Painting on the go takes site-seeing to the best level and helps pass the time while hanging around an airport. In 2017 I traveled through Japan, drove from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas, and bopped around the eastern seaboard of the US with art supplies in tow—making all the mistakes so you don’t have to. The following is a list of thoughts in no particular order about my experiences with different paint and ink while traveling.
Paint on a Plane
I’ve taken oil, watercolor (tube and brick), and ink (all in less than 3 ounce tubes) in a carry-on while on an airplane without issue. Researching the TSA website it indicated that artist paint in any amount (including oil) as long as the individual tubes are under the ounce limit. That being said, I’m a 30 something white lady that is rarely given the extra critical screening by TSA and no every agent is familiar with this specific rule. If you’re worried about traveling with something because you’ve been hassled before and don’t want to check your expensive and treasured paint (plus if you’re like me you might want to paint in the terminal), might I suggest using solid watercolor bricks! No, you won’t have that nice opaqueness of your gouche but it’s way easier to pack up and run when your gate is changed at the last minute and you have to haul ass across an airport (not that this has ever happened to me of course...).
I’ve been using Van Gogh bricks in a handy little clam shaped kit and they work super great.
The Thing about Oil
Traveling with oil paint is a little trickier but not impossible. First thing: do not under any circumstances travel with galkyd or—for god sakes—turpentine. I don’t need to do research to know those toxic-ass-spontaneously-combusting things are not allowed on planes. Plus, you probably wouldn’t want to use the sticky and slower-to-dry mediums if you are painting in a book and in on-the-go situations anyway. This round up of tips is from 2011 but pretty legit. If you're traveling with oil, listen to those who have flown before you. Honestly, it’s not impossible but more than what I’m interested in fucking with when I’m running around so I’ll be talking mostly about watercolor and ink.
Other Packing Concerns
- If you’re not sure how many brushes to bring or what you must have—do yourself a favor and practice before hand. Pack up your crap, go to the park or to the mall food court and do some painting. See what works and what does. What did you miss in your bag and what did you not even look at? You don’t need your special water cup for brush cleaning. You can use a coffee cup and water from a fountain wherever you are.
- In Japan, I used a little bit of broth from this amazing ramen soup we had to paint in my sketchbook. Using food and beverages (wine is a good one) can capture the smell of a place in your book and transport you back there in an instant.
- After driving 4,000+ miles with four bottles of ink that I never touched I wound up leaving them in the studio during future trips. They are too messy anyway.
- You can also buy supplies when you arrive. I call them “souvenir supplies”. While in Seattle last year I wandered into a gorgeous stationary store and found a beautiful graphite holder that I’d never seen before. Purchasing that and an elegant matching sharpener, it’s now my favorite thing to draw with and reminds me of that lovely little spot I discovered.
- Important note: Make sure you don’t have your Xacto or any palette knives with you when you go through security! I dumped a beloved knife in the line at Houston’s Hobby Airport and it still burns in my heart...
For almost two years now I’ve been using Moleskine A3 sized Art Plus (111lb) sketchbooks. They are about $30 a pop but they take all the medium I throw at them without bleeding and have that classic little folder in the back for small treasures I pick up along the way. For the longest time I wasn’t particular about my sketchbooks but when I discovered these I haven’t bought anything else. Find what works for you and enjoy watching the bookshelf fill up with sketchbooks that journal your travels. Even if your regular travel is hyperlocal, there’s something cathartic about documenting your time in a book. My sketchbooks are diaries, laboratories, and a place I can recede to when I need a break from a project (or from life).
Are you a member of a local art group? You might get a discount at the art store so check. If you have the discount card at the Blick store that gets you 20% off all the time. You can get good shit on the cheap if you dig for it.
I don't leave town without these things. Click around + learn more