers are recommended.
4. Use the corrugated paper to wrap everything up. Treated as if you’re wrapping a very delicate gift. It should look like a puffy cube by now.
5. Put the cube in a thick cardboard box. Beforehand make an X with duct tape on each side to ensure the stability of the cardboard and pad with the heavy-duty bubble wrap.
Extra (optional) step: include a note for the receiver explaining how to get pass all of your package layers without damaging the works, and a reminder note for them to save the packaging material for shipping your works back to you.
There is a variety of companies that offer similar services that you can use for shipping. Pick the one you feel most comfortable working with and remember to build a relationship between the company and your business — that will go a long way in the future: a service you’re happy with has more value than a service that does their job well but treats you like another order. Research shipping services depending on where you live / what your budget is / what your priorities are etc. Bellow, I’ve made a list of things I learned in the process, that I believe should be considered:
- Fragile stickers — no matter which shipping company you use, get or make your own fragile stickers, symbols go further than words, especially if you’re shipping internationally.
- Insurance — make sure that the service that you chose can work with fragile goods.
- Automate packing for a faster experience — ca. 6 hour to pack 6 pieces is a lot of time out the window. Figure out how you can do it faster / if services around you offer any kit-solutions / if you can delegate it completely.
- Recycle as much material as you can — even though I used quite a lot of plastic-based materials to wrap up my work, I received them as a donation, and I will reuse all of it for as long as I can. Currently I am researching how to ship works more sustainably.
- Build a relationship with the organizer / curators. Every art experience is very intimate and bonding. Not to mention that the art world is a very tight-knit network.
- Attending the show — make sure that it’s worth it. Sure, it’s amazing to see your work come together at the venue, to tell your story to the visitors and to sell your work yourself, but it really boils down to travel expenses. If you can afford it though — make sure that the curator knows it and define your role there.
There wasn’t anything big or that I could have foreseen in order to dodge, but there were two situations that made my hair curl.
- Shipping-related: there was some issue with the shipping company on the Belgian side, for some reason they couldn't find the shipping address. Good thing I was refreshing the track ’n’ track page like a madman (every hour or so), so I spotted what could have been an epic fail.
- Gallery-related: be explicit as yo how you want your pieces to be displayed. Chances are that if you’re not setting up yourself, you wont be happy about the set-up.
- Gallery-related: when you contact the curators, make sure you announce your +1’s, I consider having someone with you a given, but some places will require your +1 to pay entrance (if there is any).
- Gallery-related: if you see the set-up not working for your pieces, notify the curator. This can range from the music being to loud to something obstructing the view to pieces being located too close to yours and appearing as if they were by one person.
- Personal: build a trusting relationship between yourself and the curators, it will definitely come in handy when you’re supposed to get your pieces back.
Getting your pieces back
This part of the equation has been the most complicated step of everything I’ve done towards getting my pieces ready, packed and shipped. Here are a few useful tips to have in mind before you get to this point.
- What does the contract say about assistance on getting your work back? Is there any help or do you have to figure things out by yourself?
- Will the curator (and their team) help you with packaging? This works best if you trust their competence, and that they’ll do the job just as well as you would.
- Use local shipping companies, in order to get your work back. The companies that you used to ship may have a sister branch in the country you’re shipping to / a partner company with which they work the most with — this info might come in handy.
Everything taken into consideration — this experience has provided me with many learning opportunities, and had taken me wildly out of my comfort zone. I deem it a success. Can’t wait for next time.