Packing November’s Reclining Rabbit Painting for her Cross Country Journey

Reclining Rabbit oil painting miniature by Rebecca Luncan

Reclining Rabbit – November 2015, oil on aluminum, 4.25″ x 3.25″

I’m a huge fan of miniature artwork, and the ease and affordability of shipping them safely is one reason why.

Miniature paintings are great for so many reasons. They are intimate and powerful, easy to hang in any house, and much more affordable to commission than larger works (even with a custom, hand-finished frame).

And while miniature paintings are cheaper and easier to ship than larger artwork, they also need some special treatment.

Medium-sized paintings typically ship wrapped in plastic and 2″ of bubble wrap surrounded in a cardboard exterior . That will normally be enough for small miniatures as well, but because the packages are small, they are more likely to get tossed around, stacked, and generally treated roughly.

Years of working in a museum have trained me to go the extra mile in prepping artwork for shipping.

Here’s how I packaged this miniature painting to ship across the country to her new home.

Art packing materials

Art packing materials

Materials

  • 2.25″ grey foam *sub wadded brown paper for more environmentally friendly packing
  • Ethafoam (Styrofoam can also be used) the thickness of the artwork (you can glue multiple layers together)
  • plastic bag (polyethylene or food grade)
  • tape measure
  • packing tape
  • straight edge
  • “fragile” sticker
  • utility knife (I like Olfa)
  • cardboard (box)

Step-by-Step

  1. Determine what size box is needed. Measure the painting and add 4″ to get the length and width. Stack your grey foam, Ethafoam and one layer of cardboard, then measure to get your box’s ideal height. *I’ve been subbing brown paper for the grey foam more recently to make my packing materials more environmentally friendly. If you do this, leave two inches of space for both above and below your artwork and use double thick cardboard. Add a second layer of cardboard under your artwork.
  2. Find or cut out the box. A box that is within a few inches (but at least 2″ larger on all sides)
    of the painting is ideal. The height should be trimmed to fit the height of the foam exactly. If you don’t have a box handy, you can make your own: the image above shows how you would cut a box from a flat piece of cardboard. To get the creases for the bends, use a bone scorer or completely retract the blade on the utility knife and use the (dull) metal edge. Tape the bottom of the box together.
  3. Cut each piece of foam and cardboard to fit. I also like to take out a corner notch in the top layers to make unpacking a little easier. My favorite knife is the Olfa utility knife with a 25mm blade. Fantastic knife for cutting foam (and everything else). Make sure to keep your fingers out of the way of the blade, these knives are incredibly sharp!
  4. Cut a hole in the Ethafoam that will snugly fit the painting.
  5. Wrap the painting in plastic, making sure to seal the
    edges completely and that the surface of the painting does not come into contact with the plastic. If the painting is unframed and very dry, wrap
    with Dartek first, then plastic.
  6. Phew! Everything’s cut and now it’s time to put it all together.
Packing miniature paintings, step by step

Packing miniature paintings, step by step

7. Remember to add the packing slip and a thank you note, then say your goodbyes and seal it all up. Make it official with a fragile sticker, and it’s ready to post out to it’s new home!

Ship-Finished

If you’re interested in receiving your very own hand painted miniature, contact the artist to commission one just for you or sign up for the monthly newsletter for a preview of the newest painting up for sale!

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Antique Frame Transformed for the August Monthly Miniature with French Polish

The discovery and restoration of a meticulously crafted, one hundred year old frame for Charlemagne in Profile

My sister is passionate about antiques. Most weekends will find her traveling to different auctions, estate sales, and antique shops, on the hunt for something unusual that catches her imagination. About a year ago, she called me up, excited about a sale of wooden frames produced by the The Castner Picture Frame Company in the early 1900’s. The company meticulously produced frames from scratch for more than a century before shutting down. The Mohawk Building in Cincinnati was left with thousands of uniquely designed frames ranging drastically in size and level of detailing. Wooden frames aren’t a rarity, but wooden miniature frames most certainly are, and here they had them them in abundance!

We excitedly talked on the phone and texted back and forth as the date of the sale approached, and she ended up buying around 60 small frames. I was mostly interested in small circular frames, but thankfully, she couldn’t pass up some beautiful wooden ovals as well. Most of the ovals are unfinished,

Theresa's careful assortment

Theresa’s careful assortment

while the circular frames are almost all primed for painting or gilding. What a rare opportunity! They clean up beautifully, and I’ve treasured each one as I painted or polished it to fit portraits of people and rabbits.

All of the rabbit monthly miniatures are framed in one of these frames, but I chose to highlight this one in particular because the transformation was so dramatic. It was so dirty and covered in mysterious spots that I had little hope in finishing it, but as I worked, the spots disappeared, and the grain became richer and more beautiful with each step of the process. It’s my favorite so far, and I chose to use if for this minimal painting of Charlie, the simple white background allowing the frame to shine.

French Polish: Step-by-step

French polishing is a technique of finishing wood with shellac as the main ingredient. This technique was popular in the late 1800’s for furniture but it is often overlooked in contemporary furniture finishing due to it’s low resistance to damage from water and heat as well as its labor intensive application process. It is still a favorite for musical instruments because of it’s unique ability to be be applied effectively in extremely thin coats leaves musical instruments with a nice clear sound. Many fine woodworkers also continue to use it, especially on antiques because the rich depth of the finish is difficult to rival with modern materials. As my frames shouldn’t come into contact with either heat or water, it’s an ideal finishing process for me.

Materials

  • shellac*
  • pumice
  • Renaissance  wax
  • denatured alcohol
  • cotton batting (or cotton balls)
  • soft cloth or cheesecloth
  • sandpaper (280, 320, 400 and 600 grit)
  • 2 cheap 1″ – 2″  brushes
  • walnut or olive oil
  • dust mask

*I’m using a premixed solution but you can buy shellac flakes and dissolve it yourself

Step One: Clean

Clean the surface with denatured alcohol and a soft cloth.

Step Two: Sand

Sand the frame with progressively finer grits of sandpaper (starting with 280 and progressing to 600).

Step Three: Rub with Alcohol & Pumice

Make a fad by wrapping your soft cloth or cheesecloth around a wad of cotton that has soaked in alcohol. You can now sprinkle a bit of pumice on the frame, making sure to wear your dust mask. Rub the frame vigorously with the fad, and if it starts to catch on the grain, add a drop of oil.

Step Four: Rub with Shellac

Make a new, second fad, this time soaking in shellac instead of alcohol, and again rub vigorously with as random a pattern as possible. Reapply shellac to the inside of the fad (by dipping the cotton ball) as needed.

Step Five: Repeat, then Dry

Repeat steps three and four a few times, letting it dry for several hours between coats. Pay careful attention that you don’t get too much shellac building up on ridges and valleys of the frame, as you will want these details to stand out. The process of working the abrasive pumice and shellac alternately is called the “British Method” of French polishing. The alternative, using both the shellac and abrasive at the same time is the original, or “French Method”.

Let dry overnight.

Step Six: Final Rub with Alcohol

Make a new fad using just alcohol, and gently glide it over the surface. You want to remove any oil that may be on the surface and even out the final coat of shellac. Don’t press so hard that you begin removing the shellac, however. At this point, the frame just glows, and it’s hard to stop touching the silky-smooth surface. But stop touching for now, and leave it overnight.

Step Seven: Wax and Buff

Brush on a very very thin coat of Renaissance wax. Let it dry for 10 minutes, then buff it off with a clean cloth or a stiff brush. Give it another 24 hours to dry and your frame is finished! Now you can touch it.

Finishing miniature frames

Shellac: Yes, it’s made from bugs!

The critical material for a french polish is shellac. Made from lac, an amber colored resinous material produced by the female Kerria lacca insect, which forms a tunnel around the insect and serves as a kind of cocoon to incubate the eggs she lays. Shellac is a non-toxic material that’s even rated as food-safe by the FDA and has a plethora of wide-ranging uses. Not only to be found in furniture, it can also be found on your jelly beans, guitar, and in nail polish. It’s relatively easy to harvest by scraping it off the bark of the trees, and refining can simply be done by heating it over a fire then filtering once it liquefies to remove any stray insects or bits of bark. It has been used for centuries to polish furniture in the native countries of these insects, Thailand and India. The french polishing technique, which became prominent in the 18th century, is still commonly used to polish furniture and musical instruments throughout the world today.

Rabbit oil painting miniature by Rebecca Luncan

Charliemagne in Porfile
oil on aluminum
3.75″ x 2.75″

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Painting on Copper – May Monthly Miniature

My second Monthly Miniature of Charlemagne the rabbit, follows a 500 year tradition of painting on copper primed with a clove of garlic.

Lavinia_Fontana_-_Self-Portrait_in_a_Tondo_-_WGA7986

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614)-Self-Portrait in a Tondo, 1597, oil on copper

Paintings on copper have been made by European artists since the mid 1500’s. Many examples from those first few hundred years survive even better than their canvas and wood panel counterparts.

Then as now, copper surfaces are first lightly sanded, cleaned with denatured alcohol, and topped with an optional layer of garlic juice. Garlic juice etches the surface of the copper and it’s most effective if followed by a coat of lead white. The process hasn’t changed over the years, except many more artists today (myself included) avoid the highly toxic lead white paint.

Artists don’t often get to grow their own art supplies. The garden is another huge creative outlet for me, and now a tiny bit of it is in this painting.

Fearsome Bală stalking in the garlic patch, Photo credit: Evan Grim

My cat, Bală stalking in the garlic patch, Photo credit: Evan Grim

Check out Alberti’s Window, An art History Blog for an in depth discussion about Lavinia Fontana’s self-portrait above in reference to her being a female painter in the 1500’s.

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Paintings of Rabbits: A New Miniature Painting, Every Month for One Year

Rabbit miniature oil paintin on aluminumg by Rebecca Luncan

Ellie, oil on aluminum, 4 1/2″ x 3″

This miniature painting of a rabbit marks the beginning of a big commitment.

It may not seem like much in the world of countless artists hosting “daily painting” blogs, but it’s a big deal for me. While continuing to make all of my other, larger works and commissioned pieces, I will make one miniature painting of a rabbit every month.

This first miniature is of my bunny Eleanor, who sits under my desk with her brother Charlie when I paint. House rabbits are a bit of work to keep out of trouble (chewing anything from cords to sofas) but once you get them trained and your house bunny-proofed, they’re a lot of fun. Having a rabbit run and leap onto the rug in front of you makes it all worth while.

Thanks for looking and I hope you check back the first Monday of the Month to see more of the miniatures as they progress!

Hand Finished Antique Frame

Each of the paintings of rabbits will be framed and ready to hang when posted. Although they are very small, they sometimes take a surprisingly long time to paint. I’ve also been known to spent almost as much time on the frame, so it adds up to a lot of work. The frames for this series were sent to me from my sister, Theresa, who found dozens of unfinished, dirty and wonderful wooden frames from the 1920’s. Below you can see what the frame on Ellie looked like just before the wonders of the french polish.

Antique Frame - French Polish in progress

Antique Unfinished Frame – French Polish in progress