How to Pack For Painting When Traveling by Airplane

How to Pack For Painting When Traveling by Airplane

Traveling on an airplane with painting gear is always a bit of a challenge. Due to TSA regulations, flying isn’t as simple as it once was. This has made traveling by air challenging for many artists.

However, after many years of traveling with my painting equipment, I have refined how to successfully pack for painting.

I hope my tips help make your art travels a bit easier.


First, I usually pack my small  pochade box in my suitcase.  There are a lot of different painting boxes out on the market. I have tested most all of them. The following are my three favorite boxes.

    • The tough and trusted Strada Easel is great for airplane travel. It’s well designed, durable and compact.
    • The EasyLite Pochade Box is another favorite as it includes a built in panel holder.
    • The popular  Day Tripper Easel is a favorite when I plan to paint larger works, plus it is lightweight, durable and offers a large mixing area.

Below are some packing tips:

  • Try to streamline your art supplies down to the utmost essential. Think about using a ‘limited palette’ of only 5 or 6 paint colors. Don’t forget, you can mix your own greens, oranges, etc. A limited palette assures a more harmonious painting anyway.
  • ‘Oil Paint’ is a security buzz word, so it is best to refer to your oil paints as “artist colors made with vegetable oil”… I always tuck a little note into my paints that explains this. Personally, I always travel with my Cobra solvent free water-mixable paints. 
  • Keep your paints in a separate plastic bag in case they leak during the flight and pack them in your suitcase (don’t carry them on the plane). I suggest packing the paints in a clear plastic container.
  • Be sure and enclose your paints with the Plein Air Magazine label! Print off a large copy and fill it in with your own information.
  • Don’t carry on your art supplies! Save yourself the hassle and risk of having them confiscated at security. Due to the TSA regulations, we are only allowed one quart size zip-lock plastic bag of 3 oz or smaller creams & liquids. Art paints fall into this category.
  • Do not carry on or check in with your luggage any flammable solvents or thinners ( you can purchase these at your destination). These will not be allowed on the plane.
  • When you pack for painting, keep your brushes and palette knives within your luggage – just in case TSA wants to consider them ‘a weapon’…
  • If possible, pack all your supplies in a separate suitcase. If not, pack your supplies so they are on top of your other items in your luggage. This makes it easily accessible for a security check.
  • FYI, for the same reason, you should pack your shoes on top too. I always pack my shoes in a recycled plastic grocery bag.
  • Pack your empty pochade box in your carry on or suitcase.
  • If you are running out of room in your suitcase, consider ‘carrying on’ some of your clothing or shoes instead.
  • Pack any Leatherman-like tools or pocket knives in with your checked luggage.
  • Remember to keep your toiletries in your suitcase or they might also be confiscated!
  • Here is my helpful tip for packing and traveling with wet paintings! How to Turn a Wine Cork into a Plein Air Painting Carrier!


plein air painting TSA label

Pack for Painting Check List:

  • Pochade Box (paint box) & palette
  • Tripod
  • Paints (Titanium White, Cad Yellow,  Cad Red light or Madder Lake/Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian, – this is more than plenty, or just bring the primary colors and white.)
  • Medium (non-flammable)
  • Empty container for turps or solvents
  • Paint Brushes
  • Paint Knife
  • Paper Towels (take some off a roll and fold compactly)
  • Baby Wipes (for clean-up)
  • Canvas or linen panels
  • Acrylic Primed Canvas Pad (these are light and pack easily) and 1 board or panel to tape the canvas sheet to while painting
  • Painter’s Tape, wine cork.
  • Apron or smock (Scott Christensen taught me to wear black because it does not reflect onto your canvas)
  • Hat
  • Bug Spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera
  • Sketch book & pen or pencil
  • Don’t wear sunglasses while plein air painting…it changes the values & colors – just squint!
  • Did I forget anything?)

That is a basic checklist…you of course can customize your own.

When I am flying, I prefer to paint on linen or wood panels , usually 9×12, 8×10 and 6×8 studies. If I traveling extra lightly, I will use canvas pads which I glue the finished painting to a panel when I return home – and then it’s ready to frame!

Also, I highly suggest using water-mixable oils for air travel. They make for easy cleaning, you don’t have to worry about solvents, plus the paintings dry quickly so it makes transporting them easy.

I hope this information helps you with your painting travels. You will learn from trial and error and decide what works for you.

Please share your own helpful suggestions in the comment section!

Bon voyage! Lori 🙂


You might like to read:

Water Soluble Oil Paints: Facts, Tips & Why I Use Them

Turn an Altoid Box into a Mini Watercolor Set

How to Build a Pochade Box from a Cigar Box

New Zealand: Painting & Playing in the God Zone

Birdwatching in New Zealand: In Search of the Rare Fiordland Penguin

How to Interpret the Landscape in Paint



  1. Jackie Garner January 6, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Good advice, Lori. A friend of mine had expensive oil paints confiscated at a Scottish airport because the staff thought paints were in danger of exploding during the flight. Ironically they didn’t confiscate the liquin which would have been far more dangerous. We’ve since checked the websites of various art materials manufacturers and of the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and each has information sheets stating which materials can be carried on one’s person, in the cabin or in the hold. I’d recommend downloading such information and carrying it with the paints; that could save a lot of argument for not much effort. Happy travels, everyone.

    • Lori McNee January 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks for the extra tip! Jackie, this is really helpful. Glad you shared!

      Happy travels-

  2. Athena Mantle March 29, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    This is great advice! I was just wondering about this as I’m about to take a trip with my paints. I remember back in the good old days taking my huge paint box with thinner and all as a carry-on! I was beginning to wonder if you could even take paint in your check-in luggage. I’m glad to hear we can still do that!

  3. Lori Putnam August 27, 2012 at 8:23 am

    Thanks for sharing Lori! Love your post too. : ) Share any of mine you would like. Thanks for asking.

    • Lori McNee August 28, 2012 at 10:43 am

      Hi Lori, fun to see you here. I will take you up on that offer sometime soon.

      Happy painting and traveling!

  4. Kozmiksphinx March 28, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Great tips! Last time I flew I packed all my oil paints and ink bottles in a shoe box sized Tupperware container in my suitcase and it worked out well. It forced me to really distill down to the essentials and I felt secure no matter how manhandled my luggage was being that nothing would leak out.

    • Lori McNee June 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      That is a great travel tip to share! Thanks a lot…

  5. Ria February 28, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Hi Lori,
    This post is so helpful, Thanks for such great insights. I was wondering, how do you carry your tripod stand? Do you check it in or carry it on-board? I hope you can help me with this.


    • Lori McNee March 23, 2014 at 7:52 pm

      Hi Ria,

      I usually pack my tripod in my suitcase. However, it does add weight and they usually inspect your suitcase. I’ve bought so many trinkets down here in the USVIs, I might have to carry my tripod on the plane to get home.

      I plan to pack it in a suitcase for my next plein air trip to Monterey in April. I hope this helps you Ria. I will be talking about this at the Plein Air Convention! Thanks for the input. 🙂

  6. Jason May 1, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Wow big job taking art supplies with you on a plane. I like the part about only taking essential colors and how in the end painting that way will make the endeavor more harmonious, so true. I have a little check list when I do art bike expeditions in the city. I like to travel to different areas and do some plein air drawing.

  7. Mike Perez September 8, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    Thanks for all the info, Lori. Can the paints be generally shipped ahead to the destination via Post Office or Fed Ex? I shipped my paints back from a recent trip to Maine. At one post office the clerk got uptight when I mentioned “oil paints” and said they could not be shipped. At another post office they didn’t ask and I didn’t volunteer any info and they shipped them just fine. I think saying something like paints for crafts may make them a bit more comfortable. Have you had any experience with shipping paints ?

    • Lori A McNee May 1, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      Mike, first of all many apologies for the belated reply!! Yes, I ship ahead all the time…and after events too. It helps make airplane travel lighter and easier. I hope by now you have given it a try. Just make sure to put ‘attention __your name_______’ on the box!

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