This morning Dianna Burns of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, asked about taking oil painting equipment and canvas overseas for an extensive trip. “While I’m used to dragging my oils around the country,” she says, “I’m not so sure what to drag out of the country.” Dianna paints large — all above 16 x 20 inches. She wanted to know about tacking canvas over plywood, rolling up for shipment back, and proper stretching later on. Oil is her game –she’s not about to do watercolours or acrylics.
Thanks, Dianna. Heading overseas is not like throwing everything in the old SUV. You have to think things out and pack carefully. Also, with the current terrorist paranoia, you have to make sure things don’t get turned around at airports — both coming and going. If you must have favourite pigments or palette knives with you, don’t take them as carry-ons. Pack them deep inside your checked suitcase. Buy bottles of oil and volatile spirits there. Never take spray cans on planes. Here are a few ideas:
You don’t really have to take a lot of stuff. Art materials are excellent on both sides of the puddle. There’s actually a benefit of buying there: While you may miss your comfort zone, you’ll be using stuff that may be slightly different than what you’re used to. This never hurts anyone. For those of us with practical interests in standard size pre-stretched canvases, you’ll find the Continental inches-metric difference. Tacking canvas over plywood just doesn’t cut it for those who cherish the “spring.” A sweet solution is to take along a few favourite stretcher bars — or buy them in England, if you happen to go there. You can get yourself a staple gun (with short staples) and stretch and pull off as you go.
A total of eight stretcher bars of four lengths bundle up nicely and can be used to make six different sizes. Consider a pair each of 16 inches, 20 inches, 24 inches and 36 inches. I recommend sauntering into a Paris or a Prague supplier and asking politely for a fresh roll of Belgian linen. Check the priming for cracks. Rolled too long, priming can have cracks. You’ll just love the fresh stuff.
When packing to come home, roll your canvases with the paint side outward, interleaved with blank newsprint. Don’t sign your work. Your own unfinished art is never dutiable. Give your leftover paints away. Abandon your staple gun.
PS: “My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” (Diane Arbus)
Esoterica: “One’s destination is never a place,” said Henry Miller, “but rather a new way of looking at things.” Mixing the familiar with the strange, foreign art-material stores are great places to start. Many of them can be found close to famous art schools. By the way, buy a giant, long-handle Hog’s Hair and a Rubens’ palette while you’re at it. Be prepared, and be prepared to stretch (no pun intended). Abroad, don’t push yourself. Most of us find new and enriched environments daunting and difficult to exploit every day. Undisciplined wandering is part of the travel game. “Not all who wander are lost.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Mounting canvas onto boards
by Bertram Lewis, NY, USA
When I travel, I often paint (in oil) on canvas sheets that come in pads, which I tape to foam core. It’s not quite the same as painting on stretched canvas but it is more resilient than painting against a hard surface like Masonite. When I return, I like to do my own framing. I’ve been experimenting with affixing the paintings to masonite or stretched canvas. I’ve been using PVA size as the adhesive. Any other suggestions?
(RG note) Thanks, Bertram. Excellent prepared mounting boards, both plain and cradled, in all sizes in plywood hardwood and composition can be had from ArtBoards of Brooklyn, New York. I like the ones prepared with heat-sensitive archival glue that can be warmed up in an ordinary kitchen oven and the canvas or other support laid down with a brayer. The process is eternally reversible by reheating.
Painting on Mylar
by Tom Bruce, Taos, NM, USA
I might suggest that instead of taking canvas, stretching, et al, that you take sheets of Mylar frosted on both sides. It makes an excellent and durable painting surface that can be quickly taped to a slightly larger masonite board. The finished painting can also be shipped back with minimal protection.
(RG note) Thanks, Tom. Unless you really love working on that surface, I wouldn’t recommend painting on Mylar. Many synthetic supports “release” traditional media after time. I don’t believe in giving unnecessary employment to conservators of the future. Traditional supports make for long term happiness.
Limitations challenge creativity
by Dena Crain, Kenya
Look on the Internet before you go so that when you arrive you can go straight to the supplier and make purchases without wasting time. Do purchase whatever you can in the new location. It’s good for local business, and it ensures that you will have what you need while you’re there. And it allows you to pack light! Carry with you only those tools and supplies that are your very favorites (irreplaceable in another venue) and those which are completely unattainable there. Carry brushes in carry-on baggage, in case your stored baggage gets lost – a much more common occurrence these days than is commonly appreciated. Palette knives, of course, go into checked baggage. Also, be prepared to do without some non-essential supplies. You CAN work with a limited selection of supplies, and that will challenge you to be more creative in your approach.
Nasty duties in France
by Ellie Clemens, France
I notice that you suggest interleaving blank newsprint with rolled paintings. Good luck on finding such a thing in Europe. I’ve been living in France for 4 years and have yet to find a supplier, local or mail order, French, German, English, or Belgian, that has newsprint. Also, in case someone reading this decides to send their art supplies to France by mail let me say “Don’t! Although they seem to be applied randomly and irrationally, French customs charges on artwork and art supplies are horrendous. An artist visiting a friend here recently sent her pochade box — not new, one she had used for years — and paid 90 euros import duties! When I moved to here I had one unframed watercolor sent to me and paid over a hundred euros in import duties. (Also paid over 50 euros for a box containing a pillow and a hammer but that’s another story!)
Chroma Archival Oils for travel
by Robert Bissett, Naples, ID, USA
On a recent trip to Costa Rica, after much research, I decided to take Chroma Archival oils, Lean medium and Smooth Gel medium, and their Solvent. The reason I settled on this brand… it will dry overnight when mixed with the media and the flash point for all, including the solvent, is high enough the airlines and TSA will permit it onboard. I packed with the MSDS for each product. I’ve also traveled with water soluble oils, but they take days to dry.
Gamblin oils for travel
by Sheila Psaledas, ME, USA
I traveled to Tuscany this summer for a painting vacation. I “settled” for using only travel safe mediums made from vegetable oil and nonflammable solvents. Instead of my usual canvas I packed small canvas panels that were lightweight. I also called the airline and asked them if these products were ok to travel with. I went online and printed out a manufacturer’s statement about the travel safety of these items. On the day before leaving, I packed my art materials and my pochade easel in one suitcase and my smaller suitcase of clothes and other necessities. I had these put through to go into the belly of the plane. I only carried on a backpack of a few more personal essentials with a sketching journal. The last thing I wanted was to have to lug a heavy suitcase full of art materials when I needed to change planes. Everything arrived safely. I painted smaller works and when it was time to return everything went back into the art suitcase. Returning home I examined my work and found some that I wanted to frame right way and some that I wanted to develop into larger pieces. All in all, it was a good experience and I’ll do it again the same way! Incidentally, I used Gamblin oils. They can be found online complete with nature friendly solvents and mediums, and a safety Flashpoint statement from the manufacturer that I printed out and placed right on top of my art supplies, in case the suitcase were opened in passage. I also carried a copy of the statement, again, just in case.
Thumbtack the canvas down
by Maria Mask, Ottawa, ON, Canada
When I travel I use thumbtacks to fasten my canvas onto the stretcher bars. They are easy to fasten and remove and save the bother of a staple gun and staples. Even at home I use tacks when doing studies as I won’t pretend everything will turn out and this is much simpler than removing a stapled-on canvas and allows me to re-use the stretcher bars when something needs to be discarded.
by Helen Opie, Granville Ferry, NS, Canada
How about forget the staple gun and stretch (more loosely) with thumbtacks or push pins? I take oil sticks: no solvent, no leakage; they don’t alarm baggage-checkers. One can always paint over for more detail or colour back home. I like to use Multimedia Artboard (formerly non-buckling painting board) available from Dick Blick and others, sandwiched between two pieces of foam core, as it is really brittle. I mount it when I get home, and don’t tend to work large when away… but I would if I were staying for months, not days. It is so thin about 4 or 6 of them = 1/8 inch. It comes in sizes up to 30″x 40″ bigger than you probably need. It will not bend!!
Packing and shipping
by Lois Jackson, Corinth, VT, USA
Flying out of Canada may be a bit different from flying from the US. On a recent sojourn to take some courses in London, I carefully boxed my necessary art supplies (padded by a few extra clothes) and shipped them to myself about 3 weeks before my trip was due to commence. I packed my brushes in my carry-on, which was my only luggage. I had paid the USPS $40 extra to ensure shipping by air, but the postal clerk had not followed the correct procedures for air shipment, so my package of palettes, paints and other necessary equipment went by slow boat and never caught up with me. It was a salutary lesson in how little I can actually get away with when I go abroad to paint. I remembered that most of the paint and pigment manufacturers are European, and that I was ‘carrying coals to Newcastle.’ The same goes for papers. In London, I found Green & Stone, Daler, Rowney and other fabulous art supply shops, as well as some specialty paper stores where I found wonderful stuff that never makes it to the US. Never pack your brushes to ship (nor I would say even in checked baggage) and don’t cart all of your brushes around with you. Select a few and leave the rest at home. Now, even when I fly within the US, I take a lot less with me. On occasion, it pays to step out of the comfort zone of taking it all along. Part of the adventure of travel is what you find at your destination.
Method of dealing with metric
by Pixie Glore, Spain
I’m an ex-pat (USA) living in Spain. I spent a whole year painting in Provence, France three years ago and then again in the fall of 2006. I buy my stretcher bars in Europe in two sizes which suit me and correspond closely to US standard sizes. You can bring your paints in your checked luggage, but no solvents. Sometimes the art supply stores are small and don’t carry much, so it’s important to bring your favorite indispensable colors. In a bigger city you can find some really fun colors. It’s a lot cheaper to buy paints in the States right now with the dollar hovering around $l.40 to the Euro. Europe has lots of good quality canvas both primed and un-primed; I prefer the primed while on the road. I always bring my prized sable brushes in my carry on luggage. Be sure to mark at least where the corners of the stretcher bars are on the back with a marker for easy re-stretching. When you get back you can order stretcher bars for all your canvases from Upper Canada Stretchers in metric sizes. I like to stay in camp grounds in the summer and hang my canvases on a clothes line to dry. You can rent small cabins in almost all the camp grounds for much less than staying in a hotel and you have a rare commodity in Europe–space. The camp grounds are close to all the popular places and are very secure with shuttles or busses available to the attractions. They’re also not so picky about the mess you make. I roll my canvases for the return trip and put them in the bottom of my suitcase. For bigger canvases, I buy an “equipment” duffel of some sort. I also don’t sign until I get home just in-case.
(RG note) Thank, Pixie. In former times I rigged a drying line from the Volkswagen bus to a tree. In a dusty campground in Greece my oils were hung inside the VW and we slept outside in the dust. That was during the oil age.
The pain of oils
by Paula Walden, Anguilla
I have painted in Italy, France and England with oils and now am in Hawaii and using acrylics. Painting with oils is a pain. I have tried water-based oil but still a problem with drying. I have had so many problems storing, traveling with and shipping my oils. One time painting on the beach on the Amalfi coast a bus load of tourists stopped and several people loved my paintings and would have bought but the paintings were wet! You can buy exquisite oil paints and brushes in Europe for much less than in North America so don’t take paint with you. Linen is also much better in Europe. So this trip I took acrylics, some medium to keep it wet a bit longer and I having a most interesting time learning a new medium. Not that much different and I have dry finished paintings to roll up or sell. I buy a cork tack board, take along my portable easel and some tacks, but then I don’t mind the solid surface and I paint 11″x 14″ more or less. Cork boards cost about $4 so not a big expense. When I get home and want to repaint some of them into oils I will do that in my studio. If you use the disposable paper palettes they are hard to find in Europe so take one with you. The stretcher bars is also a good idea.
One with the locals
by Ellie Harold, Norcross, GA, USA
As an American abroad, I’ve always enjoyed visiting my husband’s childhood haunts in a seaside village on the Cornwall coast. When I started painting, however, our visits to Boscastle took on a new dimension. The villagers would stop by to check on my progress and freely shared their opinions as to whether I’d captured the scene to their liking. I no longer felt like a tourist but part of the scene itself, so much so that, believing I belonged there, many tourists stopped to snap my photo. I like the experience of living in a place for as long as I’m there, and that means not intending to exploit the environment, but to somehow become a part of it. This is often a challenge to do this in the face of time limitations and the greedy self that wants to take all those gorgeous vistas home with me.
Hot climate travel
by Margie Guyot, Farmington, MI, USA
If you’re traveling in Mexico, Central or South America, be aware that it is next to impossible to buy turpentine! If you’re lucky, you might find an art store in a large city. I recommend switching to water-soluble oils when traveling to these areas. As for painting surfaces, I cut pieces of primed canvas and bring along several pieces of foamcore or thin Gatorboard, plus a roll of masking tape. Just tape the canvas to the board. When dry, pull off and tape a new, blank canvas to the board. You can get quite a number of paintings stacked up in a small space this way. It works especially well if you are painting with alkyds, which dry relatively quickly. Another tip: use alkyd white instead of regular white. It works well with “regular” oil paints and dries a lot faster. Painting rather thinly helps, too. Don’t think you can wrap a wet oil painting in Glad Wrap and expect it to look good when you arrive home! I always check my oil paint colors in my baggage, not my carry-on. If you’re using a small paint box (such as the Open-M), wrap it in towels or sweaters. I’ve had damage happen even inside my checked luggage. And don’t forget your hat!
Homeland Security Act
by Donna Marshall, Belize, Central America
Here in Belize there are no proper art supply stores. Since the Homeland Security Act it is against the law to mail or transport on planes (even in checked luggage) any oil based paints. So I cannot have my sister mail me oils nor bring them back here from a visit to the States on the plane. The only way is to buy them here or transport them by ground transport. I have had some watercolors sent to me — thank goodness. But I have had to curtail my desire to get back into oil paints because of this idiocy! It is not practical to buy a whole set of oil paints at your destination and then what when you return home.
Research gave best approach
by James LeClare, Powell River, BC, Canada
As I have been traveling in Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Thailand and Singapore I gathered information on travel restrictions from each of these countries. After exhaustive research I found that the best approach was to take my pigments, brushes and knives with me and purchase everything else there. I did however pack 3 12×16-inch boards with me to ensure a start. I was advised by several airlines that the transportation of the pigments was not a problem so long as you call them “Artist Colours” if queried and yes, of course nothing in carry-on. I found it quite easy to purchase supplies in Europe and was delighted at the range of selection. I mailed home my works which proved effective although a little pricey as I left all the canvases intact. I decided that I would also use a little cobalt driers in my medium to aid the drying process and add some peace of mind in regards to smearing etc.
It’s a Good Year
oil on canvas by artist
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes James Rizzo of Millington, NJ, USA who wrote, “Rather than newsprint to interleave, I would suggest wax paper.”
And also Gordon France of La Grange, IL, USA who wrote, “As an alternative to loose canvas, consider thin, lightweight canvas panels.”
And also Louise Bunn of Canada who wrote, “When in London, one must visit Cornellison’s. It is a wonderful art materials shop that looks like an antique apothecary. It’s not far from the British Museum.”
And also Angela Treat Lyon of Kailua, HI, USA who wrote, “You can get awesome oil paints in Italy – don’t even think about taking any there!”
And also Dr P.V. Ramachandran of Kozhikode, India who wrote, “Having been one of your readers for the last 3 years, I am sending you and your dear ones an invitation to my daughter’s wedding in Ashirwad Lawns, Eranhipalam, Kozhikode on Sunday, 18th November, 2007.”
(RG note) Thanks, P.V. Thanks so much. 280,000 subscribers will be there, but many cannot make it and send their regrets. We all sincerely wish Pryiamvada and Jose the greatest of happiness.
Enjoy the past comments below for The flying artist…