Experience, it is said, is the best teacher. But experience is the worst way to have to learn anything, because, whatever it is, you learned it too late to avoid the Learning Experience.
So, this is my record of a learning experience. I'm far enough away from the embarrassment, panic and dread to be able to talk about it, now, and even laugh (a little).
The story starts with a call from a friend and patron. Yowzers! He wants to commission a large painting. A REALLY large painting. That's okay, because I have done very large paintings a number of times before and am very familiar with stretching - and re-stretching - my own canvases and that sort of thing. Easy peasy.
Okay, there may be one or two logistical problems to work out over shipping it to the East Coast, but I can figure that out later.
So, I begin! I stretch a big canvas;
The canvas, about 7 feet wide
I do some color studies;
Color Study for Pansies
So, I'm happy and, as the paint dries, I start to study the different ways I can ship the piece. Not having a lot of experience shipping pieces this large, I'm a bit taken back at what it would cost to have it done by an art shipping company. Yoiks! So, I go to a local place that has shipped artwork for me a number of times (with good results). I mean, their ads say they can ship anything. They've always been helpful and professional. So, I go in, not realizing they are under new management.
I explain my situation, and they give me a ballpark estimate that sounds reasonable enough. So, after some back-and-forth on specifics, I bring the painting in. They will pack it for me in a large, reinforced carton. I figure they are the professionals, so I'm glad to have that in good hands. I come back a day or two later, and there it is, all boxed up. So, great! It's ready to go. It can't go UPS or FedEx, because it's over their size limit, but they have a private shipper who will take it on one of their regular routes to the East Coast.
Hmmm. Okay. As long as they will be sure to make arrangements to meet my client at their address, that will work. Anyway, it's insured. So, off it goes. I'm excited and relieved. Can't wait to hear what the patron thinks of it!
So, I know it won't be there in two or three days. It's kind of a special handling situation, but it should arrive in about a week from the day it shipped. I wait for the call. After about 9 days, my patron calls me. No painting. I call the local shipper. The shipper calls the trucking company. I don't hear back for a couple of days. I call again. Shipper says he hasn't heard anything yet, but he'll call again. I'm getting irritated and concerned.
Another day or two goes by. I call the shipper again. He sounds a little freaked out, like he doesn't know what to tell me. He says he's going to call the trucking company and rake them over the coals until he finds out about the painting. He calls me back that afternoon. The trucking company doesn't know where the painting is. They have lost it. My local shipper is alternately outraged and profusely apologetic, swearing a blue streak. He's going to get to the bottom of this and find out what the hell's going on!!
I make the most bizzarely difficult phone call of my life to my client. He calls the local shipper at some point, as well.
Then, finally some news. They have located the painting and it should arrive with the client in a day or two. Whew. Well, that's good. But I will never make the mistake of working with an unknown private trucking company, again. I wait nervously for the painting to be delivered.
Then, my patron calls, incensed. The shipper has seriously damaged the painting. He refuses shipment.
When will this nightmare END?!
He sends me some photos. It doesn't look good. I can see the carton is damaged, and part of the painting, too. But it's hard to get a sense of how bad it is. The painting starts it's somber trip back to my studio. I don't want to live.
It eventually arrives back at the local shipper, but takes long enough that I begin to wonder if they've lost it again. I go down to take a look. It's awful. Nauseating. The painting has been mangled. The carton appears to have been crushed by a fork lift, or something. At least there's the insurance.
Now, here's my second mistake (my first was going with a no-name shipper). I assumed that insurance would cover the retail value of the painting, like it would with UPS or FedEx. But this trucking company doesn't operate the same way. Turns out their real specialty - their meat and potatoes - is shipping heavy equipment (like the heavy equipment that crushed my painting?). They get dodgy about the insurance. How can they know what the painting is really worth? Why, I could say it was worth anything. A million dollars! I send copies of the payment transactions between me and my patron. Then I learn that the fine print of the shipping contract says they cover only a set fraction of actual value on shipped packages. No wonder the insurance was so reasonable.
While all this is being endlessly hashed out, I start to assess the painting;
A tear in the canvas
Linen for the patch
Now, I collect the meager insurance money and make plans to drive the artwork out to my friend and patron in Washington DC. After what I've been through, I can't imagine letting the painting out of my sight again until it sits in his living room. I don't mind driving, enjoy it, in fact, and I'll truly enjoy meeting my him in person, too. He and his lovely wife graciously lend me the use of one of their weekend rental suites in a wonderful old refurbished building in the heart of the nation's capital. Or capitol (which is it, anyway?).
I arrive, and my friend, patron - and now host - is fantastic. They kindly lavish praise on the painting. He shows me around
the neighborhood, to the bookstore, a tobacconist and a local specialty
brew store. It's a great privilege, and great fun to meet him and his
wife... if only I weren't exhausted, a shell of my normal self. I'm
running on fumes and adrenaline.
I drive out from Northwest Arkansas to Washington D.C. - and back - in four days. Along the way I see some indescribably beautiful landscapes. The sun rising through dense, roiling mist in the Smokey Mountains. Things like that. But not the way I had ever hoped to see them.
So, there's my nightmare tale. A cautionary tale for artists. Mea Culpa.
Next time, I will build a wood crate myself, pack my own artwork, have it shipped by reputable professionals, and charge accordingly. But at those rates, I really could drive it myself and make a mini-vacation of it. That's tempting.