Monday, January 27, 2014

On Moving a Studio

Given that I've recently moved again and have done so a couple times over the last few years, I had a couple requests from folks that I talk a bit about relocating my studio. It's as good a topic as any, and while I'm not much of an expert, I figured I'd give it a try. Hopefully there will be something in here that proves useful to one or two of you.

Not surprisingly, I've found that moving my art studio isn't all that different from moving the rest of my house. I mean, there's furniture in my studio and oftentimes there's stuff inside that furniture, just as there is in my living room. Like the stuff in my living room, some of the studio's stuff can be crammed hastily into a box and some of it is breakable and should be handled delicately. If you're moving yourself then you should know what's what and how to handle it. Seriously. I mean, you bought or borrowed or stole all that stuff. Treat it as you will. It doesn't take a rocket scientist (I should know as I'm not one, myself) to successfully move your own stuff from one place to another.

If you've got pals who can lend a hand and you all have the time to do it, then clearly moving your own studio is the best option. It's cheap and you are in control. Much of my experience over the last few years, however, has required me to relinquish control and hire someone else. With that in mind, I've created a list of rules that I've applied to my moves in order to make things a little easier on myself.

This is that list:

Rule #1: Get rid of as much as possible.

This is a hard one, but it's a little easier for someone like me who is not afraid of throwing stuff out and destroying old work. That's right, I'm now callous enough to toss things willy-nilly should they be even remotely questionable. The reasons for this are many and varied, but the most important one is that I come from a clan of pack rats. Left unchecked, my piles of stuff become overwhelming and make my studio largely unusable. Over the years, however, I've forced myself to become more self-disciplined about policing the clutter and I bin just about everything I can.

In preparations for the three relocations made over the past few years, I've gotten rid of all but a few pieces of high school work, kept about 20 pieces from college, and saved only the professional work that I'm not ashamed to show anyone. As a result, I have a pretty streamlined collection of my own work.

Also culled has been the collection of materials I don't use. During college, I was encouraged to experiment with all kinds of mediums that I'd never used before (or since). As a result, for a long time I had a wide range of art supplies in stock that would put most high school art departments to shame. Trouble is, I kind of settled on oils for the majority of my work with occasional dabbles in only a few other mediums and a lot of things just stayed in drawers or unpacked boxes. So, I went through and sorted what I actually use from what I was keeping out of some bizarre sense of obligation. Pastels? Not my thing. Don't need 'em. Air brush stuff? Yeah, gone. Gouache? Good-bye. Print-making supplies? I don't own a press, soooo....

Before any of you environment-minded folks put together the fact that a lot of art supplies are toxic and likely shouldn't be tossed into normal garbage, let me assure you that wasn't an issue. Most of my stuff was in pretty good condition so I found a place to donate it. Turns out that there are a lot of locations that accept art supply donations, and I was happy to gain the space, get rid of some clutter, and give to some folks who needed the supplies more than I did. Win/win.

The bottom line is that the less you have to move, the easier the move becomes. That being said, I still have a lot of stuff and several pieces of large furniture in my studio (like a set of flat files and a large, wooden taboret). You know who could help with that?

Rule #2: Hire good movers.

For me, there is no alternative. The last few moves I've made were a minimum of four hours each way per trip and the most recent one was across the North American continent. That's why I hire insured professionals with excellent reputations. I know it can be really expensive, but I've never regretted it once. First of all, moving your business is oftentimes a tax deductible expense (keep your receipts and consult your accountant). Second of all, with pros moving my stuff I don't run the risk of injuring myself trying to carry studio furniture that weighs more than I do down a flight of stairs. Third, movers are faster than I ever could be at the job. Seriously. It's amazing what they're able to do in a very short period of time.

Speaking of time, as much as we've tried to plan the moves well, invariably an assignment has gotten caught up in the whirlwind of each move. Speed is of the essence and having the move completed quickly is a huge benefit to my work (not to mention sanity). And not to harp on the injury thing, but a crushed hand or a busted back could wreak havoc with deadlines.

Personally, Amy and I have either hired movers who have moved people we know or movers who have an excellent rating with the Better Business Bureau. It's pretty much a common sense thing, but it's worth stating that we didn't just pick someone at random from the yellow pages or go with the lowest bidder. The movers are moving my livelihood and we needed to feel good about the company and be sure the knew what they were doing.

But even if they do know what they're doing, there's some pretty specialized stuff to be handled here, so the best course of action is to...

Rule #3: Explain everything thoroughly.

It's extremely likely that weird pieces of furniture and valuable artwork will not be foreign to your movers. All the same, I explain to them how everything comes apart if that's necessary and even do it myself wherever I can. For those instances I could not (like pulling my flat files apart, for example, which is a two man job), I carefully showed the movers exactly what needed to be done and answered any questions they had.

Before they began to pack stuff up, I did a walk through with them to point out what was fragile and what wasn't, what was potentially dangerous and what they could toss around casually. Usually they could tell, but going over everything with the movers at least increased the chances of us all being on the same page. Plus, it just might have saved a piece of furniture from getting damaged or kept a box of art supplies from being crushed by piles of book boxes.

Still, all that being said, there is one thing I try and do myself every time...

Rule #4: Handle your own artwork.

I don't like having movers move all of my artwork. They don't seem to like it either. While the stuff I've got framed and hanging on the walls seems to travel okay, it's hardly the bulk of what I've got. Most of the work I've done or own is without a frame and stored in my flat files. If at all possible, this vast majority comes with me in my car to my studio's new location. The way I see it, if anything gets damaged, at least it was by my hands or crappy packing abilities. Somehow, it makes damaged work easier to bear. Fortunately, I've never damaged my work during any of the moves, so that's really more of a theory thing. Still, my work is important and easily fits into my car. Of course, being willing to toss out old work helps keep that possible.

An opposing point of view is that if a company is insured, you should be covered. Yeah. I suppose. But the fact is that artwork isn't like an easel or my flat files. I can replace those. Some of the artwork I have can't be replaced or repaired. Some has been done by folks who aren't even alive to repair it should it need fixing. All things being equal, under these circumstances I'd rather have the artwork than its cash value.

If there is no other alternative to having the movers relocate your expensive, irreplaceable art collection, don't be surprised if it's dealt with differently both handling-wise and insurance-wise. It'll depend on the company, but it's best to be up front about everything and go over things thoroughly.

Aside from the artwork, you know what else is expensive to replace?

Rule #5: Don't ask the movers to move your chemicals.

One of the biggest things I've learned over the past few moves is that movers don't typically like to deal with chemicals. Being an oil painter, I happen to have a lot of these and the last thing I want is for a container of turp to suddenly start leaking in a box. First, it exposes the crew to harmful fumes. Second, it could potentially damage a lot of my own property stacked up around it. Third, it's flammable and fire tends to be the enemy of one's belongings. Obviously these are all bad scenarios that I'd like to avoid. Oddly enough, most moving companies are looking to avoid all that too, which is why they typically don't want to move that kind of stuff. In fact, the last move I made was done with a company that refused to move any of it. Heck — they even refused to move batteries.

So what did I do? Well, I got rid of as much as possible (see rule number 1), and I moved it all myself. Not in the same boxes as the artwork, of course, but I did transport it personally. Not exactly the most optimal thing having a box of chemicals packed in one's car, but everything got sealed, put in plastic bags, packed with copious amounts of packing materials and stowed safely in transit. Between the much higher flash point of the painting chemicals and the amount of packing involved, a box full of painting supplies is safer than the gas in the tank of the car. It honestly wasn't a problem, and was no more dangerous than driving the newly purchased oils and turp home from the store.

Like I said, though, I tried to pack all that stuff thoroughly. In fact, I did that with the artwork too. How?

Rule #6: If you're going to hoard something, hoard packing materials.

I know this kind of contradicts rule number one, but hear me out. If you're going to be packing your studio and the artwork in it, it helps to have something to put it all in. Every time I buy a frame? I keep the box. A large order of hardboard gets shipped to me? I keep the box. Large pieces of furniture get delivered? I keep the box. Why? Because the boxes tend to be good ones and tend to be perfect for dragging my artwork around.

Sure, there are excellent boxes you can order from ULine or Masterpak that are top shelf for this kind of thing, and many folks have been known to build their own crates. But you might not have the money or time to do that for every piece you've ever done. My solution is to hoard the aforementioned packing materials.

Now, I'm not saying that you have to keep everything. I certainly don't. I keep the stuff that's in the best condition and reasonably fits either framed or unframed work. Generally, I tend to keep enough of this kind of thing on hand so that I could ship the amount of work I'd need for a show like IlluxCon or Spectrum Live, plus a little extra — just in case. When not being used for shipping or moving, these boxes tend to contain work that I've done or own that I don't currently want up on the wall. So, they're always serving some sort of purpose.

Besides that, such materials are good for shipping pieces you've sold out to the locations of their new owners. Places like Florida. Or Toronto. You know, exotic places.

So... yeah.

That's pretty much all I have to say about moving a studio. Obviously things might be different if you work completely digitally, but computers and hard drives are no less delicate than jars of chemicals and stretched canvases. They just tend to come in their own packaging that makes them easier to move. You do keep those, right? Right? I'm not the only one?

Well, there's something else I hoard, I guess. Styrofoam inserts and all. But I gotta tell you, nothing protects a piece of equipment quite like the box that was designed for it in the first place. Seriously, they're really helpful for moving your stuff.

Anyway, hopefully this has been... helpful. Most of it seems obvious and stupid, and it's not exactly the most entertaining thing I've ever written, but maybe years from now you'll be prepping for a move and it'll occur to you that you'd seen an article on this old blog of mine about relocating all your precious art stuff. Until then, this is just something else for you to skim the first couple of paragraphs of before going back to whatever it was you were doing before you bothered to click your way here in the first place.

2 comments:

  1. Some say that moving is stressful. I agree, there are a lot of work to do, and things can get complicated when they don’t go as you planned. But having a guideline such as this can help make sure that everything goes well. This will make packing and moving so much easier. It has everything you need; from choosing what belongings will stay and not, hiring a mover company, choosing the right boxes for all your stuff, and more. This is a must-read! Thanks for sharing.

    Dave, Orbit

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  2. Moving is, indeed, a tough task. It’s tiring to move stuff from one place to another without professional help. Aside from those tips, I recommend proper packaging and storage systems for your stuff. It’s important to keep those boxes secure while the moving team do their work. Anyway, I do hope you could give us a tour of your new studio. Have a great day! :)

    Everett Tyler @ General Store-All

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I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.