Temporarily Storing Artwork: A Case Study

So, you have decided to paint the living room. While the workers do their thing, you have determined that the furniture can be moved to the center of the room and be protected via drop cloth, but where and how should you temporarily store your art for the next two weeks while the paint dries?

As with my post on transporting an artwork in your car, I will make suggestions on how to temporarily store artwork by safely stacking two-dimensional works against a wall using protective materials that would be found in your home or could be picked up at a local U-LINE, Lowes, or Home Depot. If you are lucky to live with museum quality works, you might want to call an art moving company to carefully pack and move them to a bonded climate-controlled storage facility and read no further. If your artworks are not of museum quality, carefully stacking them against a wall and providing protection at any points of contact can work just as well.

Deciding Where Your Artwork Should Be Stored

Choose a climate-controlled space to store your art. One of the best storage spaces might be a rarely used guest bedroom where the artworks are out of normal traffic patterns and the door can be shut to keep out roaming pets. A deadbolt lock installed on the door would also keep out wandering “guests.”

Since many homes these days have climate zoned spaces so you are not senselessly air conditioning rarely used areas, if the “guest bedroom” you are planning to use is not in a frequently used zone, be sure to adjust that zone’s temperature a day or two before you are planning to move the artwork. This will allow its temperature to normalize  to the rest of the house and confirm that the HVAC equipment is working properly. Remember the main things to worry about are temperature, humidity, and airflow. The atmosphere of the storage space should be close to the living room they came out of.

These images show the proper orientation of the artworks for storing them properly.
LEFT: Since this is an oil on canvas, it can be stacked and carried in any orientation. RIGHT: This hinged and glazed work on paper should only be stacked in its upright orientation so the weight of the lithograph will not tear the hinges that hold it to the back mat.

Find a wall where the largest artwork you are storing will fit so its entire top frame edge is fully resting against it. If the artwork is not a work on paper and not hinged, it can be place in any orientation, so its smallest side should be leaning against the wall. If it is a glazed work on paper and/or hinged, it needs to always be kept upright. If you have many artworks, they can be divided into multiple stacks, especially if there is a lot of weight involved or a large size differential between artworks. It is often a good idea to group the works in general size categories, like large, medium, and small, and stack them accordingly.

The bed in a spare bedroom is a great place to temporarily store small artworks. If they are to be covered, to keep dust off them, only use a thin transparent plastic drop cloth so it is obvious that there is art on the bed.  Be sure to keep pets out of the room.
The bed in a spare bedroom is a great place to temporarily store small artworks. If they are to be covered, to keep dust off them, only use a thin transparent plastic drop cloth so it is obvious that there is art on the bed.  Be sure to keep pets out of the room.

If there is a bed in the room, place an old sheet over its bedspread and then lay the smaller works face up across the bed so they are not touching each other.   The sheet will keep your bedspread from getting dirty from dusty frame backs.  Although for the short term it is not necessary, if you are concerned about dust, cover the artworks loosely with a thin clear plastic drop cloth so anyone entering the room can see that there is artwork covering the bed.

Here are two 2x4 wood risers that will keep a stack of artworks off the floor.  This should help protect your artwork from a possible water leak.
Here are two 2×4 wood risers that will keep a stack of artworks off the floor.  This should help protect your artwork from a possible water leak.

Since water leaks do happen, I highly recommend placing something on the floor to stack the artworks on. This could be a couple of 2 x 4 boards placed perpendicular to the wall and far enough apart so the artworks straddle them comfortably, or setting a folded fold-up table on the floor against the wall and placing a rubber backed bathmat on it so the artworks will not slide on the table top.

Do not stack the artwork over or in front of an HVAC register or return. It is alright to stack the works next to a return but not a vent that would blow hot or cold air directly onto the artwork. Be especially careful of large light canvases, as they can easily be blown over if a vent is blowing air behind a leaning work.

Note: As these artworks may have been hanging in your living room for a very long time, take the opportunity, as each is taken down, to dust the backside of their frames before moving them to where they will be stored.

Preparing and Properly Stacking Your Artworks

The type of artwork and how it is framed will determine how it should be stacked against a wall. In an ideal situation each artwork would be properly wrapped for its type and how it is framed, and then each would be boxed or at least separated by a sheet of fluted cardboard, foam core, sheet insulation or other type of light stiff separator. Since we are talking about stacking the artwork against a wall for a couple of weeks, following a few rules of thumb will achieve pretty much the same outcome without all the packing. So, here are a few thoughts and suggestions on how to prepare and stack your artworks.

Create a Working Inventory

Create an inventory of the works you will be moving to your designated storage space. Index cards work well here as they can be put in the order they will be moved and stacked. Be sure that along with the information that identifies each artwork, you include the artworks’ total framed dimensions, including their depth. Also note if any of the artworks’ supports are paper and are glazed as this will normally indicate that they must be stacked upright. You may want to circle the hinged artworks, showing you cannot change their orientation the way you can, in most cases, with an oil on canvas or panel. The cards should be sorted so that the largest work is on top and the smallest is on the bottom.

Note: As opposed to the way almost everything else in the universe is measured, artworks are measured using height before width, and then depth.

Take a tape measure to the space you are planning to store the works and make sure that the largest artwork will fit the available wall space considering its proper orientation.

This shows two strips of foam core placed on top of the 2x4 risers. If used, they will help protect fragile frame finishes from damage while in the stack.
This shows two strips of foam core placed on top of the 2×4 risers. If used, they will help protect fragile frame finishes from damage while in the stack.
Using Risers to Raise Artwork Above the Floor Level

To determine the length of the risers that will keep the artworks off the floor, let’s say they are 2 x 4 boards, add up all the depth measurements on the cards you anticipate will be in the largest stack and add 12 inches to account for the separators if you are planning to use them. Also consider the angle against the wall of the first artwork in the stack. It does not matter if the boards are a bit too long, you just don’t want them to be too short. The risers should be placed perpendicular to the wall and far enough apart so the smallest artwork in the stack will sit on top of them. If the frames are fragile, you may want to cut two 3.5-inch strips off one of your separators and place it on the 2 x 4 risers before you start stacking artworks.

General Rules for Stacking
Both of these diagrams show proper stacking technique. Each artwork is placed so it has at least two points of contact with the artwork that was stacked before it.
Both of these diagrams show proper stacking technique. Each artwork is placed so it has at least two points of contact with the artwork that was stacked before it.
If no dividers are used when stacking and there are no backings on the artworks themselves, then the last three artworks in the stack at left and the last artwork added to the stack at right are improperly placed and will be pushing into the back of the artwork in front of each.
If no dividers are used when stacking and there are no backings on the artworks themselves, then the last three artworks in the stack at left and the last artwork added to the stack at right are improperly placed and will be pushing into the back of the artwork in front of each.

As a general rule, artworks should be stacked in a graduated order with the largest against the wall and the smallest being the last work added. If the first work placed is facing the wall and it is backed or has stretcher braces, it may have a smaller work stacked against it.

LEFT: If an oil on canvas has stretcher supports, a smaller artwork can be stacked against it when separators are not available. RIGHT: This is also true if an oil on canvas is backed with a cardboard or foam core.
LEFT: If an oil on canvas has stretcher supports, a smaller artwork can be stacked against it when separators are not available. RIGHT: This is also true if an oil on canvas is backed with a cardboard or foam core.

If the artwork is not backed or has stretcher braces, each new work that is added to the stack, whether using sheet separators or not, should either match or exceed its predecessor in either height or width, not both. This way, it will span an unprotected canvas and have at least two points of contact at the top, or upper sides of its frame.

Illustrated are three materials that will work as separators when stacking artworks. The top is 3/4 inch foam insulation board, the middle is foam core, and the bottom is fluted cardboard.
Illustrated are three materials that will work as separators when stacking artworks. The top is 3/4 inch foam insulation board, the middle is foam core, and the bottom is fluted cardboard.
Using Separator Sheets to Protect Artworks

As mentioned above, it is always best to use separators between each artwork in a stack. I would recommend sheets of fluted cardboard, foam core, sheet insulation or other type of light stiff separator material. For each artwork added to the stack, place a separator sheet that is larger than the work it is placed in front of. That does not mean that it needs to be cut down to fit, it just means that the sheet should not be smaller.

This shows artworks stacked with separators between each work. This provides the most protection for each unwrapped artwork in the stack. Note that the third separator from the end of the stack is sideways to properly cover the artwork behind it.
This shows artworks stacked with separators between each work. This provides the most protection for each unwrapped artwork in the stack. Note that the third separator from the end of the stack is sideways to properly cover the artwork behind it.

Note: Do not use soft materials to cover or wrap artworks such as blankets or sheets unless they are all glazed and backed works. Cotton blankets would be preferred over wool, especially if the artworks are pastels. Pastels should never be stored with their faces at a forward angle or face down. It would be best to place a glazed pastel, face up, on a bed.

If you don't have enough separators to put one between each artwork, you can stack the artworks front-to-front and back-to-back placing a separator between the artwork's faces
If you don’t have enough separators to put one between each artwork, you can stack the artworks front-to-front and back-to-back placing a separator between the artwork’s faces.

If you have more artworks than separator sheets, the face-to-face, back-to-back method of stacking may be appropriate. That means you should start your stack with a separator sheet against the wall and then place the first artwork, so it faces the wall and the top of its frame is in contact with the separator sheet and not with the wall. The second artwork should be placed, using the “at least two points of contact” rule, with its back to the first work. Then place a separator sheet against the face of the second work and repeat the process.

When separators are not available, artworks can be stacked front-to-front and back-to-back making sure that each artwork added has at least two points of contact with the artwork in front of it.  Where two artworks touch in the face -to-face configuration, washcloths can be used to pad the frames at the points where the frames touch.
When separators are not available, artworks can be stacked front-to-front and back-to-back making sure that each artwork added has at least two points of contact with the artwork in front of it.  Where two artworks touch in the face -to-face configuration, washcloths can be used to pad the frames at the points where the frames touch.
Stacking Without Separator Sheets

If you are planning on stacking without separator sheets, certainly not recommended by me, you have to be extra careful how and where each artwork makes contact with the artwork in front and behind it, and the “at least two points of contact rule” needs to be strictly adhered to. Also, if their weight and center of gravity is not a problem, they should, in most cases, be stacked face-to-face and back-to-back. When stacking, the artworks that are placed back-to-back should be touching all around. The works that are stacked face-to-face should not touch except at two upper points of contact. Where the frames touch, two folded washcloths can be used as protection by laying them over the frame where the contact is made.

Note: While works are stacked this way, they should remain undisturbed until they are unstacked to be reinstalled. Do not pull several works in the stack forward to show off a work, and under no circumstances pull a work from the center of the stack. If a work is needed, carefully unstack the works back to that artwork.

The Issue of Weight

Weight is a factor that may determine how many works should be in each stack. Large glazed works with heavy frames weigh a lot. You may not want to place any more than three or four works in a stack of artworks like this. Canvases with strip molding may not weigh a lot and therefore it might be realistic to stack more. Bottom line; you don’t want to stack so many artworks together that a single person could lose control of it if they were supporting it while another person was flipping through the artworks.

Determining an Artwork’s Center of Gravity

You will need to determine the center of gravity for the first artwork that starts a stack and ideally, each artwork that follows as they are placed. This can be determined by setting each artwork vertically on the floor in the orientation it will be stacked. It will normally want to fall forward or back depending on its center of gravity. (Whichever way it wants to fall, that is the side that should face the wall.) This means that if you are using separators between each artwork, they should be stacked in the direction that they would naturally fall. Works that do not easily fall one way or the other have a neutral center of gravity so they can be safely stacked either way.

Properly Setting the Angle of the First Artwork

The angle at which the first artwork is placed against the wall in a stack is very important! If the angle is too little, even if you have determined that its center of gravity will tend for it to naturally hug the wall, it sets up a situation where if other artworks are not stacked properly, it could allow the stack to fall. On the other hand, if the angle is too much, it will place undue stress on the stack because with every degree of extra angle added, the stack becomes progressively heavier with the first artwork that started the stack bearing the greatest weight. Also, instead of the possibility of the artworks that are stacked with too narrow an angle falling over, too much of an angle could cause the artworks at the end of the stack to start sliding out from the bottom. Also, the change of angle related to the height of the artwork also must be considered.

It is best to keep these issues in mind when determining how far the bottom of the first artwork should be away from the wall when setting the stack. Unfortunately, there is no formula that I know of that is a standard rule of thumb to determine the perfect angle, especially with all the unknown variables when you start. So, the best I can do is let you know how I do it:

I place the top of the first artwork so the side to which it naturally wants to fall is against the separator sheet that is leaning against the wall and its bottom is sitting on the riser about 4 inches away from the wall. I then pull the top of the artwork away from the wall about an inch to feel the weight of its resistance. If it seems too little, I will move the artwork’s bottom away from the wall another inch and try again until it feels right. If it seems like it is heavy or has too much resistance, I would move the artwork’s bottom toward the wall an inch and try again until the resistance feels right. Then I continue stacking other artworks between separators until I think stacking more would endanger the first artwork or make the stack unstable. I test the resistance of each added artwork as it is placed to be sure it is properly weighted towards the previously stacked work. 

I focused on a guest bedroom as a good place to store artworks for this post because most guest bedrooms are properly climate controlled and rarely entered, making them an ideal location for storing artwork. Remember, because of change orders or unexpected issues that pop up during most any renovation project, they are rarely finished on time. For this reason, it is best to store your artworks where they will not be disturbed until they are ready to be put back on the wall. Having to unstack the artwork and move it to a safer location and then restack it will unnecessarily put the artwork in danger.

I hope you have found the information in this post helpful. Although I have mentioned a way to stack the artworks without using separators, I recommend using them. They will provide a higher level of protection to both the artwork and frames, especially if there is a situation where the stack falls over for some reason.

If your storage needs exceed the short term, you may have interest in reading my post, Four Artwork Storage Solutions.   In the meantime, happy stacking.

*****

For more information about safe handling of artwork, visit these other blog posts:

An image of a painting carefully placed in the back seat of a carPractical Tips for Safely Transporting Artwork

 

an image of a wall of shelves holding print boxesFour Artwork Storage Solutions

 

 

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Practical Tips for Safely Transporting Artwork.

Artworks are often at their most vulnerable when they are in transit, especially if the person who is transporting them is inexperienced.  So to ease the stress and anxiety of doing so,  I though I would share some practical tips for safely transporting artwork in your own vehicle.

For this post, I thought it would be helpful to offer some suggestions as to how to safely transport a single two-dimensional artwork in a personal vehicle.  As most people do not have professional packing supplies at home, I will focus on using household items such as blankets, large garbage bags and pillows to be used sensibly in protecting the artwork when it is placed in the automobile.

All the suggestions I have made below come from over 45 years of experience in packing artwork in just about every type of vehicle, and from seeing how artworks have been delivered to us by non-professionals.  Every situation is different and none of the suggestions I am making will protect the artwork or you in a serious accident.  These suggestions are just “guidelines.”

Will it Fit?

It may sound rudimentary, but whether you are taking an artwork from home to another location or heading out to pick up a new acquisition from a gallery, it is always a good idea to measure the artwork and the space in your vehicle where you are planning on securing it, to see if it will comfortably fit.   Also, where it will be placed in the vehicle, the type of artwork, and how it is framed will all determine if it needs to be wrapped, and if so, what level of protection is required.  Once that is determined, take that overall packed size into account when measuring.

If you are picking up an artwork, say from a gallery, remember that if it is framed, the size of the artwork documented on the bill of sale or in the catalog of the show is the actual artwork size, not its overall framed size.  Call the galley and ask them to measure the overall size of the artwork before driving across town to find out that it will not fit in your vehicle.  Also, it’s not a bad idea to let the preparator of the gallery know where you are planning to place the artwork in your vehicle, and where, so they can pack it accordingly and then provide you with its overall packed size before you leave to pick it up.

This image shows how to cushion an artwork to ride in the back of an four door sedan. Pillows on each side will keep it from falling left or right.
There are three things that would improve the way this artwork has been placed in the back seat of this automobile: ONE – It is difficult to tell from this photograph, because of the angle from which it was taken, that the artwork is an oil on canvas and painted in a vertical format. Because its orientation does not matter here, it would have been better to place the artwork sideways to lower its center of gravity. If it had been a hinged work on paper, it would have had to ride vertically so that the effects of gravity would not break a hinge. TWO – If I was packing this for a client at my gallery, since this is an unbacked oil on canvas, I would have not used the blanket behind the artwork, but instead, placed a piece of fluted cardboard, foam core, or 3/4 inch insulation foam, both behind, and in front of the artwork, that was larger than the outer dimension of the artwork’s frame.  I did not use these here because most people do not have these materials readily available.  THREE –  Pillows should be placed between the artwork’s frame and the door of the automobile on both sides so the artwork will not shift sideways while the vehicle is turning.

Is it Safe?

Be sure to think about where the artwork is being placed in the vehicle and what will happen if you must maneuver quickly left or right, slam on the breaks, or worse, get hit by another vehicle.  Is it packed and placed in the car in such a way that, if any of these things happen, you and others will be safe from its movement?  Will the artwork sustain minimal damage because of how it is packed?

It is important to remove any loose objects from the space in which the artwork is to be placed for travel unless the object is being used as part of the bracing or packing process.  We must often move tennis rackets, golf clubs, gym bags and other things from a client’s trunk or back seat before placing an artwork inside their vehicle.

It is best not to take a pet along with you when you transport art.  If you must, be sure they are restrained or not able to get into the area where the artwork is placed.  I have seen both cats and dogs happily prance across an unprotected canvas in the back of a vehicle.  The attention you are paying to your driving will diminish greatly if “Fluffy” decides to take a walk across your newly purchased Monet waterlily painting while you are changing lanes on a freeway.

Preparing Artwork for Transport

I am assuming for this post that you are not planning to wrap the artwork with anything other a plastic trash bag.  Most galleries are happy to wrap a work in bubble wrap or other appropriate material if they know you are coming.  Most of the suggestions I offer here can be modified to take into account a wrapped work.

If an artwork on paper is wrapped in an opaque material, it needs to have something on the outside that tells you which side is up and which side is the face of the artwork. If it is carried or transported sideways, the weight of the paper can tear the hinges that are holding the artwork in place.
If an artwork on paper is wrapped in an opaque material, it needs to have something on the outside that tells you which side is up and which side is the face of the artwork. If it is carried or transported sideways, the weight of the paper can tear the hinges that are holding the artwork in place.

Be sure that if you wrap a framed and glazed artwork on paper in an opaque material so you are unable to tell which side of the artwork is up, that you mark it in some way to identify its face and top.  A face drawn on the front of the package or a piece of painter’s tape with “TOP” written on it works well.  Works on paper need to be carried with the hinges at the top so they do not tear or pull free because they were carried sideways.  In the business, when a hinge pulls free separating the work on paper from where it was mounted, we say that the artwork “slipped its hinge.”  A phrase every dealer hates to hear.

So, here are several common ways two-dimensional artworks are normally transported in a personal vehicle and my suggestions on the best way to protect them using household materials.

Transporting an Artwork in a Trunk

If your trunk is empty and your artwork comfortably fits; if your destination is not far and you are traveling without other stops; if it is not raining and the temperature is not too extreme; then the carpeted trunk of an automobile is the ideal place for an artwork to travel and you will probably not need to have it wrapped at all.  Since it is separated from you and your passengers, it is also the safest way.

Unglazed Artwork:

If the artwork is not glazed and does not fit snugly, place an open blanket on the bottom of the trunk so the area where the artwork will sit is completely flat.  Place the artwork on top of the flat area of the blanket and roll under the outer edges of the blanket like a jelly roll so they form a barrier around the artwork as illustrated below.   Make sure the furthest edge of the artwork is resting against the far end of the trunk, closest to the back seat.  This will pad all the artwork’s sides and keep it from quickly sliding forward and banging into the back of the trunk during a quick stop.  It is my recommendation to never place a blanket over an unglazed work, especially if the artwork’s support is stretched canvas.

Image showing how an artwork should be placed on a flat blanket with its top resting against the front of the carpeted trunk. The sides of the blanket are rolled underneath on each side so it snugs against the frame on its left and right side.
The artwork is placed on a flat blanket with its top resting against the front of the carpeted trunk. The sides of the blanket are rolled underneath on each side so it snugs against the frame on its left and right side.
The part of the blanket that was sitting over the edge of the trunk has been rolled underneath in the same way the sides were rolled. It was then snugged down between the closest end of the artwork and the back of the trunk to keep the artwork from sliding backward.

Note: About one in every three people who bring artworks to the gallery cover or wrap them in a blanket thinking they are protecting their artwork and its frame if it has one.  This is not much of an issue if the artwork is glazed and the glazing is intact.  However, if it is an old unglazed oil on stretched canvas that is starting to flake, laying a heavy blanket on it can cause expensive-to-repair damage.  For instance, the weight of the blanket can push down on the canvas causing it to become concave and stressed.  The act of placing a blanket on the work and taking it off can cause any dry impasto or already damaged areas to flake off.  It can also break off partially secured areas of a fragile frame.

This artwork arrived at the gallery with this blanket wrapped around it. To most people, this is a logical way to protect the artwork in transit. In actuality, it is a terrible idea as any loose paint can flake off as the blanket moves over the painting's surface. It would be much safer to have nothing over it at all, or to have used the blanket to pad and block the bottom of the artwork from sliding forward on the seat.
This artwork arrived at the gallery with this blanket wrapped around it. To most people, this is a logical way to protect the artwork in transit. In actuality, it is a terrible idea as any loose paint can flake off as the blanket moves over the painting’s surface. It would be much safer to have nothing over it at all, or to have used the blanket to pad and block the bottom of the artwork from sliding forward on the seat.
Glazed Artwork:

If the artwork is glazed with glass, a blanket can be place beneath and around the artwork as previously described.  If more protection is needed, a soft blanket can also be laid over the artwork and folded around it.  If an over blanket is used, remove it before picking up the artwork to be sure it is carried upright.

Note:  Always carry an artwork upright facing you, holding it with two hands from both sides.  It is not a good idea to carry it from the top of the frame, and it is best not to carry it around by its hanging wire if it has one.  You are making a lot of assumptions by doing so and you have much less control over the artwork.

This is the proper way to carry most any small to medium sized two-dimensional work of art. It faces the man carrying the artwork and it is being held with two hands on each side of the painting keeping the artwork's orientation up. Notice that it is being carried slightly to the side so it does not restrict the man from seeing where he is going. Also, if for any reason the artwork is dropped, the man will not fall into the painting.
This is the proper way to carry most any small to medium sized two-dimensional work of art. It faces the man carrying the artwork and it is being held with two hands on each side of the painting keeping the artwork’s orientation up. Notice that it is being carried slightly to the side so it does not restrict the man from seeing where he is going. Also, if for any reason the artwork is dropped, the man will not fall into the painting.

If the artwork is glazed with plexiglass and you believe it needs to be covered with a blanket for extra protection, put a plastic bag over it first followed by the blanket, wrapping it around the edges of the frame.  This will prevent the plexiglass from being scratched by the blanket.  If it is raining, you might want to place the artwork in the plastic bag making sure to identify the front and top of the artwork by marking it somehow before taking it to your vehicle.

Transporting an Artwork in the Back Seat.

Transporting artworks in the back seat area of an automobile is not optimal for many reasons but sometimes, because of an artwork’s size and the circumstances, it is all that’s available.  So, if it is the only option, here are my recommendations to transport the artwork as safely as possible. When doing so, please drive like you have a baby in the back seat.

All automobiles are a little different.  You can measure to determine that an artwork will fit in between the front and back seats, but there are other factors to consider, and one of them is the artwork’s depth.  The back door at its fully open position, window down, may not allow an artwork of your measured size to fit past the back seat, and the drivetrain hump in the middle of the back seat floorboard may be an issue.  Remember, the designers of your automobile’s back doors thought only about people’s ability to get in and out, they did not care, nor even think about, your need to transport artwork.

Again, be sure that the back seat and floorboards are clear of any loose objects.  It is not a good idea to have a loose bowling ball sitting on the back seat behind an artwork.

Transporting a Small Artwork in the Back Seat Area

A small work is best placed on the floorboard facing forward on either side of the drivetrain hump if the vehicle has one.  It should be placed at an angle where the bottom of the frame touches the front seat back, and the artwork’s top back side leans against the front of the back seat.  To protect the bottom of the frame from any hard surfaces behind the front seat, something needs to be used as a buffer.  If the car has floor mats, push the mat forward and curl it up to protect the bottom of the frame where it sits against the back of the front seat.  If it doesn’t, a rolled towel will do the trick.

A small work of art that fits between the drivetrain hump and the automobile’s back door can be leaned up against the front of the back seat. To protect the frame from rubbing against the front seat’s attachment points, I have flipped the carpeted floor mat around and pushed it forward while bending it up behind the front seat. This provides a carpeted area for the frame to rest behind the front seat. Since this is not a glazed work on paper, it can be placed sideways to fit the space.

I recommend that smaller works not be placed on the back seat itself, either upright or flat, unless there is something between the front and back seats that will keep the work from falling to the floorboard in a sudden stop.  If there is something there that is about the same height of the seat, like a soft gym bag, then a medium size artwork can be placed flat on the rear seat extending over the built-up space between the front and back seats.

Transporting a Medium Sized Artwork in the Back Seat Area

Most often, a larger work will need to be placed between the front and back seats, facing forward.  After you know that the artwork will fit, there are four contact points that need to be considered.  Also, if the artwork is a hinged work on paper in a vertical format, for reasons we discussed earlier, do not turn it sideways to get it to fit.

Contact Point One:  The Front Edge of the Back Seat
Be cautious of sharp objects on the back of artworks. The metal wire could scratch your back seat upholstery. A bath towel laid over the back seat for the artwork to lean against would solve this problem.
The metal wire could scratch your back seat upholstery. A bath towel laid over the back seat for the artwork to lean against would solve this problem.

Glazed works on paper are most often backed and therefore, a medium sized work on paper can ride with its back side against the back seat, so long as any exposed hardware will not potentially cause damage to your back seat upholstery.  A blanket hanging over the glazed artwork can prevent this. (Remember to bag the piece if it is glazed with Plexiglas and mark its face and top before putting a blanket over it.)

The artwork on the left is at the greatest risk at having its canvas pushed forward by a protruding seat back. The center artwork has a support bar down the center of the canvas that will help protect it from a convex back seat front edge. The foam core backing on the third artwork will protect it completely from a convex or protruding back seat front edge.

A framed or unframed stretched canvas that does not have a backing may be at risk, depending on the design of your vehicle’s back seat.  If the seat has a convex shape or has areas that protrude, it may push into the back of the canvas, stretching it out of shape.  This is less likely if the canvas has a vertical stretcher brace down the middle that will rest against the seat, keeping the seat from touching the canvas.  Without that brace, even if the artwork is packed in bubble wrap, it may be at greater risk from the convex back seat as it could push the bubble into the back of the canvas, placing even more pressure on it.

Here are three products that are often used to separate and protect artworks: fluted cardboard below, foam core in the middle and 3/4 inch foam insulation material on top. The foam core and insulation material will protect sensitive finishes like gold leaf frames. Fluted cardboard’s surface is not as smooth and it is better to have a plastic bag over a frame with a sensitive finish if it is used.

If no brace is present, there needs to be a flat support behind the artwork, or something else, protecting it from the front of the back seat.  The support can be a piece or corrugated (fluted) cardboard, foam insulation, or other stiff material cut to the same size or a little larger than the overall artwork.  If these materials are not available, a properly folded blanket can hold the artwork off the seat back to prevent damage to the canvas.

Place the blanket on the ground and roll both sides so the outer sides match the width of the paintings frame.
Place the painting on the blanket to be sure the width of each roll is the size of both the stretcher and frame of the artwork.
Roll one of the ends of the blanket until it is a little longer than the width of the back seat; at least long enough for it to hang over the front of the back seat about 6 inches with the rolled end against the back of the seat.

If no flat material is available, roll a blanket from two sides so the distance between the rolls matches the back of the stretcher and the artwork’s frame, and then hang the blanket over the edge of the back seat so it provides a buffer that will keep the canvas from touching the front edge of the back seat.

This image shows how the blanket should be situated behind the artwork with the side rolls under its stretcher and frame. If the blanket is touching the open canvas between the rolls anywhere, start over and roll the sides tighter to push the frame further forward. Note the bath towels supporting the frame corners on either side of the carpeted drivetrain hump.
Contact Point Two: The Floorboard, the Drivetrain Hump, and the Console

The next thing to think about is where the bottom front edge of the artwork meets the bottom of the front seat or the back of the console that divides the two front seats.  A floor mat, a rolled-up towel or a piece of clothing can act as a protective buffer to hold the artwork in place and protect it from any metal or hard plastic parts under the front seat or the back of the console.  If the artwork is now balancing on the drivetrain hump, you can roll towels or two strips of bubble wrap and place them under each corner to keep the artwork from listing over one way or the other while driving.

Contact Point Three:  Protecting the Front of the Artwork.

In a sudden stop or head-on accident, the entire artwork will try to move forward.  If it is wrapped in bubble and has a stiff sheet material in front of it like 3/4 inch foam insulation, corrugated cardboard, or foam core, it will sustain less damage than it would without it.  If the artwork is glazed with glass, the bubble pack would help contain any broken glass shards.  Since we are talking primarily about using household materials, if it is glazed with glass, a blanket over the entire work that is tucked in under the bottom of the frame near each bottom corner, to keep it from tilting back and forth on the hump, is a good idea.

Contact Point Four:  Protecting the Sides of the Artwork

After the artwork has been placed safely into the back between the front and back seats, lower both back windows and close both back doors carefully to be sure they do not hit the artwork or its frame.   If there is room, snug blankets or pillows on either side of the artwork and doors through the open windows so the artwork will not slide side to side while the vehicle is turning.  Roll the windows up and you’re set to go.

Transporting a Large Artwork Flat in the Back of an SUV.

It is always a good idea to know the maximum usable rectangular dimension of the back of your SUV with the back seats down.  So you will only have to measure that once, write these dimensions on the underside of the hatch door next to the auto close button if you have one, with an indelible marker.

The advantage of laying almost any two-dimensional artwork flat on its back is that, if the entire back of the artwork is touching a flat surface, the artwork and the entire frame assembly housing it are all experiencing the least amount of stress possible.  Also, while in transit, you don’t have to worry which side is up on a hinged work on paper as it really doesn’t matter when it is in this position.

If the work is not packed, set the artwork face up so that the edge of the frame is touching the back of the driver and passenger seats. This way it will not slide forward and hit them in a sudden stop.  Placing the artwork on a flat blanket and rolling the sides up to the frame will also protect the artwork’s edges if it slides.  A folded blanket behind the artwork will help keep it from sliding back when accelerating.  As discussed above, be sure there are no loose objects at the back of the SUV that might slide forward onto the artwork in a sudden stop.

If you want the artwork hidden, and it is a work on paper glazed with glass, a single layer of blanket can be placed over the artwork to hide it.  If it is glazed with Plexiglas, it would be better not to use a blanket but instead, place a bed sheet over the work so it does not scratch.  If it is an unglazed framed or unframed canvas and the paint is completely dry, a single layer of a light plastic opaque drop cloth is a good solution.  Be sure that when it is removed, it is not dragged across the artworks surface but is carefully lifted off.

If you are concerned about moving an artwork yourself, get several quotes from professional art moving companies.  Even though they are generally more expensive than furniture moving companies, they carry the proper packing and securing materials on their trucks.  Every time we have had furniture movers pick up art at our gallery for various design projects, they have never brought large stiff sheets of foam core or corrugated cardboard to separate or pack artworks with them on their trucks.  They only have blankets and stretch wrap.  We have often had to loan them the proper materials and diplomatically explain how to use them.  They are skilled at blanket wrapping almost any piece of furniture, but you don’t want your fragile unglazed Jackson Pollock to be blanket wrapped and then tied up to the side of a truck.  You will be spending a lot of time and money with your conservator if you let that happen.

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For more information about safe handling of artwork, visit these other blog posts:

An image of artworks carefully placed on on a bedTemporarily Storing Artwork: A Case Study
an image of a wall of shelves holding print boxesFour Artwork Storage Solutions

 

 

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For comments about this blog or suggestions for a future post, contact Madeleine at mbogan@fineartestates.com.