Sunday 9 October 2011

How to Make a Wet Painting Carrier from Cardboard

Carrying a wet oil painting home after a painting expedition presents a problem: you don't want to disturb your carefully applied paint or to transfer the said paint onto your hands, clothing or luggage. Commercial solutions exist, but they are generally quite expensive and sometimes quite heavy (I found one example that was made of plywood).

I have discovered that it is quite possible to do it yourself - a carrier made of corrugated cardboard is relatively cheap and easy to make, and should survive several trips into the field. I thought I'd describe how I make them, just in case anyone is curious or in burning need of something similar.
The carrier needs to fit your support - canvas or board - quite closely, so if you use more than one size of support, you will need to make more than one carrier. However, it doesn't take long - I find that it takes me an hour or so to make one (and as I'm usually making it "just in time" for the following day's planned expedition, I generally only make one at a time!).

To make a fitted painting carrier from corrugated cardboard:

  • One or more large sheets of corrugated cardboard, preferably undamaged. I usually use a large box (reusing some of the factory-fitted corners will save time and they will probably be stronger than homemade corners); supermarkets are a good source of free boxes.
  • Tape and/or glue. I have been known to use parcel tape and masking tape, and I found that a glue stick designed for use with paper (e.g, Pritt Stick) works better than PVA.
  • A sharp craft knife. A Stanley knife or scalpel will work equally well.
  • A large pair of scissors may also be useful for smaller cuts (I tend to use the kitchen scissors).
  • A cutting mat or a large board which will survive a few cut marks.
  • A pencil and a ruler; a long steel rule is useful for cutting against.

  1. Place the support on the cardboard and mark out the space it occupies. If you are reusing a corner from the box, butt the support into the corner first.

    Mark the height of the support on each side of the support, and then mark another line about one and a half centimetres above it (if I am using a canvas, I usually double its height).

    This marks the height of the final box.
  2. Remove the painting support and make the first cuts, using a steel rule and a craft knife to ensure you get straight, clean cuts.

    Make sure that you leave tabs to fix the sides together. A suggested cut pattern is indicated in red in the illustration, right.

    The intention is to make a box similar to a pizza box. This shape will give the largest possible opening so that the support can be put in and taken out easily. A lid is useful to protect the back of the canvas from stray bits of hedge (something I seem to have a problem with on my scrambles over stiles and through scrubby access land). If the piece of card you are using isn't big enough, the lid can be made by adding an extension. See step 3 for an illustration.
  3. Fold the cardboard - using the steel rule as a form if required - into a box shape. Fold the tabs around the outside of the box and secure with tape (not shown in the illustration for the sake of clarity).
    If the lid is not large enough, add an extra piece of cardboard. A flap that fits over the edge of the box is useful for extra protection.Don't worry if the lid doesn't stay closed; the idea is to hold it shut with bungee cords or something similar.
  4. Once the box is built, you can start building up the inside support. There are a number of ways to do this:
    • attach a series of cardboard strips, finished side to the the base, to the box edges;
    • attach a series of cardboard triangles to the box corners;
    • attach strips of cardboard, edge on, to the box edges.
    In each case, the aim is to make use of the sacrificial edge of the painting (which will eventually be covered by a frame) to protect the main part. I often use a combination of strips and triangles. The pieces can be stuck down with glue or with tape (I prefer glue and masking tape for this part).
    However you choose to do this, make sure that there is a good amount of space between the base of the box and the putative surface of the support. This is especially important for larger canvases, which have more potential for flopping.
The wet painting goes face down in the carrier. Close the lid, fasten a bungee cord around it to keep it shut, and attach it to your rucksack...


  1. Hi Amanda, could be adapted to transport an unframed pastel, thanks!

    1. I'm sure it could! Glad to have been of assistance.

  2. I should probably add that I have since come across commercial solutions that clip two canvases together (face-to-face). This idea works as long as you are not unduly concerned about stray bits of hedge, and is quite convenient if you intend to make two similarly sized paintings on the same expedition.

    The solutions are also marketed as a means of storing wet paintings. They do only work for canvases, as they rely on the depth of the internal frame.

    I have acquired two of these systems and will probably get around to writing about them at some point.


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