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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Travelling with Paints

"January Snow" 8x10, oil - $100 - contact Michael

I sometimes get nervous e-mails from students who worry about having their oil paints confiscated by airport security.  You can't argue succesfully with a TSA agent, but there are a few things you can do to make the risk less.  Let me say first that, personally, I have flown a great deal with both pastels and oils after 9/11, and I have never once had a problem.  Everything has always arrived, intact.

First, don't carry your oil paints  in your carry-on luggage.  Put it in a checked bag.  I know the airlines now charge for checked bags - they'll start charging for ample air pressure next - but do yourself a favor and check a bag and put your oil paints in it.  You do want to isolate the paint from your clothes, of course.  Some folks put theirs in a sturdy Ziploc bag, but I found a rigid, clear plastic container with a screw-top lid that I prefer.   It keeps the paint tubes from getting squashed and the sharp corners of one tube from cutting into its neighbor and causing leakage.  Write on the container "Artist's Oil Colors - Made with Vegetable Oil."  Don't ever use the words "paint" or "oil paint," which for most people, including TSA agents, conjure up images of a smelly, flammable product that comes in cans and for which you have to use paint thinner to get it off your hands.  Next, go online and find the Manufacturer's Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each paint.  Print it out and put it in the container.  If you follow this, you should be fine for flying.

As for pastels, they are precious.  Do put those in your carry-on luggage.  You'll want to be there when the TSA agent opens up the box so you can warn him about how fragile they are.  I use a Heilman pastel box (backpacker size) which has retaining panels on the inside.  When the agent opens up the box, pastels don't fall all over the place; he still has to open the panels, and he has to lay the box flat to do that.  I have yet to have a TSA agent inspect my box, though.

As for your other materials, don't even think of flying with mineral spirits, either in your checked bag or carry-on.  I know students who have done it by mistake and who have gotten away with it.  (So much for airport security.)  OMS is very flammable, after all.   If possible, locate in advance an art supply store near your destination.  They'll have OMS (Gamsol or Turpenoid), and in the remote chance that your paints are confiscated, you will be able to get resupplied quickly.

Finally, consider shipping your materials.  This is probably the best way to avoid any hassle.  Also, shipping your materials will most likely cost you less than checking a bag.  Consider shipping your gear, too.  Although you can put a French easel in a large suitcase, why drag it through the airport?   Sometimes, if I'm running low on supplies, I'll even order new materials to be dropshipped to my destination.

Are you now ready to fly to a workshop?  Plein air painting workshops in Sedona, Arizona.  - Michael Chesley Johnson