How To Package Works

Deanna from Artist, Emerging writes about damage to a piece of her artwork that was returned to her by a gallery.

Deanna is obviously very careful about packaging her work – she makes up special foamcore boxes and wraps her work carefully in archival paper first to protect the delicate wax surfaces of her encaustic paintings. She was pretty unlucky to have a piece damaged.

I don’t want to sound as though I’m making excuses for the gallery – they should definitely have been more careful – but I do have some advice on avoiding this situation. Having packaged up loads of works as a curator, I’d strongly recommend that artists include a sheet of packing directions, especially if there are any special requirements for repacking the work. Don’t leave things to chance; spell it out in black and white. Wrapping up works to send back is a pig of a job: it’s boring and tedious and when you’re packaging up 20 or 30 pieces at the end of a show it’s often difficult to remember how it looked when it arrived. You also can’t guarantee that the people who unwrapped the work will be the ones repackaging it – at the Here Gallery we rely on volunteers and sometimes the people wrapping the work don’t have any art experience at all. What seems like common sense to an artist might not be so obvious to someone who isn’t an artist. Written directions make life a lot simpler for everyone, plus if the gallery doesn’t follow the instructions then you have more ammunition to complain to them.

Unfortunately not all artists are as meticulous as Deanna: I’ve unpacked work that I was amazed survived the trip through the postal system – work sandwiched between two ill fitting bits of cardboard, work that wasn’t well wrapped, even work that wasn’t protectively wrapped at all.

Work being sent anywhere should be properly wrapped in bubble wrap (and any other protective packaging that the work needs) before being placed in a strong, well-fitting box.

Please buy or make the correct size of box: don’t hack together several bits of cardboard. I know it’s good from an environmental point of view but bits of cardboard taped together are a nightmare to get into, even worse to reuse and they tend not to provide enough support to the work, especially around the edges. It’s OK to cut down a box that’s too large though.

With bubble wrap, you should use larger pieces rather than taping together smaller pieces – the later are horrible to reuse. If you’ve only just had enough bubble wrap to wrap your work, then the curator probably won’t have enough to securely re-wrap it because bubble wrap invariably gets damaged where it’s been taped. I know that money is an issue for all artists but please don’t skimp on protecting your precious work.

If you’re packing more than one piece in a single box, you’ll need plenty of packaging between them and you’ll also need to consider weight issues. For example, if you’re packing a lot of framed pieces then they’re usually better stacked upright rather than in a pile with one unfortunate piece on the bottom. Reinforcing the base of the box with extra cardboard can be a good idea when sending heavier work, although if the work is very heavy then you’ll need to use wooden packing crates.

Your box should also include: instructions on how to repack the box, a return address label (including postage if required), written instructions on how to install the piece (especially important for sculptural works) and any fittings needed to install the work. Obviously, you should make sure the box is properly taped shut but using too much tape on the box can actually increase the risk of damage because the person will have to use more force if it’s very difficult to open. Now mark your box to show which way is up. Boxes should also be marked ‘fragile, handle with care’ although frankly I’m not sure if that makes any difference to the way the post office treats them!

If I get all that, I’m in heaven.

Professionally packed work containing clear instructions and fittings lets the curator know that you respect and value your own work, so they should too. In addition, by making things easy for them, you also demonstrate that you’re courteous enough to care about their time. Knowing that I’m following the artist’s wishes and don’t have to sit around worrying about how a piece should be hung takes a lot of stress out of the process for me. Then all I have to decide is where it should be hung. Believe me, I much prefer that!

Experience not superstition

I liked this post by ceramicist Shannon Garson on her blog, Strange Fragments.

This is a lesson I learn time and time again, if I have misgivings about a project it is not superstition, it is because I am experienced. Those misgivings are all my years of experience telling me “This project is not right. Stay Away!”

Isn’t that great! I absolutely love that line about it being experience not superstition. It’s so true, yet unfortunately it’s a lesson that I also seem to have trouble learning and I bet I’m not the only one. Why do we second guess ourselves in this way? Is it lack of confidence in our abilities or blind optimism that hey, things will turn out just fine if we ignore that little niggling voice?

Shannon goes on to say:

I think it’s important for artists who speak about their practice to tell emerging artists and their peers about their frustrations as well as successes.

I totally agree and it’s one of the reasons that I’m very open on this blog about the times when I mess up. I hope that people can learn from my mistakes. I also hope that if I publicly confess them then maybe I might learn from them!

I am slowly learning though. For example, I’ve learnt to ask myself “is this a gesso moment?” in the run up to an exhibition: this is my personal code for ‘am I about to stress myself out by attempting something monumentally stupid right before a deadline?” This comes from an experience I had last year when I tried to learn proper old fashioned gesso (the sort you make with plaster and rabbit skin glue) a month before my solo show with the crazy idea that I would make a series of brand new drawings on gessoed boards – a medium, let me repeat, that I had never used before. I’m sure you can imagine how well that went… I still have a bunch of gessoed boards sitting in my studio, waiting to be sanded and then drawn on. Goodness only knows what I was thinking but it’s quite a frequent trap for me – my optimism always seems to outweigh my sanity in these situations and I get carried away with a ‘good idea’. The trouble is that it often really is a good idea – if I’d had it six months earlier!

Rag And Bone

I was delighted to discover the lovely Rag And Bone blog today. I’ve just spent several happy hours reading their entire archives. If you’re interested in paper as an art medium, journalling, book artists or bookbinding, then you definitely need to check them out.

They’re also a great example of a small craft business (they make delicious handmade journals and albums) using blogging to increase awareness of their business but without being constantly ‘in your face’ about it. Sure, they mention their own work now and again but mostly they link to other people and their passion and enthusiasm for paper and book arts really shines through in their generous and knowledgeable promotion of other artists in their field.

Book Burning

Since I seem to have been on an ‘art made from books’ theme this week, I thought I’d share one of the few pieces that I’ve made using books.

Burn was a small sculpture I did for an exhibition in a church in Gloucester in May 2004.

Kirsty Hall, art, sculpture, bible burning, Burn
Kirsty Hall: Burn, May 2004

It’s a glass bottle engraved with the word ‘burn’ and it contains handmade ink that I made from the burnt and ground up ashes of a Bible. Although it sounds rather blasphemous the piece was actually about William Tyndale, who translated the Bible from Latin to English and was strangled and then burnt by the Catholic Church for his efforts.

Kirsty Hall, art, sculpture, bible burning, Burn
Kirsty Hall: Burn, May 2004

I was trying to convey the idea that although you can burn both books and people, once an idea has been expressed you can rarely eradicate it completely – even if you burn the books the words will be rewritten and if you burn the people who wrote the words, others will pick up the pen. So to me, it’s a very hopeful and positive piece and I liked it a lot. However, it was tiny and was completely dwarfed by the space. One day I’ll do something with it and the lovely series of photos that I took of the burning Bible and the ashes. Ironically enough, I quite fancy making a book…

Kirsty Hall - Burning, art, sculpture, photograph of burning bible
Kirsty Hall: Burnt Bible, May 2004

As a dedicated bookworm, I had a bit of moral trouble with the book burning part but it was so integral to the piece that I couldn’t not do it and I have to confess that once I got going, I took a wicked glee in the process. I was also worried that Christians might be offended that I’d burnt their holy book, but I’ve yet to get any complaints.

The following is the text I wrote for the exhibition brochure:

Glass, ink made from the ashes of a bible

“Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.”
Heinrich Heine

“The paper burns, but the words fly away.”
Ben Joseph Akiba

The Catholic Church burnt not only Tyndale’s Bible, but also more than 1,000 people found with the forbidden text. This work is a memorial to everyone who has been killed for reading the wrong books.

How To Host Images

Erin from the Sculptress blog asked:

Would you clarify something for me? How do I know for sure I am hosting an image, do you mean save the image as a file on my computer and then repost it from the computer file?

Good question, Erin – it was something that confused me a bit at first and my web designer had to walk me through it several times until I got it.

…do you mean save the image as a file on my computer and then repost it from the computer file?

Yes, that’s exactly what you do, Erin – from the way you’ve phrased the question it sounds like you may know how to do that already but I’ll run through the exact steps just in case other people are a bit unsure about it.

What I do is this:
1) Find an image I’d like to use
2) Drag and drop the image to my desktop
I do this by left-clicking on the image, holding down the mouse button and dragging the image until it’s off the browser and onto my desktop. You can also do it by hitting the right mouse button and clicking on ‘copy image’ but I think dragging and dropping is quicker. Make sure that you’re dragging a reasonably sized image and not a thumbnail.

The image file is now on my computer. If it’s too large and I need to make it smaller I can edit the size in Photoshop but I usually don’t need to do this.

Next I need to get it onto my web server:

In WordPress there’s an upload section just beneath the text box where you write posts. Hit the ‘browse’ button, locate the image on your desktop and click on it to select it, write the artist’s name and the title of the work where it says ‘title’ (this is optional but I always do it), then hit upload. After a few moments a thumbnail of the image will appear in the ‘Browse All’ page – the file is now loaded onto your server. You can put the image in a post by selecting ‘show fullsize’, followed by ‘link to file’ and then hitting ‘send to editor’. You’ll see that a bunch of html appears in your post, this is the image file, it’ll become an image when you publish the post.

If you’re using Blogger you do the following: Go into dashboard and select new post. Now hit the little image button on your blogger toolbar – this is the 6th button along or the second from last. This will bring up an image page. You’ll see that it says ‘add an image from your computer’ on the left, hit the browse button next to it and select the image from your desktop by clicking on it. Now choose the size and layout you want and then hit the ‘upload image’ button at the bottom of the page. Your image or the image html should now appear in your blogger editing software. This article from Blogger give more details on uploading images, including where the images are stored and how you can check how much room you’ve got.

The only thing left to do is to add the artists name and the title of the work – oh, and write the rest of the post, of course!

Get more help
If you’d like more information about building your online presence, check out the free resources section.

I am also available for online consulting if you need one-on-one help.

Print Gocco Exhibition Opportunity

If you’re an artist working with Print Gocco, Bristol’s Here Shop & Gallery has an opportunity for you.

We’re looking to do a show in 2008 provisionally to be staged in March – June time for a period of 3/4 weeks with (hopefully) all works for sale to the public.

It’ll be a group show with works from as many artists as possible on any theme you like, highlighting your own particular style and demonstrating the breadth of versatility and styles displayed by print gocco artists.

We’re open to submissions from anyone anywhere.

If you can email us with links to examples of your work and a short blurb about you at then that’d be great!

Cara Barer

For some reason, I seem to be very attuned to art made from books this week. Cara Barer is a photographer who often works with old discarded books, which she soaks in water and shapes into new forms before photographing.

She says:

My photographs are primarily a documentation of a physical evolution. I have changed a common object into sculpture in a state of flux.

Cara Barer - Found Reference
Cara Barer – Found Reference

This one really stood out for me, it reminded me strongly of a mushroom, so it was no surprise to find that she’d also taken pictures of fungi.

Cara Barer - Mushroom Dust
Cara Barer – Mushroom Dust

Link found on the Daily Poetics blog.

Email Update

OK, after nearly two weeks of hassle, it looks – fingers crossed – as though my email is now working properly again. If you’ve contacted me by email in the last couple of weeks and I haven’t got back to you then I probably didn’t get it, so please do send it again. I’ve also just realised that there were a bunch of comments on one of the blogging posts that I missed seeing, so apologies for not replying to those sooner.

I hadn’t realised just how much I rely on my email until it went so badly wrong, in fact, I still feel rather insecure about it because I don’t know how much stuff went astray after our stupid email provider ‘upgraded’ their spam filters. I’m still hoping that they’ll be able to send me the stuff they filtered out but I’ve got a horrible feeling that they probably just threw out several hundred genuine emails.

Brian Dettmer

Brian Dettmer makes wonderfully intricate work using found books and maps, which he carves into to reveal the illustrations within.

Brian Dettmer
Brian Dettmer – Untitled

Needless to say, I love the obsessive quality of this work but the results are stunning too – he’s clearly got a strong eye because the pieces also work well as collages. I particularly love his map pieces where he’s dissected maps leaving only the road systems, which he’s layered over each other to make works that seem far more related to anatomy books than cartography.

Brian Dettmer
Brian Dettmer – Untitled

There’s an interesting little discussion of his work here, with comments ranging from ‘wow, that’s amazing’ to ‘it’s horrible because he’s destroying books’. What do you think? Is it a valid form of art if you destroy/seriously alter other creative works to make it? I think so but as a confirmed bookworm, I also understand the resistance to reusing books in this way.

Link found on Something To Say