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Moving to a new home? Selling a piece of art? Storing your paintings until the cat burglar is captured? Here’s how to keep a painting safe in the process.

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Art lovers watching the film The Grand Budapest Hotel undoubtedly squirmed in their seats when Boy With Apple, an allegedly priceless painting, was transported across the fictional Republic of Zubrowka covered only by a simple sheath of paper. My God, what if it rains!

Fortunately, the movie (and the painting) are works of fiction. In real life, we know that there are much better ways to pack, ship and store art as valuable as Boy With Apple or the pieces that are simply priceless to you.

Your Painting’s Worst Enemy

You’re relocating to a new home or a new city. Perhaps you are redecorating. Maybe a cat burglar is prowling your neighborhood. The reason is your own, but the task is clear: you have a painting, and it’s going to be moving.

According to The Conservation Register, the biggest risks to a painting or other works of art are:

  • Breakages, tears, loose and missing elements, impacts, smudges.
  • Fingerprints etched into polished surfaces.
  • Stains and marks from skin contact, eating, smoking, cosmentics and other domestic chemicals.
  • Introduction of materials and conditions that encourage pests or other environmental damage: foods, other infested objects, poor storage materials, central heating, damp, strong light.

The common link? People (or, as The Conservation Register elegantly notes, “homo sapiens”). People accidentally break, rip or spill their coffee onto their precious paintings. They put their grubby fingers all over the surface. They store their art in a convenient place, like their moldy basement.

Ask the Experts

The first step to conserving your personal artwork during transportation or storage is to minimize it’s contact with, well, you, and that starts with the packing process.

Who knows best how to pack a painting? Artists, of course. We checked with the Oil Painters of America to learn how the pros prep their work for shipping.

How to Pack a Painting

First, wrap the painting in plastic to keep it clean and protect the finish. Next, seal the painting and frame in styrofoam — it’s recommend that you build the styrofoam box yourself (it’s remarkably easy) to ensure that the painting is safe and snug.

Place the styrofoam-packed painting into a close-fitting cardboard box. If you already have appropriately-sized boxes, use it. If you do not have a box, you can make one from a couple good-sized sheets of cardboard and a box cutter. Make sure that you fill any empty space with bubble pack to avoid bouncing or jarring in transit, then seal the entire apparatus shut with packing tape.

Pro tip: Never use packing peanuts.

“Peanuts don’t work in a painting box and can actually cause damage,” artist Jason Horejs writes. “Peanuts will settle to the bottom of the box and as the box gets jostled about in transit, the bottom of the box will flex and expand, allowing more peanuts to concentrate there. The space at the top of the box will be left unprotected.”

How to Transport a Painting

Your favorite painting is now safely encased in a styrofoam and cardboard package. Let’s hit the road.

Are you transporting your art yourself? The Carter Avenue Frame Shop in St. Paul, Minnesota has some solid suggestions, including:

  • “Assume you will have to brake hard on your way home.” Make sure your painting won’t flop around, or worse, become a missile if you stop suddenly.
  • “Generally, it is better to transport art on an edge rather than flat.” When laying flat, something (or someone) could fall, flop or sit on your painting.
  • If you must lay the artwork flat, “slide them forward against something solid in case you have to stop quickly.” Proactively minimize the opportunity for sudden impact. Bringing a blanket or pillow for extra cushioning is also recommended.
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Are you shipping the art through a professional carrier? Each service — whether you are considering the United States Postal Service or a private company like FedEx or UPS — has its own rates, rules and standards for shipping based on the size and weight of your parcel.

You can use an online calculator to compare rates to get an idea of what you will pay. You should also strongly consider insurance, since your work of art is almost certainly irreplaceable.

How to Store a Painting

You’ve successfully packed and transported your painting to your new home, a local gallery or the neighborhood storage facility. Believe it or not, the stakes just got HIGHER.

Why? Because it’s easy to let your guard down. When you are packing and moving your art, you are cautious, gentle and diligent. When you store your art, you toss it into the attic or some convenient, out-of-the way place and are surprised when you realize six months later that a family of mice have used your valuable canvas as a dormitory.

Artist Graham Matthews of Artpromotive.com has straightforward advice for anyone who needs painting storage tips:

1. Never store artwork someplace dry or damp.
Attics and basements? Bad idea. Someplace with consistent temperature and moderate humidity, like a climate controlled storage unit? Much better.

2. Rack, don’t stack.
If you must lay your painting or paintings flat, use a rack to keep the artwork off the ground (frames and canvases can absorb dampness from concrete and other materials) and each other.

3. Keep paintings away from fluctuating temperatures.
If there is a furnace in your storage space, or inadequate heating or cooling, the sudden changes can damage your art.

4. Stay away from the sun.
Direct sunlight can fade colors. Keep paintings covered with an acid-free cloth or simply leave the artwork in its travel packaging.

Self Storage: The Safest Option

If you plan to keep your art in storage for an extended period of time, be safe — work with professionals. Life Storage can provide climate and temperature controlled storage, clean, secure units and the peace of mind you don’t necessarily get when you keep that heirloom portrait of Aunt Eugenia in the coat closet. Use our online guide to find storage locations near you.

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts and experiences storing your paintings and art in the Comments section below or tweet us at @LifeStorage.

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About the Author

Ben Kirst

Hey, everyone -- I'm a guest blogger here at the Life Storage blog, which, based on my lifelong battle against clutter, messes and household chaos of all kinds, makes this a bit of a dream come true. Best birthday ever? I got a Dyson.

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