Traveling Light


I carry a large, checked bag that contains a half French easel, my Gatorfoam pastel paper sandwich, miscellaneous art supplies, and yes, some clothing and toiletries. The black carry-on bag contains my pastel palette and a few extra pieces of pastel paper in case my checked luggage is delayed in arriving—an inexpensive easel can always be found.

Traveling with pastel supplies can be a delicate operation, be it for painting adventures in faraway locations or the opportunity to participate in a workshop. The actual process of packing is daunting to even the most seasoned pastel painter. When traveling by car, we can bring a portable studio with us; there’s ample room for multiple paper choices in a variety of sizes, an extra pastel palette, easels, umbrellas, and multiple hats (depending on the environment and your mood). Rarely are all these extra supplies utilized, but we know they’re there, just in case the need should arise. This provides a sense of security; we relax, knowing everything is safely stowed in the back of the vehicle. For this reason, many of us choose to drive long distances, investing days on the road, just to have the comfort of a well packed/stocked portable studio at the ready.

When air travel is required, it becomes the opposite scenario. Everything needs to be downsized to the bare minimum, providing portability. A good sturdy pastel case for transport is a necessity (see my previous blog post from December 2007). Keep the case as small as possible. You’ll be lugging it around in the airports, through security, and stowing it in an overhead bin. What feels light around the house can become a burden after a day of travel. Due to increased security, it’s advisable to hand-carry your pastels instead of packing them in checked luggage. If you decide to check your pastel case; remember that all baggage, not just hand carried, is scanned for dangerous content and most are inspected away from your care. Even if you have placed your palette deep in the middle of your luggage, surrounded by cushioning clothing, an inspector may open the contents, disrupting the pastel sticks, creating a considerable mess. If you must pack them in checked luggage, be sure to place the pastel palette in a plastic bag that is easily opened and closed, and post a large note stating that the contents are “Fragile Artists Chalks” with instructions on how to carefully open and close the box. When traveling outside the country, make the note bilingual.  Adding a polite “Thank you for your care and consideration” never hurts.

To transport the pastel paper and finished paintings, create a protective sandwich consisting of two Gatorfoam panels and surround this with cushioning clothing within your checked luggage. Gatorfoam is a multi-layer composite of extremely dense and durable polystyrene foam board that resists crushing and denting. It’s lightweight, puncture-resistant, and also makes a good drawing board surface for your pastel papers. Stack your painting surfaces with glassine insets placed between layers and tape or fasten the boards together to stop slippage. Seal this in a plastic bag before placing it in your luggage to protect the contents from any pastel dust migration that might occur during transport. This “sandwich” rarely peaks the interest of the TSA inspectors, but a note describing the content is still a good idea.

With some practice and a little trial and error, you’ll be gliding through the airports on your way to many pastel adventures; that is, if your luggage makes it to the same destination you do.

You may also like these articles:

5 thoughts on “Traveling Light

  1. BlueBerry Pick'n

    don’t forget to bring along *a brochure on what pastels are*.

    Our flight was seriously detained in Cuba because the piece-by-piece scanning of every package detected that my pastels… were tidily packed sticks of explosives.

    It became a Big Deal that required I do some sketching & show them the (thankfully multi-lingual, though Cubans are highly English literate. The mother-tongue literacy rate is above 95%, too!) What they lack is ART SUPPLIES… which is why I take *lots* of coloured pencils to give to the children when I get there. Generally, you see a lot of older art students in uniforms, sketching with homemade charcoal from sticks.

    now, you can’t blame the Cubans for being jumpy about "what are all those dense sticks all packed up in that xray scan?!", I mean, they’re still looking for the Americans who bombed the *full* Cuban resort hotel a couple of years ago, maiming a number of guests & killing an Italian businessman.

    can you blame them for being jumpy?
    Just saying, those nations who take abuse from WHINSEC/SotA are extra special concerned about foreign-influenced terrorism.

    Just saying, if you’re traveling in Latin America, consider that they might not have access to the same sorts of art supplies … & might require a bit of extra consideration or a product brochure.

    saved my supply! …or it would have ended up in ‘evidence’ detention…

  2. Naomi Shriber

    Thanks for the tips. I’m leaving for France and will only take pastel pencils for quick studies, plus my camera for future references, and my tiny watercolor kit with small pads also for sketches. found this worked great last trip. No trouble with security and did carry on pland

    Naomi Shriber

  3. Richard McKinley

    Pam, the black bag is made by "Timbuk2" and is a 17 inch computer/messenger bag. It is a couple of years old and has stood up well. I have seen other brands at office/computer stores that also fit my pastel case. I use a medium Heilman box, kind of heavy, but with a good shoulder strap it is doable. Besides the pastel palette, it holds a watercolor palette and numerous other items, allowing me to just carry an easel when heading out to paint. Take your pastel box to the store and try it in a few shoulder bags before committing. Best,

  4. Pam

    Richard, the black carry-on bag looks interesting. It is meant specifically for art supplies or is it just a generic black bag that happens to fit your pastel palette? You had to know that question was coming. 🙂 Finding a bag that is the right size and shape isn’t always easy and that one has the shoulder strap, too. Being able to sling the strap over your shoulder/across your body is a big help to keep your hands free.