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.