the art of shipping and handling

We have become so accustomed to ‘shipping and handling’ being a free bonus to the bottom line of our online orders, it’s easy to forget that there is a person on the other end. Someone who actually protects your purchase, puts it in a box, makes sure it gets to your home and (hopefully) arrives there in one piece. And ok, shipping has human power and fuel costs associated with it that seem obvious to be worthy of paying a fee for but ‘handling’ ceramics is a much finer art form that often can go unnoticed.

Over the years, shipping my art has become such an adventure in itself, that I could sit around telling the equivalent of ghost stories around the campfire about the things my art has been through in the shipping industry. The piece that gets chipped or lost is one kind of tragedy, but when I’m planning on shipping a huge, multipart installation, the balance between risk and cost effectiveness could fall into a whole other kind of tragedy. So much so that I’ve dedicated weeks in my planning schedule to just work on the art of shipping and handling of this upcoming public art piece. Exciting stuff, right?

There are options. I could hire a professional art shipper to take my work, pack it and ship it. It would probably arrive in perfect condition. All I would have to do it pay a huge bill for that piece of mind. I would also have to resolve in my mind that they would be purchasing brand new materials to wrap and protect my work, most likely ones that would not be recyclable, compostable or made of post consumer waste. I struggle with that (and that big bill too). So I choose to pack and ship my work myself.

This means that it takes me time to find the right materials to protect the work correctly. I also want the materials to be reusable, recyclable or repurposed as much as possible. I also have to balance all of that with the cost. A reused crate that’s too big for what I need will cost more to ship. Equally, wrapping my work in 1000 pieces of reused bubble wrap might not be the best protection. I also have to consider the person who’s receiving it on the other end who probably doesn’t want all the packing peanuts I’ve ever saved.

So far, on this project, I’ve been able to reuse all the bubble wrap, hard foam, filler material and interior boxes. I did concede that I needed to purchase some soft foam to protect the art properly. Two new wood crates will also be built. They will be designed using all the wood as effectively as possible, so that there is hardly any scrap leftover. They will also be as small as possible while still protecting the work inside. Since these crates and packing material won’t be returning to my studio, I plan to contact the art department on campus where I’m installing for first dibs on the free materials. No matter what, I don’t want them to end up in the land fill after I’m done with them.

Why do I share this ramble with you? Mainly because this is what’s going on in my studio (and brain) right now and the struggle is real! But also to offer a little behind the scenes look at what those handling fees really mean. To think about that artist who took the hours – literally – to package your purchase carefully. The artist who wrote you a little thank you note or doodled a little drawing on the box. To remember that there is an art to shipping and handling and that these skills and those materials are what you are actually paying for.

ps: Keep your fingers crossed that everything arrives in perfect condition! Thx!

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