Saturday, July 9, 2011

Packing Art Supplies

Ironclad Rule in Packing Art Supplies: Do not put any pastels set or pastels box in checked baggage. I've been warned by every professional pastelist I know on WetCanvas not to put pastels into checked luggage. Period.

You don't want to spend hundreds of dollars, treasure it and have it with you for the upcoming workshop or your comeback in your favorite city ever, only to open that up and look at a box of unsortable multicolored dust. Shake it once and you have a box of expensive mixed gray dust you can make hand-rolled homemade neutral pastels with.

What that leaves is shipping them on ahead to your hotel or new home by UPS or FedEx with insurance, or taking your main pastel box on the plane as Carry On. I'd planned to do the latter with my Dakota Traveller, the cool plein air box with 275 half sticks assembled out of a lot of different sets. However, I found out from my airline that I'm allowed only one Carry On.

That would be the attractive long haired Siamese cat in the picture. He gets to fly in the cabin, looking up at me from under the seat in front and grumbling because he has to wear his harness and leash. He hates collars, so he gets the leather chat vest and leash. This is so that I can carry him through the airport scanner. If he struggles free while the carrier goes through scan empty, it's a minute of comedy as he slithers around grumbling about being on the leash. Not the hour long high-speed cat chase throughout the airport.

Buy an umbrella and it won't rain. He'll probably relax and accept all the attention he gets for his good looks without a single mew. I'm prepared though.

He's not art supplies but he's my favorite model and my personal Muse. So I'm left with what supplies I can carry on me in my Personal Item - briefcase, laptop bag or woman's purse. I'm using a Just Stow It art bag with a lot of separate small pockets that buckle because my new laptop won't fit in my old laptop bag and does fit in the cool art bag. I'll pack some Gallery Mungyo pastels into it along with a Canson mi-Tientes pad, so that if my UPS boxes get delayed or anything, I'll still have something to sketch my first impressions of the city with.

The biggest packing problem I had was a 200 color Winsor & Newton full range wood box set that I got on clearance. They're discontinued artist grade soft pastels with a medium texture like Rembrandt. I always wanted a big full range wood box set with a lot of colors and many tints per hue. It's that. It's beautiful. I haven't even used it yet, been saving it for a special occasion. I didn't review it on the other blog because it's discontinued, but if you see Winsor & Newton pastels on clearance, grab them. They're a steal at Clearance price and were good value at their normal price.

That's now sitting in the bottom of a big box that's half packed and already too large to move, with my Unison 72 color Starter set on top of it in its Signature aluminum case. More towels. The two drawer wood box with foam padding that I put in all the open stock W&N pastels I got for a dollar a stick in a Clearance grab bag. I really went wild on the W&N clearance sale. I think the padding on the wood box is good enough to let them travel UPS, but I'm seriously thinking of taking some of the big sets out and filling half the box with throw pillows for added protection along with all the bubble wrap I can scrounge.

I saved the cardboard box for my 120 color Derwent Artists colored pencils set. That's going to help keep the finish on the box. It's got to go into another box, keeping colored pencils and pastels separate might be a good idea for both weight and organization. Moving an entire studio, it's good to sort box contents by medium. Bedding, towels and spare clothes make economical padding.

Colored pencils in leather Global Classic elastic band cases might survive being in checked luggage. Those cases are very sturdy, they've survived drops and being banged around in various ways including getting thrown off the bed by a skidding cat. So think about the packaging your supplies are in.

Colored pencil tins are not a good way to pack them for travel, especially Prismacolor. Pencils jump out of their slots and all rattle to the bottom, then rattle the other way if the suitcase is tossed or the box gets tossed. So if you haven't gotten an elastic band case for your fragile artist grade pencils, open the tin and tape across all the pencils, taping them to the tray. Then pad the box around the tray to further cushion it.

Pastel pencils are the most vulnerable. They get internal breakage if you drop one on the desk. So keep those in elastic band cases and ship by UPS.

Paint sets are usually a lot more durable. As long as they're packed well, the tubes probably won't explode and wreck everything. Be sure to remove any bottles of mediums from the set and ship those separately with plenty of padding, along with any spray cans of fixative or thinner. Do not take flammable chemistry on a plane. Linseed oil doesn't count as flammable, that's an artist grade salad oil that won't create explosive fumes if it's opened. Any turpentine or turpentine substitute or damar varnish or any other medium with turpentine in it, goes in the box with the spray cans and the box needs to be marked as flammable and fragile.

My American Airlines booking agent suggested to me that I should put all the pens and loose pencils from my pockets into a zip lock bag, for easy de-pocketing to put in the tray at the scanner. Made sense to me. She didn't think paint brushes and pens would be a problem, but make sure you don't have any razor blades or art knives in your carry on. Those can go in checked luggage. I guess they trust baggage handlers not to search all the suitcases for the odd box of mat cutter blades or pocket knife to commit violence.

If you're moving by UPS/FedEx like I am, make an inventory list of everything in each box of art supplies. Label that box clearly. This will help you estimate how much insurance to buy on the box. It'll also help loads in unpacking, especially if you really need a watercolor set and the watercolor paper box. Then you won't unpack every one of your pastels and colored pencils and oils before you get to it. Keeping one medium per box is good too.

In a moving van, pack those boxes carefully yourself in a way that nothing heavy winds up on top of them and they can't bang around. Buttressing them with sofa cushions, pillows and other bulky soft stuff helps. Do not trust non-artist family members to load-unload art supplies unless you know they're very careful with breakables. If so, tell them it's as fragile as fine china.

I've spent a week packing as much as I can and taken a rough inventory of my studio. I think it'll go in less than a dozen boxes, though I've run out of cardboard boxes and need to get more. I've also got far more empty suitcases than I can carry in two checked bags, so I'll have to decide which ones are the checked bags and which ones will get packed, then stuck in boxes and shipped UPS.

For relocation, I'm prioritizing everything I own on a scale of 1 to 5 as I pack it into boxes. Priority 1 boxes ship immediately, since I have a friend willing to accept them who's driving me the last leg of the trip. Otherwise I'd be sending them to start arriving the day after I do. Priority 5 go into deep storage with my family until I earn enough to move into a larger space in an apartment share. Everything in between gets shipped out as I send for it.

My beloved collection of five large framed artworks are outside of the system. They're on loan to my daughter till I have space to hang them and I'll order a box of six reusable double-constructed framed art shipping crates sent to her as soon as I'm earning. She can enjoy them in her house till I have the wall space to display them.

Another way to bring framed art that I may use for smaller pieces is to remove them from the frames, pack them in foam board and glassine as if I was selling them and pack all the frames into a box. These are the smaller frames with acrylic glazing so I can just pack them in with the unused frames. They're good frames, I got them on Clearance, but if I lose one or two they're more replaceable than the art that's in them. I'll wrap them since I no longer have their original cardboard corner protectors.

Still life objects if fragile get packed with kraft paper or paper towels or newspaper like any cups, vases, other breakables. Stones and shells, more durable ones, got sorted into their own storage boxes a long time ago so those will be tucked in with other stuff.

Pens, pencils, tools and anything small like erasers get put in plastic Sterilite tubs by where I had them stored. That's probably where my mat cutter blades and razor blades should go, since my art knife already wound up in one. I filled one with the contents of the small drawers on the right of my drafting table and have another one I can use for the left side drawers and most of the carousel. The pencil carousel needs to go in its own box, nothing in it, padding stuffed around it that can be clothes.

While I set out to pack my studio first, the need for padding is starting to cut into all the soft squashy things that need to be packed. Extra pillows, blankets, towels, clothes are all great padding material unless it's something that needs to be ironed. I'm a guy living casual. I stopped buying clothes that needed to be ironed a long time ago, but this would apply to anyone. Or just pack laundry around them if it's something you don't want to wear when it's rumpled.

If it can leak or squirt, put it in a zip lock bag so that one accident won't wreck everything else in the box.

It's a monumental task, but some common sense and planning can get my studio to San Francisco intact with a minimum of replacements needed. I wanted to finish that stage of packing last week, but I only got through half of it due to back trouble, mobility limits and chronic fatigue. The up side is that I'll be packing a lot of the rest along the way just to keep it safe.

What goes in my carry on and remains available to me for the rest of the month will mostly be plein air supplies. Small pocket sets of Conte crayons, oil pastels, watercolors and brush pens can fit in my khaki fisherman's vest and my Just Stow It bag. Tonight I'll be weighing that with the laptop and netbook in it, then carefully packing that till I have 20 pounds and no more in it. Together the cat bag and laptop bag have to be under 40lb, so if each of them comes in under 20 pounds I'll be good to go. Wish me luck on the rest of the packing!


  1. Lots of valuable tips here, Robert - especially the first one!

  2. Thank you! That didn't originate from me - it came separately from a good half dozen prominent pastelists who went to IAPS this year flying with pastels. Everyone was used to flying with pastels. If I wasn't flying with cat and laptop, I'd just be carrying the Dakota Traveler as my carry on.

    In fact, give me two years and get the business off the ground, I probably will when I go to IAPS in 2013! Wish me luck on that!