It has been a while since I updated information on traveling by air with gear and paints. While some of my "stuff" has changed over the years, really it all boils down to just a few things. I'm going to summarize those here for you.
Honesty is always the best policy. That doesn't mean you should go running through the airport spouting the word "paint" as loud as possible. Instead, if asked, use the word "pigment." Whether you paint oil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, or pastel, you are using pigment. The vehicle the pigment is mixed with or suspended in is the only difference. (Obviously, this will not apply to aerosol artists.) Sometimes TSA officials may look at you more suspiciously if you are using oil, but linseed oil, walnut oil, etc. are plant-based oils and it is perfectly okay to say "artists' pigments" and "vegetable oil." Not that you would put this on a salad, but it does seem to calm their fears (and questions) just a bit. I always provide this TSA label in my checked bag with my "pigments." Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn't, but I have never had a single tube of paint removed from my bags... yet anyway.
Pad your paint tubes. They will absolutely, positively, puncture one another and make a huge mess if you do not. Using either bubble wrap or these handy paint-tube carriers works best. Be sure to check their list of tubes that fit as some brands' caps will not work well. Another option is empty paper towel rolls. Place the tube inside, fold over both ends and staple or tape. The only problem is, you will need to use them again on your return flight so make sure you have the supplies to do that.
Make a packing list and check it every time! Here is a link to mine. Even though I have traveled many times, I still almost forget something. I print this out and use it to be sure I don't miss anything.
Yes, there are ways to get by if you DO forget something, so pack lightly. No matter how many times I say this, folks show up to workshops like they have triplets or something. Try to get everything in to NO MORE than two manageable bags. The key word is manageable. YOU need to be able to lift them yourself and not depend on others.
Side note: (You may want to even make sure there is just enough room for that one special souvenir you pick up too. Two tricks to this: a) I never expand my luggage on the going to route so that I can do so on the return if needed); b) because good paper towels are sometimes difficult to find in foreign countries, I pack several rolls of my favorites to take with me. When they are gone, I have space for new Italian shoes!)
Invest in a small, hand-held luggage scale as well. You can pick them up at most any department store like Target or online. Double-check what your airline allows. It may seem like a bargain ticket until you realize you only get 5 pounds free and the rest is $10 a pound! Yes, I have had this happen. Never fly Ryan Air unless you have to. :)
Also, chances are that wherever you are going there is some resource or other to get something if you forgot it. Now that is not ALWAYS the case and I have painted in plenty of places where there were no art supplies for days, so check the area you are going to by simply searching online. If there is a store in that entire country, usually you can get what you need within a day or so. In the meantime, it makes for fun sharing with others. Someone's luggage may get lost, someone may forget their brushes, whatever. Sharing makes lifetime friends and great stories to tell down the road. Don't panic. It will be okay.
Lightweight panels and wet painting carriers make life simple. I know some folks who paint on just canvas taped or stapled to a piece of gatorfoam. The only problem is, unless you have a way to pack those flimsy pieces of canvas, they are going to get messed up on your way home. I too have used Multimedia Artboards which are SUPER thin and light weight because they are the thickness of multi-media board. But if I am going to put them in a panel carrier without any other support, they will likely get squished together under the weight of piles of suitcases under the plane. There are several companies that are great resources for lightweight panels. I order mostly Raymar Panels or WindRiver Arts and specifically ask for them on gatorboard. That makes them really lightweight, but stable enough to stay safe in my panel carriers. I have also tried Sintra-backed boards (plastic) or Dibond-backed boards (metal) which are only slightly heavier and thinner.
Here are a couple of links to panel carriers. The first, PanelPak, takes up less room and will even fit inside my backpack (up to a certain dimension of course). The only drawback is that if they are put under stress (like heavy weight pressing oddly in a pile of suitcases), the beautiful dove-tail corners may come apart. Also, over time the rubber bands that hold then together dry out and break. The other type is by Raymar. These take up more room, but are really lightweight and more protective.
I hope this helps get you off and running in 2018! See you out there.
BONUS TIPS FOR ANYONE TRAVELING ABROAD:
These tips are not just for artists.
- Be sure to double-check what paperwork you will need and have copies of any required documentation with you.
- Let your banking and credit card institutions know you will be traveling and where so they do not freeze your account should you attempt to access funds.