Traveling with art supplies

There are lots of things to consider when packing art supplies. Primary questions are – how are you traveling, and how much can you personally carry. If you are traveling by plane or train, pack as small and light as possible. Remember, you have to carry all of this stuff. Frankly, you should do that anyway, but a car trip gives you the luxury of carrying more stuff.

My art supplies (for planes):

•Limited palette of paint colors, packed in a gasket sealed plastic food container (checked baggage)
•Flat brushes. I currently like Princeton 6300 flats. a couple of 2’s, 4, 6, 8 rolled up in a brush holder (checked baggage)
•Palette knife (checked baggage)
•Joshua Been Daytripper Easel (packed in my carryon)
•Tripod (packed in my carryon)
•Panel holder (packed in my carryon)
•2 PanelPaks (11×14 and 9×12) loaded with 4 primed panels and 12 primed Multimedia Artboard (checked baggage)
•1 11×14 Centurion canvas pad
•Empty solvent jar (checked baggage)
•Sketching materials – an Altoid tin of pastels. An Altoid tin of Qtips. Small sketchpad
•2 bullnose clips.


Checked in luggage: Water soluble oils, brushes, alkyd medium, solvent container (but no solvent), packed in gasket sealed food container, then enclosed in a 1 or 2 gallon ziplock. Packed in checked in luggage. I also print out the safety data sheets for my materials and pack them in the suitcase. You CAN’T fly with solvent. That is why I travel with water soluble oils. I can make due with water, or I can buy some solvent when I land.

Titanium White, Napthol Red (or Cad Red Light, Light Red Bright, Pyrole Red, Winsor Red), Magenta (or Quinacridone Magenta, or Alizarin Crimson), Cyan (or Pthalo Blue, Cerulean Blue), Ultramarine Blue, Primary Yellow (or Cad Yellow Light). Optional Colors: Burnt Umber, Gray.

PanelPak. Panel carriers, and panels.

EMPTY Turp jar. This is the Joshua Been jar.

Checked in luggage: 9×12 or smaller painting surfaces – 1-2 for each day. These fit into 2 gallon ziplock bags. Panel Paks. These are in checked luggage.

Carry on: Joshua Been Daytripper easel and easel attachment, or Strada Mini pochade if I want even lighter/smaller.  Tripod, easel attachment. They go in my carry on.



Carry on: Pastels: 72-120 half sticks of pastels of various brands. Label the box CHALK PASTELS and tape a business card to it. Enclose it in a ziplock bag to contain the dust. My lightest colors are always soft, since, like oils, I layer dark to light. I take a travel size watercolor pan as well. Watercolors can give you some needed darks, and are great for underpainting. I use a small empty vitamin bottle for a water bottle and some flexible water brushes. If you want to work on the plane, pack some smaller pastel paper. I like 4×6, 5×7, or 6×8. I clip paper to a piece of foamcore and put it all in a ziplok.


Checked in: 11×14 or smaller paper (UArt400 for me), in a large ziplock bag, clipped to a backer board. As long as all of the paper is clipped together, it doesn’t really move much and your pastels stay intact. You can separate them with a sheet of glassine if you like, but they are fine just stacked. The ziplock keeps the dust confined to the bag, and not all over your clothes.

Checked in: Very portable easel and Easel Butler. Not everyone needs an easel. I do.

Want to pack even lighter:

Watercolors/pencils/sketchbook/Darsie Beck Field Easel Art Bag:

I highly recommend this bag. It is well designed. You can also just take your iPad Pro and pencil. Happy travels. More info below.

That’s it.

Barb, the perfect packer

Barb, the perfect packer

I have a picture of Barb, our perfect packer. Really. You can do it (that black suitcase in the background is NOT hers). This is EVERYTHING she brought on her two week painting trip to France.



The cheapest setup – a tripod style easel, a masterson palette and palette paper, an Easel Butler Shelf. It works remarkably well. Many artists have a sheet of plexiglass cut for the bottom of the palette or bring paper palettes that fit inside (12×16)


This is one of my current favorites. It is the Joshua Been Daytripper easel. It is the lightest weight, with retractable hooks that make it easy to pack and carry. This is for oil painters.


Joshua Been Daytripper Easel,

Strada Easel Mini or Micro (see links below). It would make sense to buy the nesting trays, tripod, and ball head attachment as well.



This one below looks like a good one for painting for around town. The palette is for oil/acrylic painters. Good for painting small.

STRADA MICRO Easel: Little Pochade Box With A Big Attitude

John Coulter Easel. This is the medium size. I use the smallest size.

John Coulter Easel. This is the medium size. I use the smallest size.

If you can paint small, this one below looks like a good one.

Fly On The Wall Easel

There are many very small pochades – Artwork Essentials, Guerilla, and Utrecht offer some nice ones.

A Feather Pro Art and Tripod Easel with and Easel Butler are a perfect combo. You can buy the easel at Jerrysartarama and the Easel Butler from the Easel Butler website. I have these as well.

Featherlight Pro Easel w/ Easel Butler Shelf and Dakota Pastel Carrier (too large for me)

Featherlight Pro Easel w/ Easel Butler Shelf and Dakota Pastel Carrier (too large for me)


For watercolorists, some pastelists, and for small people, this one below is a lightweight easel. It is the Eric Michael’s En Plein Air Pro Easel. It doesn’t work for people who are taller than 5’2″ AND who work upright. Most oil painters, and many pastel artists want our canvas upright. If you want your surface flat, as watercolorists, and as some pastelists do, then this is a great one.  The easel setup and shelf are a good design for their purpose.



This one below appears to be a good setup from It is their pro series. I don’t like their OTHER oil painting setup, but I do like this one. I’d appreciate comments from anyone who has this one. You have to buy the whole thing, not just parts.


Below is a Silver Lead Easel. It is cheap, folds down to 21″ or less, and very lightweight. It is not going to last you for years, but it will last you through a few trips. It packs well for airplane travel. On one airplane painting trip many artists brought this easel, along with either the En Plein Air shelf (above) or with a homemade shelf made with a cigar box and coat hooks. The setup worked well.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 8.44.46 PM


Packing pastels:

You can use lots of simple boxes.

Heilman appears to be the cream of the crop of pastel boxes. I don’t own one, simply because they are pricey and I do lots of mediums. I can’t bring myself to buy another easel. But I’d buy the double sketch box for travel. Limit your colors. Pastels can weigh a lot.

Dakota Pastels also has a good travel box, without an easel attachment

Pastels: I’m putting together my own box. I don’t want to carry more or less than I need. Pastels can really weigh a lot if you bring everything. Try to see how minimal you can make your set. I use harder darks and softer lights. I use all brands, If you want to travel really light, try buying a specific landscape set. I have often traveled with Mungyo 1/2 stick pastels. They are cheap, and good quality. Throw out the flourescent colors, but you can buy a set at Hobby Lobby or Michaels for under $12. Really. By layering your colors and supplementing with watercolor, you can get a pretty full range of values.


My editing process. I edited down to the first box. Then the second box. Finally, I’m taking the third, small box.


Slik F740 Tripod, Easel Butler Shelf, plastic box lid, Coulter Easel Holder, 11x14 paint panel, box of pastels.

Slik F740 Tripod, Easel Butler Shelf, plastic box lid, Coulter Easel Holder, 11×14 paint panel, box of pastels.

Another blog about traveling with pastels.

Marvin Chew: An Urban Sketcher’s art supplies:

Walkstool, SLIK Sprint Mini camera tripod converted to portable easel, and clipboard with camera tripod mount bracket attached.

Marvin Chew: Walkstool, SLIK Sprint Mini camera tripod converted to portable easel, and clipboard with camera tripod mount bracket attached.


Marvin Chew: Craig Young’s watercolour box

Surfaces: For oils: A lot of loose, primed canvas, cut to a little larger than you need. Tape each one to a board. OR you can bring some canvas panels. Hardboard gets heavy fast, so consider MultiMedia Art Board. Here is a video on mounting canvas to board.

Other adhesives:

Grafix Cold Mounting Adhesive

Acrylic Gloss or Matte Medium, Acid Free PVA Glue, Miracle Muck


If you are traveling with painting panels, you need a good way to travel with them. Here are two brands that I think work equally as well. I have both. I use them every time I go painting. They pack well in your suitcase.



Joshua Been Panel Carriers.

Joshua Been Panel Carriers.


To make your own pochade boxes here are some links.

The first is a FOAMCORE pochade for your lap.


Foamcore pochade box:




• Start early. Pack about a week before the trip. Pack art supplies first, then figure out your wardrobe — comfy shoes, washable comfy clothes. Your pack should weigh about 20 percent of your body weight, preferably no more than 20 pounds. Pack light, wash frequently, buy it if you need it. You have to lug this stuff around. Try lugging your suitcase around for a day.

• I will be taking a carry-on size bag (9” x 21” x 13”) that I check in and a small backpack that I will carry on. Yes, airlines allow you more than this, but it seems I am lugging this stuff everywhere — through train stations, up and down stairs, up the stairs to my hotel room. Unless you are bringing a porter of your own, pack as if you will be carrying it all around all by yourself. You will. See Rick Steve’s guide for packing.
• Edit. Edit. Edit
• I put my oil paints and acrylics in the checked luggage. I used to carry them with me, and I prefer to do this, but it becomes harder and harder to carry on much that won’t get confiscated. I came close to having my art supplies confiscated on one trip. I carry my pastels on with me, and have them labeled CHALK. Please send comment on your experiences or opinions on this one.

We all want to take 700 pastel sticks and/or 30 tubes of paint. You can really get by with 60-120 pastels. Play with your palette before you leave. Edit it down. Pastels are darned heavy. Lighten up. You can always add more color when you get home. Paints – no more than 8 tubes. Simplify!!!! Easels: I’m taking a tripod and a pochade box.

• Paints are definitely in your CHECKED IN luggage. You CAN’T carry this on the plane. I put all of my paints in gasket sealed food containers. These are leakproof. You might even enclose that in a gallon sized plastic baggie.

• Painting supports. Hardboard panels are HEAVY. I strongly advise against them. 9×12 works well for my travel. This is the perfect size for my luggage. I can do larger paintings when I get home. I like to work on panels.  I use  MultiMedia Art board for most. It is VERY thin and lightweight, so it travels well and doesn’t take up much luggage space. Gatorboard also works well, but takes up more space. On a painting trip I want a dozen or so surfaces and I need all the luggage space. You can always mount it on hardboard when you get home. Or just back it with hardboard. I love this stuff. Sometimes I just prime the board. Sometimes I mount canvas on it. Or you can buy a pad of good quality canvas pads and mount the paintings when you get home. Or cut up some primed canvas and tape it to some foamcore or gatorboard.  Mount when you get home (caveat – canvas should be larger than you intend the finished work to be. I use Graphix cold mount to adhere my paintings. Some artists use a wet adhesive like Matte Medium, or Miracle Muck or PH neutral white glue. Using a wet adhesive will make your canvas shrink ever so slightly). Or, if you cut it large enough, you can stretch it when you get home.

• Pastel supports. I love Wallis paper, UArt 400,  or tinted Art Spectrum paper. I like paper. I can always mount it on something when I get home. I bring glassine and an envelope to hold the pastels. Clip them all together so that they don’t move. I pack them in my luggage. If you want a more solid support, use Art MultiMedia board. You can either paint pastel ground directly on to it, or mount your paper on it. Many artists use canvas and pastel paper mounted on gatorboard. This is lovely for a car trip, but if you are flying,  it takes up too much precious luggage space.
• Portable, packable easel
• Hats
• Sunscreen and bug spray.
• One pair of REALLY GOOD walking shoes.
• One pair of REALLY GOOD walking sandals (optional).
• One rainproof jacket
• One or two pairs of capris. Europeans tend to be a bit more formal than Americans, and I seldom see shorts. I don’t bring them.
• A couple of pairs of pants — you are artists — you can’t be too formal because you’ve got work to get done, but you also need clothes that are comfortable for museums and dinners out.
• 4-5 pairs of microfiber undies (pack a pair or two in your carryon)
• 1-2 extra bras
• 4-5 tops
• Maybe a cardigan for layering
• Pajamas/flip flops
• Toiletries, OTC medications, Prescription drugs (in original container with your name and your doctor’s name, write down generic name). PUT IN CARRYON!
• Camera (pack in carryon). For most of us, this is our phone and will just be in our camera
• Phone – check with your phone company to see what you need to do to make it work overseas.
• Body soap/puff (washcloth); most European hotels do not supply washcloths
• Toothbrush/toothpaste/floss
• Shampoo/conditioner
• Brush/comb
• Lotion
• Razor (non-electric)/shaving cream or soap (DO NOT pack in carryon)
• First aid kit/moleskin/blister kit
• Feminine hygiene products
• Deodorant
• Nail clippers/file/tweezers (NOT in you carryon)
• Spare glasses and/or prescription, mini-eyeglass repair kit, or contact lenses and supplies
• Hand sanitizer
• Vitamins
• Moneybelt: Passport, plane ticket, debit card, credit cards, driver’s license (if you’re renting a car)
• Security: Scan copies of your passport, prescriptions, credit cards, etc. Store the images in a secure cloud.

Make copies of all important papers and credit cards and leave at home. If something happens, you can call and someone can retrieve the info. Keep an extra copies in the cloud for you to retrieve.





  1. Jeanean Martin October 20, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    Hi Chris, I had to laugh when I saw Barb’s picture. She used to be “the worst packer” I will send her this link. Now I know why you were going to use her on the flyer. This information looks great. I will copy the link so that artist interested in taking the pastel class can see this information.

    Please send me a good photo (head shot) and a short bio. I know I know I can copy from the flyer but that would require actual typing. copy/paste much easier and assured of no mistakes. I want to add a paragraph on my webpage about you. Also send me a jpeg of one of the France paintings you have on the flyer. Your website is so secure I couldn’t steal anything. ha ha

  2. Jeanean Martin March 25, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    Hi Chris, what a INCREDIBLY educational and informative article. Thank you so much for taking the time to put this together. I am very impressed and will pass on to everyone I know who paints outdoors. Great stuff! Now I have to go and downsize

  3. Betty Smith March 2, 2016 at 8:15 pm #

    This article is awesome!! I’m planning a trip from Mississippi to Alaska this summer and will have 3 layovers, thus 3 opportunities for TSA to mess with my pastels. Would really rather not have to do that, but there’s just no way around it, I guess. I’m trying to decide whether it would be easier just to buy a set of landscape pastels and add from my boxes or just lug the 12.5+ lb. large Dakota box with me. That sucker is heavy when filled!!!! On a positive note, it has every single pastel I could hope for in the box, plus my charcoal sticks. I also have a backpack, but it won’t fit my pastels boxes. Any of them are just a hare short of fitting. It comes with these plastic cases which obviously were more suited for paints than pastels. I guess I could find some clear plastic boxes with separators, like tackle boxes, but then when TSA opens them, there’s no telling what kind of shape they’d be in. I’m more stressed out about getting my supplies to Alaska than anything else. Then it’s “lather, rinse, repeat” for the trip home. I wonder if I should just purchase a small set when I get there, but I’ve grown very accustomed to my nicer pastels and would really like to have them with me. Yikes! I can feel my blood pressure going up over this!!! I went to a workshop, my first one, actually, and because I had no idea what we’d be working on, I think I brought almost every pastel I own. And used only about 12. I won’t be able to return to AK easily to paint again, so it’s really important to me that I take the right pastels. The Alaska coastline is a bit rockier than in Oregon. Lots of snow capped peaks, lots of rivers… BEAUTIFUL sunrises and sunsets. I would love to be able to spend more than 2 weeks there, but that’s all I can do before going home. I really want to do some plein aire work there. Help!!!!

    • cwpaint March 3, 2016 at 2:16 am #

      Hi Betty. I can’t stress this enough. If you are going to be doing much hiking or walking, be as light as possible.

      I used a small cardboard pastel box. Hopefully, you saw that picture. You might even print out the color photo to give you a reference as you do your own packing. I also really like ArtBin’s Slimline case pencil boxes. I can fit most brands in those and they pack tightly. Make sure that you are only bringing 1/2 sticks. If you look at the “Packing Pastels” it was quite an editing process. You can layer colors to create the ones that you want so you really don’t need as many as you think. My hardest colors are dark and my softest colors are light. I also bring a small watercolor set for underpainting or to add more darks.

      If you look at I did all of those pastels with my little limited pastel box. One year I purchased a cheap set of Mungyo 48 1/2 sticks from Hobby Lobby for $9.98 and they worked great. Throw out the flourescent colors. Start experimenting now and you will figure out what you need. Label your pastel boxes CHALK PASTELS and tape a business card on the front. I have some small bungee cords. I bungee my boxes closes and put them in large baggies so that the dust doesn’t get on my clothes. I used 11×14 or 9×12 paper in the past. I’ll probably downsize to 9×12 or smaller. I keep those in baggies as well.

      I love my Easel Butler. It is lightweight and works on all of my various metal easels. I use a tripod easel. One year I just bought a very cheap, lightweight, Silverlight brand easel. I think it was $15 or less. It was great for a few trips.

      If you take too much stuff, it will be so heavy that you end up not carrying it around.

      Practice now. Pack. Carry things around. Make artwork and see if you can make new colors from a limited set. See this link:

      Good luck!!!

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