Sunday, July 18, 2010

Arrive in Style

Art Business Coach Alyson Stanfield, in her always excellent Art Biz Blog, brings up an issue that too many artists neglect to consider as part of their artistic process.

After focusing on the creation of a piece of art, and after finding ways to display it, after negotiating with dealers or sending in applications for display opportunities, lots of us think our work is done.

After all, we're in, right?  The hard work has been done.We've made contact, we're accepted, our work will be displayed properly, we can show up for the reception all spiffed up and shiney, and rub elbows with all the right folks.

But not so fast. We still have to find a way to package that precious commodity and deliver it to it's destination in such a way that it arrives safely.  And that's where way too many artists slip into a coma.

I've seen it happen, and Alyson evidently has too:  lovely paintings stuffed into grocery sacks; fragile sculptures wrapped in laundry; ceramics tucked into shoe boxes designed for shoes, not artwork. Just because you're not sending it across the country doesn't mean you can just toss your work into the trunk for a short trip.  It's like showing up for a job interview in a $400 suit riding a bike with a flat tire.

You don't have to have special skills, nor do you have to get a loan from Mom and Dad to protect your work while it's on it's way to fame and fortune.

Take an afternoon and make yourselves fabric envelopes for your flat artwork.  No sewing necessary.  Inexpensive, super easy, good looking and safe for those beautiful drawings and expensive frames. Here's how:

First you will need material, and I like using blankets.  They can be found super cheap at thrift stores, or dollar stores and the fabric is soft, yet durable, and doesn't fray. (You're welcome to purchase actual bolt fabric if you'd like. Remember, you're not decorating your boudoir, you're cutting it up for packaging. Inexpensive is fine.) You'll also need a product to unite the cut sides of the fabric if you don't want to haul out your sewing machine.  I found something called "Stitch Witchery" that worked well.  I have also used a fabric glue, but I wasn't all that impressed with it.  The "Stitch Witchery" is an iron-able product that fuses two fabric surfaces together. If you don't have an iron, now's a good time to buy one of those as well.

Important note:  the blanket label will give you dimensions, but those numbers are misleading.  I'm not sure what happens from the time the fabric is cut to the time it goes through all of the hemming, packaging, and sitting on the shelf, but your 72" x 90" blanket is likely to be inches off in any direction, especially if the blanket you purchase is really cheap. Just so you know.

Lay out your new blanket on a large, flat surface.  I use the living room floor because for some reason the table in my studio is already piled high.  Find some paper to make notes, something to mark the fabric, sharp scissors and a yardstick for measuring. 

Take time to consider what size framed painting you'll be making this envelope for.  You'll have height and width, but don't forget depth.  For instance, your frame may be 14" wide and 16" high.  It may also be an inch or two thick, and you have to account for that. You will also have overlap on the seams of at least 1/2".  I always add two or three inches for these extras - just in case.  (An envelope will work just fine if it's a bit too large, but is worthless if it's too small.)

Figure the proper width for your frame and mark it on the fabric.  If you double the height of your frame, all you have to do to complete the pocket is fold the fabric over rather than fuse the bottom together.  It's one less seam.

Using your ironing board (if you didn't have an iron, you probably don't have an ironing board.  Try lots of towels over newspapers several layers thick on a work table.  Better yet, buy an ironing board), lay out the fabric so that the long edge is at the top. You'll take the left edge of this rectangle and fold it to the right, thus making a pocket, with the opening of the sleeve to the right. Cut 2 pieces of fusing tape, one for each seam of the sleeve. Lay the tape right up to, but not over, the edge of the fabric. (If any sneaks out over the edge, you may end up glueing your fabric right onto the ironing board.) Fold your over, covering the tape, straightening the fabric so the edges are even.

Take a moment to actually read the directions on your fusing tape.  "Stitch Witchery" tape suggests holding a hot iron to the fabric for 10 seconds to melt the tape and create the bond, using a damp "press cloth" between the iron and the fabric to protect the blanket fabric.  In my world a "press cloth" is a tea
towel, or any other thin cotton fabric.  Because the iron has to sit in one place for 10 seconds, scorching the fabric is a real possibility and the damp tea towel will save you from damaging your lovely new envelope with a nasty iron tattoo. If you're making several, you'll need to re-dampen your tea towel to keep it from turning a lovely shade of toast.

After you've ironed the seam, check to make certain the tape has melted properly.  It may take another pressing just to make sure the seam is secure. 

And voila!  You've got a real live sensible protective envelope for your Very Important Artwork. 

 I used a 72" x 90" blanket and got 11 (eleven!) envelopes for a variety of frame sizes, at a cost of maybe $2 each (I couldn't find a blanket on sale) and a short bit of my time (an hour to measure and re-measure because I can't read a ruler, and a few minutes to iron). Last year I snagged a king sized blanket for $4, which brought the cost down to just pennies per envelope.

Helpful Hints Chapter:
If you would prefer a flap to close your envelope, add at least 3 inches to the height of your pattern.  Lay the tape 3" from the top edge so that you don't seal that part of the pocket.

I found that the cheaper blankets are best, especially if they have decorative designs on them.  The designs help stiffen the fabric, making the envelope just a bit less floppy than the more expensive soft and snuggley blankets. 

Think about using different colored fabric for various sizes.  That way you'd know all envelopes that fit an 8x10 painting would be blue, 9x12 sleeves would be red, etc. 

There you go.Your work will show up safely and in style.  Gallery owners will be talking about how great your work is, not wondering how you managed to cram it into that grocery bag. And you won't end up as a bad example on someone's blog.


Claudine Intner said...

Thank you for the great tutorial! I definitely have to make some of these.

Patricia said...

Should be a snap for a quilter of your talent! Thanks for stopping by-

Karine said...

Cool idea, Patty. You don't have problems with the fabric snagging on your paint and leaving little fuzzies? Just wondering...

Patricia said...

Maybe my blankets are REALLY cheap, but they're not so soft that they "fuzz off". My painting surfaces are also fairly smooth, no fishhooks to snag anything!