Traveling Artist Packing

This page is for traveling artists who are plein air oil painters.

The oil medium presents special problems when traveling that are not faced by watercolor painters or pastelists.

Your tubes of paint must be put in your checked luggage - if you try to take oil paints in your carry-on luggage, you run the risk of Airport Security confiscating them.

Pack the minimum amount of paint tubes you can, and in small sizes as Oil paint is very heavy.

Important Tips

Put your tubes into a plastic bag (such as a Ziplock) so that should they spring a leak during the trip, your clothing and other items will be protected. Also, write the words "Artists Pigment" on the outside of your plastic bags - Do not mention "Oil Paint" which may be misinterpreted by the uninformed baggage folks.

DO NOT, UNDER AND CIRCUMSTANCES, TAKE MINERAL SPIRITS OR TURPENTINE IN ANY OF YOUR LUGGAGE. This product is combustible and is not permitted in luggage.

Once you get to your destination, it is easy to find mineral spirits in any hardware store. You will need to dispose of this product safely before you return home.

Special Note - Ask the Concierge at your Hotel to find Mineral Spirits for you This tactic worked really well for me recently - I had arrived in the evening and had no means to go out and buy my Mineral Spirits. I asked the Concierge to look in the hotel supplies in the Facilities office. He found some - and got a good tip for his efforts.

If you prefer not to deal with the mineral spirits at all, you can purchase water soluable oil paints that only require water for clean up.

I have not tried water soluable oil paint yet. If you have experience with this, let pleinairmuse.com know and we will share your comments in this section.

Supplies such as paper towel can also be purchased upon arrival at your destination. I have used toilet paper rolls from my hotel room in a pinch!

Painting Panels or Unmounted Linen

During my extensive travel with my art I always limit myself to one size of painting panel for ease of travel and storage.

9" x 12" wood panels covered with oil primed Belgium linen are my favorite.

I make my own wood panels of 1.8" thick wood - this allows me to store up to 16 painting panels in my wet canvas carrier box. I store the paintings back-to-back.

I carry my wet canvas slotted box (see photo below) in my backpack which is my cabin baggage.

I have had negative experiences with putting the wet canvas carrier box into my checked luggage - TSA inspectors rummaging through wet paintings have caused problems (they left their calling card- so kind of them) - so I now always carry it with me on board the aircraft.

Having spent many days and sometimes weeks, painting your crop of new travel paintings, you do not want to take the risk of them getting lost should your checked luggage get lost by the airline. Having your paintings with you also protects them from ham-fisted TSA inspectors during luggage inspections.

Unmounted Linen Painting Panels

Another option for a painting surface, if you don't want to encumber yourself with wood panels, is to paint on oil primed Belgium Linen or canvas pieces cut to your desired size. The fabric is then taped to a board for painting.

Once you have done your painting you can tack it up on a wall - this works well if you are staying in one place for a few days. At the end of your stay, place sheets of waxed paper over each painting and stack them on top of each other for travel.

Once your paint is totally dry (at home) you can then glue the paintings onto board at that time.

This method is great if you have limited packing space but still want to paint a lot while you travel.

The Pizza Box Trick

If you don't have a wet canvas carrier box, then an inexpensive alternative is to go to a local pizza restaurant and ask for some new pizza boxes.

Pizza boxes are great for storing wet oil paintings - simply tape the back of the painting to the bottom of the box. The box lid then creates a nice one inch air space over the wet painting when the lid is closed.

Pizza boxes full of wet paintings can be stacked on top of each other in your luggage.

If you are traveling in the USA, it is easy to take your stack of pizza boxes filled with fresh paintings to one of those "Pack and Ship" places. Have them mail the whole lot back to your home address for an easy trip home!


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