Doing airline travel with oil paints requires a little extra thought when it comes to packing. I travel with paints, brushes and a french easel fairly frequently. There are certain criteria that you will need to follow before you take off. I will go through them with you so you can be sure that you will not have any problem traveling with your paint supplies!
What to pack where?
When packing you want to be sure to put your brushes, paints, and palette knives in your checked baggage NOT your carryon. Packing your paints in your checked luggage is obvious of course because of the liquid element. Keeping your palette knife in your checked baggage will ensure that it wont get confiscated by security in thinking that it might be a weapon. Having anything that is splattered with paint sometimes raises suspicions so it is best to steer clear of anything disagreeable with the airport security and keep your brushes in your checked luggage.
Be sure to securely pack your paint tubes in a couple plastic bags in the event that one might explode in your luggage – this would at least confine the paint to the bag instead of it getting all over your suitcase. this unfortunate incident happened to me once with a can of lead white – it was not so fun getting lead white over everything!
How to pack your Easel
You can either pack your easel or carry it on the airplane with you. If you have a cover for your easel it will be fine for you to carry on, otherwise it might be best for you to pack it as well in your checked luggage.
My french easel has paint marks all over it and once took it as a carry on without a cover and would rather never do so again as it led the security personnel to investigate all of my supplies. They wanted to throw everything away because they thought that oil paint is hazardous – thankfully the ordeal was cleared when their manager assured them that the paint was not hazardous. That all to say, it is best to avoid running into any potential problems if possible to avoid any extra stress for yourself. At least feeling threatened about ALL of my paint getting thrown out was very stressful for me!
Dealing with Oil Paint and Airport Security
In the event that you are asked about tubed oil colors be prepared to state the following: Artists’ oil colors are not hazardous since they do not contain solvents. If you are asked further about them be careful to never use the word ‘oil paint’ or even ‘paints’. Instead say that they are artists colors in vegetable oil.
Traveling with lead white paint can also make airport security question as it will come up as black on an x ray scan since lead is impenetrable to x-rays. Here too simply state that it is lead based white artists’ color in vegetable oil.
If you Wish to be Extra Cautious
In most cases you can find a materials safety data sheet (MSDS) from all materials manufacturers on their website. All art material manufacturers will upon request provide a material safety data sheet (MSDS) on their products. You can use this sheet to present to airport security if necessary. If there is no such data sheet on your paint manufacturers website then they will provide one for you upon request.