Packing and Shipping

Right after I finished grad school, I decided I needed to refresh my 5-year plan. During school, it was just to do the best I could, work hard, and finish school. Once the end was in sight, I needed to make new goals. It’s so helpful to have some direction when you need to make choices. If you know what your priorities are, and consider which choice moves you in that trajectory, it’s clearer.

I discovered during grad school to my surprise I enjoyed teaching. It wasn’t the being-in-charge part, but the opportunity to be around people interested in the same things I was – to be in a community of people who wanted to learn about ceramics and personal expression. It was an interesting place to be. So, my 5 year plan was to
– keep paying my bills and student loans (and this meant a day job)
– keep making work and making it better (this required studio space) and showing it
– live someplace that had an art community so I could keep learning (galleries, museums, libraries)
– at the end of 5 years to be teaching someplace – probably in a community ed situation like a clay studio

All those things pointed toward a city life for a while. I needed someplace that had job opps for a day job, art opportunities for eventual teaching, art scene for me to take in, and access to supplies and studio.

I moved to Philly, answered an ad in the newpaper for a shipping person for a gallery, and was hired by Ruth and Rick Snyderman at Works Gallery (then on South Street). R & R were generous mentors and involved the gallery help in the business, and I’m very thankful for those experiences: bookkeeping, display, inventory, packing and shipping, sales, and I even got to curate a ceramics show. Thanks to this experience, I’m confident of my abilities with packing peanuts and bubble wrap. It was a good day job for an aspiring artist.

One of the major problems with packing is having the right materials. If you buy new bubble wrap, boxes, and peanuts, you have to add that to the cost of your work. I try hard to find free sources, and have a shed out by the chicken coop that is for packing and storage of packing materials. Ask people to save packing materials, chat up local businesses, etc. to find free materials. Space to store them is often an issue.

In your quest for thrift, DO REMEMBER that galleries re-use your packing materials, often to ship to customers. They REALLY don’t want dirty materials. Charlie Cummings of Charlie Cummings Gallery has shared his stories of what has shown up as packing materials – ew. No bugs, no melting and sticky degradable peanuts, etc. Think that your client may see your packing, and that your gallery person (who may never have met you) may form an opinion of your professional abilities colored by your packing. I separate the bio-degradable cornstarch packing peanuts. NOT good in humid climates, as over time the humidity makes them shrink. If they’re separate, I can use these up first and try to get rid of them while they’re still good.

Put an invoice/packing slip in the box. Microsoft has Word templates that you can customize and put in your logo, contact info, etc. to make a professional presentation. Invoices templates are here. You can learn about how to save and use something as a template here. Send an invoice to the gallery as well by e-mail so they know what’s coming (and will have something if the box copy is forgotten or lost.) The person unpacking will have to match the work to the inventory listed. Be kind. Label. I try to inventory my work first ( I keep a database of when it was made, title, size, where it is, price, and an i.d. number), and put my number on the invoice and on the bubble wrap if I think it will be confusing. Include pictures with numbers and sizes, list materials, specifiy if you’re giving retail or wholesale price. Help the gallery out. They will then LOVE you for facilitating their work.

Bubble wrap and tape so that all hard edges are cushioned. Put at least 2 inches between the bubble wrap and the sides/top/bottom of the box with packing peanuts or other cushion. Make SURE you have enough packing to make the contents snug. So many boxes have things that shift and get broken because there wasn’t enough packing material around the work, so it shifted in shipping and/or the box started to cave in.

Make SURE you take off all previous bar codes and destinations on the outside box. Tape the bottom well, as well as the top. Taping across the ends of the flaps also helps stabilize the box. I haven’t checked lately, but as far as I know, shipping companies will charge a base weight for oversize boxes. E.g. UPS would charge you for 25 pounds minimum if your box was over a certain size, even if it weighed less. So, shipping light things in several smaller boxes may be more thrifty than one jumbo box.

Most shipping companies will let you set up an account. Mine is charged to my credit card directly, so I can enter my shipping details online and print the label at home, and just do drop-off at the shipping place. Usually you get a discount from counter prices for having an account, and you can negotiate if you ship a lot to get a better discount.

i LOVE the feeling of dropping boxes off at the shipping counter. Ahhhh! I’ve done my part and now its on its way! Yay. UPS has store around cities in addtion to their own outlets. Fed Ex uses Kinkos (open 24-7 here, which is handy for early morn drop-off on the way to school) and Office Max in addition to their own outlets.