Pastel Frequent Flyers | Tips for Navigating Air Travel with Art Supplies

I’m frequently required to travel by air. As any pastelist knows, who has had to go through the strict TSA inspection routine at an airport with a pastel palette, it can be a stressful ordeal. Our palette is our means of creation. It’s filled with delicate, expensive sticks of pigment that often take days to select and organize. Handing it over to others—people who may not share our concern—is gut wrenching. Having gone through the inspection process repeatedly and culling tips from other pastel frequent flyers, I have a few tips to share that may make your airport experiences go a little more smoothly.


My rolling carry-on bag holds my backpack-size Heilman pastel palette. It never leaves my side when I travel.

Allow Time: Give yourself extra time at the airport. Arriving hurried and confused at the TSA security location is never a good idea. Inspection lines are frequently long and fellow travelers are often equally stressed. Tempers can flare when you are the reason for the delay. When possible, I like to allow others to go ahead since it will take added effort for me to prepare items for scanning.

Prepare Your Palette: Prepare your pastel palette for possible inspection well in advance of the travel day. Make sure it’s relatively clean, since the odds are high that it will be opened. Label the outside of the palette with your name, cell phone number, and a simple description of contents. Some pastelists go so far as to adhere a photograph of the open palette to the outside of the case. When the scanning tech sees this, they often understand the contents and wave it through without further physical inspection.

If you carry your palette in a bag for easy transport, remove it before scanning. The scanned image will look quite suspicious if they can’t see the palette. It was a TSA official that gave me this tip and since I started removing my palette from the travel case in advance of scanning, the number of physical inspections has gone way down.

Since the odds are high that the pastel palette will stop the scanning line and possible require a physical inspection, it’s best to place it as your last item to go through the scanner. Attempting to communicate with a TSA official without your belt, shoes, and other personal items, simply adds to the tension of the experience.

Communicate the Contents: Be emotionally prepared for notification that your palette will require inspection from a TSA official. The various mineral components of the pigments and shapes of the individual pastel sticks do look very suspicious on the x-ray screen. Stay calm, and politely inform them that they are art materials, colored pastel chalks, and are very fragile. By stating that they are pastel chalks, you provide information for those that know what pastels are as well as those that do not, thus not embarrassing them. Explain that you will need to explain how to carefully open the palette so as not to damage the fragile content.

The days of walking from the ticket counters straight to the gate are forever behind us. Remember that the security measures are in place to protect all of us. By being well prepared for the situation, you do yourself, airport officials, and fellow passengers a service.

For more packing tips, see my post on “Traveling Light.”


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