Monday, August 15, 2011

Top tips for travelling artists - oil painters

Artist at work in Provence

Identifying the best way to travel with your paints, other art materials and associated paraphernalia is a question which throws up a number of conundrums for many artists:
  • the novice who has never travelled before doesn't know what he or she doesn't know - but needs to!
  • those who have travelled with their paints before are trying hard to remember what went wrong last time!
  • while the experienced artist and seasoned traveller is very often trying to find a way of rationalising or improving upon what they did last time - for the nth time!
This summer I had to get to grips with travelling with oil paints for the first time and I want to record what I learned before I forget it!  Plus share what others have learned for everybody's benefit.

This week I'm attempting a bit of a round-up of top tips for different types of artists through a mini-series of blog posts.

Each post aims to
  • provide some links to useful information
  • invite people to identify the blog posts on which they have discussed what they do
  • ask people to contribute their three top tips for travelling with different types of media 
I'm going to make each of them an interactive post - meaning that as top tips and blog posts get identified and highlighted within the comments I'm going to add them into the body of the post and then republish it.

This means each post will also up date over time.  You might want to bookmark the one which means most to you!

To make it coherent I'm going to introduce a structure from the beginning which will help people find out what they want to know. 

This mini-series covers:
  • travelling with oil paints
  • travelling with watercolour paints
  • travelling with pastels
  • travelling with coloured pencils
  • Top Tips from
    • Artists who travel a lot
    • artists who are travelling with paints for the first time
    • artists who like to take just the bare essentials
Today I start with the one I had to research this summer - travelling with oil paints

Travelling with Artists' Oil Paints

Top tips for travelling by plane
When security asks, "What kind of paints are these?" Never say "oil paints"; say that "these artists paints are made from vegetable oil and contain no solvent." For air travel, flammable liquids are those that have a flash point 140 degrees F. or below. If you do not know the flash point of your mediums or solvent, do not take any on board.
  • Artists' oil paints do not contain solvent, are not hazardous and can be taken on planes (Gamblin, Langridge, Katherine Tyrrell)
Linseed oil based colours are NOT considered “Dangerous Goods” as classified in the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations. They are not flammable (as described in Class 3 or Class 4 criteria), poisonous or corrosive, nor do they fall within any other class description of “Dangerous Goods”. A UN number does not apply to these materials because such numbers are assigned only to “Dangerous Goods” by the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods.

based on statement by Langridge Colors
  • Do not travel on planes with medium or solvents. Virtually all solvents used for oil painting are FLAMMABLE and can NEVER be taken on a plane. Many mediums have flash points near the limit.  (Michael Chesley Johnson, Katherine Tyrrell)
    • The flash point below which goods are deemed to be dangerous is 61 degrees Celsius / 140 degrees Fahrenheit - so it's ESSENTIAL that you know whether the flash point data you have access to is in celsius or fahrenheit
the flash point is the temperature at which a product will flame, therefore a higher flash point is betterWinsor and Newton - health and safety data information
    • Gamblin says that Gamsol has a flash point of 146 degrees fahrenheit.  (Gamblin) Officials may feel this is very close to the limit.  I wouldn't chance it.
    • Liquin has a flash point of 70 degrees celsius
    • M. Graham’s Walnut/alkyd medium has a flash point of 215 degrees and is safe
  • Linseed oil is not hazardous 
  • Locate an art store at your destination in advance for a supply of solvent and/or medium - or have some delivered to where you are staying/studying in advance (Michael Chesley Johnson)
  • Do NOT carry your oil paints in your carry-on luggage (Michael Chesley Johnson)
  • Do NOT pack palette knives in your carry on luggage. (Benoit Philippe)
  • Print out relevant Material Safety Data Sheets before travelling - and take them with you in your hand luggage with the flash points and other relevant information clearly highlighted.  Printed sheets from reputable sources are more likely to convince airport security than you are.  (Winsor & Newton, Michael Chesley Johnson, Scott Burdick, Daniel Smith)
Since putting the following notice in with my paints, I haven’t had any trouble:
“the US Department of Transportation defines “flammable liquids’ as those with a flash point of 140 degrees F or below, Artist grade oil colors are based on vegetable oil with a flash point at or above 450 degrees F.  THEY ARE NOT HAZARDOUS.  If you need to confirm this, please contact TSA at 866-289-9673 or their Hazardous Materials Research Center at 800-467-4922.”  “I also include a MSD (Manufacturer Safety Data) sheet from the paint manufacturer….”
Scott Burdick
  • Health labelling varies in different parts of the world - be sure to check you are familiar with what the labels means before you travel.  This Winsor and Newton explanation is helpful
There is no direct relationship between the EU and USA systems of health labelling as the categories used have different levels and limits, e.g., Flammable in the USA is not automatically considered as Flammable in the EU.Winsor and Newton - health and safety data information
Unfortunately many MSDS do not provide accurate classification for transport purposes. You should further inquire with the manufacturer or distributor or have the product tested by an authorized laboratory.
IATA - Dangerous Goods HAZMAT FAQs
  • Write on the container "Artist's Oil Colors - Made with Vegetable Oil'  (Michael Chesley Johnson)
  • ALWAYS say if asked that the oil colours contain no solvent (Michael Chesley Johnson)
  • Do NOT use the word "paint" - it seems to set off alarm bells with the uninitiated.  ALWAYS refer to your tubes as "artists colours" (various)
Note that The Dangerous Goods Regulations are beyond opaque(!) and are contained in very expensive volumes! Also that some manufacturers do a very poor job of supplying accurate and complete material safety data on their websites. Compare the quality of information before travelling
What liquids, aerosols and gels am I allowed to bring on board?The International Civil Aviation Organisation, the UN’s aviation standard-setting body, has defined guidelines that more and more governments are adopting. The current restrictions for liquids, aerosols and gels from ICAO and in effect in most many countries are that they must be in containers 100ml or equivalent, placed in a transparent resealable plastic bag with max capacity 1-litre. At screening, plastic bags should be presented apart from other carry on items
International Air Transport Association
  • Paint tubes in checked baggage on a plane may burst as all art materials travelling in checked baggage are in an unpressurised part of the plane. They therefore need to be contained.  (Katherine Tyrrell)
    • Enclose all art supplies in clear zip-loc bags (Dan)
    • Wrap paint tubes in foam sheeting or bubble wrap to reduce the chance of puncture.  Pack all paint tubes in ziplock bags in checked baggage (Jennifer Young)
  • Beware that checked baggage as well as hand luggage can be searched.  Artists have arrived at their destination to find that their baggage has been inspected!  
    • Pack your tubes of paint in transparent bags with their related msds sheet and a statement that they are not hazardous (see above for wording)
    • Shipping oil paints beforehand avoids potential problems of arriving to find no paint. (William Weith)
Other top tips for travelling with oil paints

  • Isolate your paints from your clothes (Michael Chesley Johnson)
  • Put all your oil paints into a sealed container which isn't going to spring open easily  (Katherine Tyrrell)
A very secure box for holding tubes of paint - airtight and liquid tight
  • Consider mailing your paints in a very robust container to your destination - after all it's how the paints you buy online  reach you!  Make sure you include your home and destination address in with the paints and not just on the packaging. (Kath Schifano, Michael Chesley Johnson
  • Buy your oil paints at your destination and bring them back as paintings. This can be a lot of fun! Regional visitor centres can be very helpful (Jennifer Young)
  • Find out:
    • the best source for solvents at your destination BEFORE you leave (remember hardware stores stock turpentine)
    • where the local art stores are and how easy they are to get to
    • whether local art stores will despatch to where you are staying (saves overseas postage)
  • Identify the correct word for your solvent or turpentine before you leave home! 
    • turpentine en Francais- “La terebentine”
    • turpentine in Italiano- “La trementina” (Jennifer Young supplied the translations)
Top tips re weight for oil painters
  • Think about weight at every stage and how it can be reduced
    • precut canvas is the lightest support you can carry easily (Karen E Lewis)
    • pads of oil paper are also light and provide a lot of support relative to space / weight. They're good for oil sketches
  • Remember that oil paints shipped to your destination will be coming back as paintings so plans for weight allowances need to allow for this (Sarah Wimperis)
  • Work to a uniform size - it makes transporting wet oil paints home so much simpler 
  • Limit you palette to essential colours  (Jennifer Young)
  • Vary the size of paint tube to how likely you are to use it and use smaller tubes for plein air painting - especially if a flight is involved. (Jennifer Young)
Top tips re oil paints, heat and drying time
storing oil colors in hot cars and trunks will increase the stress on the paints and can cause more oil to separate from the pigment. Keep your paints as cool as possible to reduce separation.
Gamblin Colors
  • Remember that drying times vary depending on local temperatures and humidity.  Remember to factor that in to your expectations as to drying time.  You'll only really find out how long it takes when you get there.
  • Find a washing line and hang your paintings out to dry.  (Sarah Wimperis, Bill Adams) 
  • Think about using alkyd paints rather than oil paints in order to speed up drying.   (Vivien Blackburn).  However be aware that some consider alkyds to be hazardous for travel by plane (I'm checking this point)
  • Use an alkyd based white for mixing and to speed up drying time eg Gamblin's Quick Dry White (Jennifer Young, Vivien Blackburn)
  • Do remember to take a wet panel container so you can get your wet paintings home again 
Paintings hanging out to dry in Provence

Useful Blog Posts
Artists Forums - useful threads
Manufacturers - Useful reference sites

If you send/print or use this information for a workshop 
please make sure you credit all the people who have contributed to this resource


  1. Katherine - you are brilliant! What a resource and oh what a pity it was posted this week, just after my return from Turkey where I hadn't dared pack my paints in fear of having them confiscated. Oh well, next year :) Also, you were my first alert to the troubles at home - who needs newspapers when we have Katherine!

  2. Lots of great advice and top tips - thank you for sharing. I'm looking forward to the post on watercolour and coloured pencils; I'm continually changing my sketching kit!

  3. an excellent post! I see you used my plastic food box with clips idea for transporting the paints :>)

    I wouldn't necessarily agree with working to a uniform size of painting - as I prefer to relate the size and proportions to the subject.

    Working plein air and travelling I would normally work on oil or acrylic paper - so works would be sized on the paper according to the needs of the painting and then cropped at home - resulting in the same uniformity and ease for travel, but more freedom of composition in working.

    Often I work square or near square - also long thin formats and they are essential to the composition I want. I tend not to like the standard proportions of A3 etc.

  4. I'm just starting with oil painting and traveling across country by car. Trying to figure out best way to transport wet canvasses in car or rv. Thanks for advice!


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