Through the years I have heard good and bad stories from artist who traveled with oil paint. It always seems to bee luck of the draw weather or not oil paint can be confiscated by airport staff and there seems to be lack of clarity as to what the rules are. One thing is for sure though, you are not to travel with anything that's considered flammable, this includes mediums containing turpentine, mineral spirits, and things of that nature. Through my research I came across a few good pointers that will help any artist traveling with their precious cargo of paint.
It is always good to be prepared with proper documentation, in this case Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) can be of great help. Most paint makers will have this information on their website ready to download, if they don't you may have to contact them directly and request them. In these sheets it may help to locate the area where the flashpoint is listed. All liquids with a flashpoint of 140 degrees F or bellow are considered flammable. "Artists grade oil colors," Gamblin says, "are based on vegetable oil with a flashpoint above 550 degrees F. They are not hazardous." Packing oil colors, as I learned from Plein Air Magazine's web posting, is very important. Each tube needs to be individually placed in a ziploc bag, but I had to make due with what I had and wrapped each tube in sandwich bags.
After all your colors are carefully wrapped, it is suggested that they go inside a bigger ziploc back, all this wrapping prevents paint from getting on all your clothes inside the suitcase in case they become punctured. I on the other hand, have this neat carrying case designed to hold twenty four tubes of paint. This Tran Oil Paint Carrier has become one of my best purchases for plein air painting. It holds all tubes in place while allowing some padding, and it minimizes the amount of weight I have to carry. Wooden paint boxes can be hard to travel with, even in short distances.
This paint carrier can be purchased at Soho Art Materials, believe me it will be a life saver due to its portability...you can pop it inside your back pack and off you go!
Once the tubes were packed neatly in the carrier, I folded the MSDS and stuck it on the front with a note stating that they were artists colors in vegetable oil. It was very important not to mention the word "paint" because apparently this can raise a red flag with the airlines. As you can see above, it turned out to be a neat little package.
Paints should be checked in along with your brushes, according to a friend his brushes were taken away from his carry on at the airport because they were considered to be weapons. Same goes for palette knives and perhaps canvas clips, and anything that's metal like and sharp. Best thing to do is to pack light and take the supplies that you really need. Once you arrive at your destination you can purchase thinner and mediums from the local art supply shop. In my carry on the only thing I had were the linen panels I had prepared, my wood palette, sketchbook, and pens.
Upon arrival everything was assembled back in my back pack, my loyal friend, which I've had since I was nineteen years old. This bag has been one of my greatest investments, it contains so many compartments that makes it easy to carry all my painting gear comfortable.
Even after these preparations, it is not a guaranteed that your supplies won't be confiscated, but it does lower the possibility. I guess a little wishing and praying after your bags have been checked can go a long way, I know I did, and to my surprised all my my materials made it to Colorado and back to NYC...success!!!! Below are a few links to some of the sources I found online: