Shipping Artwork FedEx

Odd Man Out, Watercolor, 20.5″ x 40″, 52cm x 101.5cm, currently at the Kansas Watercolor Society National Exhibition, Wichita Center for the Arts.

I recently shipped this painting to Wichita and have shipped several paintings with FedEx since I last posted several articles on shipping artwork: Shipping Artwork FedEx Ground vs. UPS, Declared Value for Shipping Artwork: What Does This Mean & What Do I Need to Know?, and Shipping Large Paintings: What I’ve Learned.

I wanted to add another tip that has seemed to work for me so far with the issue of the declared value and return labels.  All the shows I have been in require that you include a return shipping label with your artwork so that it can be sent back to you if it does not sell.  If you ship FedEx Ground service and you select the “return label” option to create the return label.  FedEx will only let you put a declared value of $1000 on the return.  Therefore, what do you do if your painting is worth more than $1000?  Here is how I have gotten around this issue, which has worked so far.

Do not choose the “return label” option, but save all of your data in the address book for the shipment going to the gallery or show, and then create a new label reversing the addresses.  FedEx will make you choose a shipping date for the return, which will usually always be sooner than the show will be over.  I choose the last date possible.  The reality is the return won’t go into the system until the label is scanned by the driver at pick up.  So the date you put filling out the label is a moot point.  By creating this second label as opposed to indicating you want a return label on the one you create to get the work to the show, lets you put the same declared value on the painting, you had when you sent it there, instead of the FedEx default value of $1000.

If my painting is valued at less than $1000 then I go ahead and choose the return label option.  I hope this helps fellow artists. If you are new to sending your work off to various locations learning all the ins and outs of shipping can be a bit daunting!

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Shipping Large Paintings: What I’ve Learned


In the next couple of weeks I will be shipping five paintings to two different shows so I have packing and shipping on my mind.  This week I thought I would share another shipping story.

It seems like when you need to ship artwork once you have done it a few times you think to yourself okay, I got this.  I’m finally figuring this whole thing out.  See my previous posts on shipping FedEx vs. UPS and Declared Value:  What does this mean?

After my last shipment of a large painting I have another dilemma that I’m going to try and solve before my next shipment of a painting this size.  This particular experience is with UPS and shipping large artwork.   I’m not sure what the guidelines are for FedEx.  If anyone knows please feel free to make a comment with this post.

Last spring, I needed to ship a painting on a full size watercolor sheet, 22” x 30”  after it was framed the total dimension ended up being.  35” x 43”.  From my experience with the Florida Watercolor Society show, helping to unpack and pack paintings when the show was over, I discovered most, but not all, artists used the Airfloat  Systems box. It’s used for ease in packing, and durability and the fact that it can be used multiple times.  After a lot of research I decided to get an Airfloat box for this painting and ordered one that was thick enough to pack the two paintings that I needed to send to a show.  I had seen another artist ship two paintings in the same Airfloat box and figured it would be okay.  The box was a few inches bigger around than the largest painting to protect it.  I used an extra layer of foam between the 2 paintings, with the larger painting on the bottom.  Each painting also had the foam pieces on each side, that went from the edges of the frames to the box’s outer edge.

I ordered an Airfloat box measuring 45” x 48” x 5.5”.  However, before I ordered the box,  I called UPS to make sure that this did not fall within the oversize box category because these Air Float boxes are not cheap even with the 20% discount I got from being a member of the Florida Watercolor Society.  I figured since I could re-use the box it would be an investment when I need to ship large paintings.  This dimension fell with in the guidelines for NOT being oversized, which if it was, would result in up charges from the already expensive shipping cost!

Here is where this gets interesting.  The UPS formula for calculating whether a box is oversized is Length + Girth = not to exceed 130.”  Girth is 2 times the width of the box plus 2 times the height of the box.  As long as this figure added to the length doesn’t exceed 130” you are safe.  If this figure is 131” to 164” then you will be charged a $55 up charge and if it exceeds 165”  then there are more charges beyond that.  This is what a UPS representative told me over the phone.

You can imagine my surprise when I got my invoice from UPS and they had audited the size of my box and charged me extra for it being oversized!!  Trying not to let the steam escape from my ears, I called UPS and  reiterated the whole process of calling them before I made this big investment, buying this Airfloat box with plans to re-use it, but didn’t feel confident doing so if I was going to be charged every time for it being oversized.  She told me they had measured the box at 46” x 60” x 7”  on the way to the gallery,  and if you apply the formula, Length + Girth = 134,” it’s four inches over the 130” maximum!

I told her that was not the dimension of the box I sent.  I had measured it myself when I packed it and it was what Airfloat had stated it was when I ordered it, 45” x 48” 5.5.”

When my second invoice came after the box had been shipped back to me from the gallery, same thing, an up charge for an oversized box. You have got to be kidding!  After I got the box back I measured it to clear this up once and for all, and to my surprise again, UPS was right!  The box was 46” x 60” x 7,” it had grown!  It literally stretched with the packing and movement of shipping.  It was no longer the acceptable dimensions I was counting on when I ordered it to begin with.  The extra layer of foam to ship two paintings may have had something to do with the increased depth, but the sides also expanded as well.

The moral of this story is, if you ship large artwork with UPS, be aware of this formula or you will be slapped with up charges!  Also if you order from Airfloat, don’t count on the actual dimensions they have on their catalogue.  The box may grow after it is used just one time!

This story did have somewhat of a happy ending.  Even though my box was bigger, UPS waived the up charges for me this time.  However, now I have an expensive Airfloat box I can’t use again unless I’m willing to pay more than $100 dollars more in up charges in addition to the charge to ship the box to it’s destination and back.  Maybe I can make it into a work bench or lay out table.  Any other ideas?

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Declared Value for Shipping: What does this mean and what do I need to know?

I wanted to continue from yesterday’s post and share what I learned  talking with the UPS representative about declared value.  This information is from UPS.  FedEx policies may be different.

First “declared value” means the maximum liability for UPS if your package is lost or damaged.  Generally, I think most artists think this is insurance.  It is not, UPS doesn’t use that terminology and I think there are slight difference between insurance and declared value.  When I asked the UPS rep. if this is also insurance she said it is not.  (I have yet to discover the exact differences.)

If you do not declare a value on your shipping label the UPS default value is $100.  Also depending on how you create your label you can only claim certain maximum values. (Please see my post on Shipping Artwork on 4/30/13.)   If your shipment is lost or damaged, UPS is liable for the amount you declared.

Now for the news none of us would want to hear, our painting was damaged getting to the show or gallery or was damaged getting back to you.  The next step would be to file a claim with UPS.  UPS would then send one of their agents to inspect the box and contents.  As the shipper you must provide an original invoice or in writing proof of the replacement cost of the painting or the actual value.   This is where things get a little gray.  I talked to two different UPS representatives about this “proof of value” in writing and got two slightly different answers.  One person told me this letter had to be from an appraiser.  I explained it would be ludicrous for me to hire an appraiser to value my own artwork every time I needed to ship a painting to a show or gallery!  That wasn’t going to happen.  Therefore, I suggested, if I’m sending a painting to a show or gallery and that work is for sale could the society or gallery also in writing state that my work was in their show  and that during that time it was valued for sale for whatever my declared value was.  This could supplement my letter to establish proof of value.  She seemed to think that would be OK.  The second representative didn’t mention the letter had to be from an appraiser and said a letter directly from me as the artist would suffice.

As I mentioned, I did not speak with FedEx about damage in shipping,  but I have heard that they have in the past denied claims if the box doesn’t show any damage but the contents do.

Is it worth getting a separate insurance policy?  Most artists you talk to say no it isn’t. It is rare that your painting would be lost or damaged, that’s not to say it can’t happen.  What is more common is that your frame is damaged but your artwork isn’t.  Protect the corners of your frame!  This is where the most damage can happen.  Also avoid shipping watercolor with glass.  Most societies require all paintings be framed with plexiglass.

The moral of the story is, declared value can be a gray area between you the artist and the shipping company.  However, always put the value of the work including the frame on your shipping label.  Otherwise, UPS will only be liable for $100.  If you have to file a claim, hopefully your letter will be enough to show the proof of the value of the painting.  If you sold  a piece and are sending it to a customer, you would also have an invoice stating what you sold the painting for.  If your letter isn’t enough, then you can approach the gallery or society whose show your painting was in to help you out and  provide written documentation what your piece was selling for while it was exhibited.  If your painting is not for sale (NFS) in the show then this may not work.

Keep in mind these two articles are for domestic shipping only.  With international shipping, that’s a whole other can of worms!


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Shipping Artwork FedEx Ground vs. UPS: What I’ve learned

I follow the blog of a wonderful watercolor artist, Carrie Waller,  she recently had trouble with shipping a painting to the NWS Members show. I had a similar experience shipping my two paintings to the WPSE show  about a month ago. I had intended to do a blog article on all of my escapades with shipping, so now I thought would be a good time while it’s all fresh in my mind. After many phone calls to FedEx and UPS I gleaned some valuable information from both companies I wanted to pass on to fellow artists because it seems I’m not the only one with shipping dilemmas. I don’t profess to be an expert on this by any means but was quite surprised what I found out after speaking with FedEx and UPS directly…

First, I bit the bullet and decided to get an Airfloat box to ship the two paintings.  I had recently purchased a small box to ship one painting to the Georgia Watercolor Society National show and since I get a small discount and I’m fairly new at shipping artwork, I decided better be  safe than sorry and get the Airfloat.  I know Galleries and Watercolor Societies prefer these for their ease in unpacking and packing to send work back.  I volunteered last year to do this at the Florida Watercolor Society Annual Show, and can speak first hand Airfloat, or something similar, is easier.

To ship the smaller painting to Georgia, I got an account with FedEx to ship FedEx Ground.  I highly recommend getting an account especially if you are going to use UPS, more on that later.  I have accounts with both.  It’s easy to do on line and it’s free.  I had no trouble shipping my painting to Georgia with FedEx Ground.  I did all the labels on line, and requested a return label to include with my painting so they could send it back, or my box back if it sold.  Airfloats you can use multiple times.

A few weeks later I needed to ship the two paintings to Tennessee.  Airfloat does not recommend you ship two paintings in one box.  I had seen it done before and calculated it would be more economical for me than buying 2 Airfloat boxes and sending two shipments.  I got a thicker box so that I could put an extra layer of my own foam to accommodate the second painting.  One of the paintings was large, therefore I needed one of the bigger boxes.  I got the 48” x 58” x 5.5”.  These aren’t cheap even with the discount.  The saving grace is they can be used again.  Since this box is BIG, I called both FedEx and UPS to make sure that it didn’t fall into their oversize category before I bought it just to be sure I didn’t pay more for shipping then I had figured on their on line calculator.

Now the fun begins… I packed the paintings and  went on line to do the labels through FedEx Ground.  No problem doing the label to get it to the gallery.  Clicked on the option for the return label and it would only let me put a declared value of $1000.  The two paintings together were valued at $4950 which I could indicate on the first label I created to get them to the gallery.  I called FedEx, the representative told me I could get around it by not doing the return label option, but instead doing a second label just reversing the address.  I did exactly as she said but then, the form wouldn’t accept the date I needed to indicate for return shipping.  I called FedEx again.  This time I was told that the labels you create are only good for 30 days in the FedEx system. My paintings were going to be in the show 2 months.   The way to get around this is to ask the gallery if you can email them a label closer to the date for return, which I did and they were not too keen on the idea because they have 150 artists to keep track of and it is just best to have your label in the box for packing day.  The other way to get around this, I thought, would be to go to my Mail Box store and get a FedEx way bill and put my account number on it and fill it out manually versus on line and the day it was sent it would be billed to my account.  After a trip to the store, I realized that wouldn’t work. They do not have way bills for ground service, only the express more expensive services.  I called FedEx back and asked to speak with a manager.  (More shenanigans ensued, which I won’t go into, because this article is getting too long as it is.)

After finally speaking with the manager, this is what I learned, pay attention here, even though, on the on line form they let me put a declared value of $4950 for  my shipment, FedEx will only honor $1000 for artwork and jewelry!  If your paintings are valued more than $1000, going and coming back,  you are taking a risk, if they should get damaged. Her suggestion was for me to buy a separate insurance policy to cover the work. Regarding the issue of the label, she didn’t have a solution, their labels are only good for 30 days once they are created.  If your work has to be at your show or gallery longer, you would have to work out an arrangement to get them the label within 30 days of the return ship date.

With the value of my work and the time issue FedEx was not an option this time.  Now on to UPS.  Their labels are good for 90 days, my problem was solved.  However, if your work has to be at a show longer, same situation applies as described with FedEx.  Regarding the value issue, here is the breakdown of how much you can declare with UPS:

  • If you have an account you can declare up to $50,000.
  • If you ship through and authorized dealer, like Staples or Office Depot the maximum you can declare is $999.99.
  • If you create your labels on line at with credit card, maximum value you can declare is $5000.
  • If you drop off at your Mail Box store where the driver picks up packages, maximum value is $5000, because you have probably created your label on line.
  • If you go to your Mail Box Store and do the label through them so it is recorded at the store, you can declare $50,000.

The moral of this story is if your painting is valued at more then $1000.00 you will not be fully covered for damage, unless you have a UPS account or you go to your Mail Box store and create your labels with them.  As long as your show is less than 30 days, FedEx ground is fine.  If longer then UPS is the better option.

Part Two of this article will cover what I learned about the  declared value and what happens if your painting is damaged. (I promise it will be shorter.)  Please leave a comment if you have had other experiences or insights. 🙂


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