Written by Robert Gamblin
Many artists contact us with questions about the best ways to take art materials on aircraft. I have been flying with oil painting materials for 25 years and have logged about 400,000 miles with my paints. Here are some suggestions.
What to say/not say to TSA
Artist’s oil colors contain no solvents so they are not hazardous. When security asks, “What are these?” never say oil paints. The word “PAINT” is a hot-button issue with them. (I have even heard of acrylics and watercolors not allowed on airplanes because they were described as “paints.”) Tell them that they are “‘artist’s colors made from vegetable oil.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines “flammable liquids” as those with a flash point 140 degrees F or below. Artists grade oil colors are based on vegetable oil with a flash point above 550 degrees F. THEY ARE NOT HAZARDOUS. Gamsol has a flash point of 144 degrees F. Visit FAA’s Pack Safe – Artists Paints for more information.
You can download and print SDS for all Gamblin materials from our website: SDS Page
- Be ready to show the SDS to prove the flashpoint
- If you do not know the flash point of your mediums or solvent, do not plan to take any on board
- Do not carry on your palette knives. Put them in your suitcase and check your luggage
- Keep your cool—don’t hassle security. Show them the SDS and explain that you are going on a painting holiday
According to the FAA, there is no limit to how many oil colors you travel with. However, all liquids, pastes, and gels in carry-on baggage are limited to 100-ml (3.4oz) containers at the TSA security checkpoint.
Check to see if you can purchase mediums and solvents at your destination (visit our Store Locator for a list of our retail partners). If not, ship art materials ahead by ground transportation. Using the US Postal Service, artists can ship materials to most places in the world. Remember to specify “ground transportation” service. Insure the package and pay for a delivery receipt.
If your luggage is inspected, it is helpful for TSA to have information about the materials. Put the SDS and a sign inside your luggage. Here’s an example from Lori Putnam:
Always make sure caps are screwed on tightly.
Oil painting materials are products of the natural world so they are tremendously responsive to temperature and humidity.
Oil colors dry faster in warm weather. Solvents and the solvent in painting mediums evaporate more quickly. A great advantage for those who want to speed up the painting process, heat may be a disadvantage for those who are used to a longer open time.
If you need more working time, and you are using a quick drying medium like Galkyd or Galkyd Lite then switch to a slower drying medium.
If you use a low viscosity medium like Galkyd Lite, try Galkyd Slow Dry. If this still does not give you enough working time, try the slowest of slow dry mediums: mix Gamsol and Poppy Oil (or Safflower Oil) in equal parts.
If you prefer a higher viscosity medium like Galkyd, add 10% Stand oil to Galkyd to increase the working time. If this is still not enough working time, as above, make a medium by mixing Gamsol and Stand oil in equal parts.
More information on painting mediums can be found in Painting Mediums and Finding Your Happy Medium. Information on painting mediums is also available in our Mediums Guide. If you want a paper copy, please contact us. We also make a Mediums Set with TSA-friendly 2 oz bottles so you can find the one or combination that is best for your painting style.
Another issue is the effect of summer heat on oil colors. Many of us travel in cars and leave our paints and supplies in the oven-like trunks. The viscosity of oil colors is much lower (paints are more fluid) when they get hot. Oil colors traditionally throw a little oil over the life of the tube. But 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 cool to reduce separation.
Traveling with art supplies is one challenge. Shipping fresh oil paintings is another. Here are a few suggestions.
A “fresh painting” is one that has skinned over. Dry to the touch, you can easily smear it with your finger if you press too hard. A fresh painting needs careful handling. Place your paintings face-to-face with wax paper or with non-stick baking paper between them. You can also place plastic push-pins at each corner of one of the paintings to put some additional space between the paintings. Unpack the paintings as soon as they get to their destination.
Ship varnished paintings with nothing touching the surface.
We get calls from artists asking what to do when their gallery shipped a varnished painting with sheet plastic or bubble-wrap directly on the face of the painting. Shipping paintings like this is a bad technique because the bubble wrap heats and softens the varnish while in transit. Then the pattern of the bubble wrap is pressed onto the surface.
If this happens and you varnished the painting with Gamvar, simply remove the varnish with Gamsol and re-varnish.
If you have any further questions about tips for traveling with oil painting materials, please feel free to contact us.