Plein Air Painters: Tips on Traveling

Tammy Watercolor demoPlenty of travelers ask questions about details of overseas travel or of our particular trips—and we’ve pulled together answers to some of the most commonly asked questions in our FAQ section. But we recently came across a question we don’t see too often, but we thought the answers were enlightening enough we thought we’d share just in case another traveler had a similar question. Here it is:

I’d like to bring my paint with me and paint plein air. Is this difficult to get through customs? How will I transport my finished painting home?

Painting “en plein air,” that is, painting outdoors, is a long tradition. Painters have always enjoyed natural light, but particularly around the 1870s, around the time portable paint tubes were invented, painters began spending even more time outdoors with their work—and the French Impressionists, including Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. So it’s no surprise that travelers who paint would want to bring their art supplier with them when they take a trip abroad, especially if they’re planning an independent tour where they’ll be walking in beautiful open air.

All that said, when you travel with paint, the most important thing to be clear about is that your paints are not flammable.

Here are a few tips that are specific to the artist’s medium you use:

Oil Paints and Watercolors:

  • Double bag your paints in zippered plastic bag and put them in your checked luggage with your clothing. If you carry them on, you will be subject to the liquid restrictions.
  • If asked at customs, it’s best to say you’re carrying “artist colors.” Be clear that your paints are not flammable.
  • Oil painters: Leave your mineral spirits behind—they are flammable, so you cannot fly with them. You will need to buy them at your destination.


  • A good way to travel with pastels, if you don’t have a pastel box carrier (two popular brands are Hellman or Dakota Traveler), is in a Tupperware container with rice. It may be best to carry your pastels as carry on luggage, as your suitcase may get tossed around a bit on the tarmac.

Painter3Transporting watercolor or pastel paintings

You will need two pieces of foam core board (or cardboard) an inch or two larger than your finished watercolor or pastel piece, masking tape and wax paper

  • Once you finish your painting and, if it’s a watercolor, it has dried, tape it to the foam core board, cover it with wax paper, and secure with tape. As you finish additional painting, simply add them to the stack.
  • For your trip home, cover with the second piece of foam core board. This type of “art sandwich boards” will fit in the bottom of a suitcase or you can carry onto the plane.

Transporting finished or partially completed oil paintings

  • The easiest way to travel with wet oil paintings is with a wet panel box (for instance, those carried here: