View Full Version : Pastels vs. airport security

09-22-2004, 10:28 PM
Maggie Price, in her workshop in California, TOLD us the difficulty of pastels being screened: they are perceived as bullet-shaped 'objects of interest' when x-rayed. She also rightly said the screeners just dump them back at you-despite your careful packing of them in order to protect them- when they determine you are 'okay'!
Does anyone have advice on how to travel on airlines with our Pastels???? I mean, beyond obviously packing them securely so that they do not break or smudge each other-
I am all ears-
Rtistk :wave:

Paula Ford
09-22-2004, 10:46 PM
What a great topic!! Never had to travel with my pastels, but plan to. Looking forward to hearing what other artists have to say about this extremely important issue!! Thank you for posting it.


Kitty Wallis
09-22-2004, 10:50 PM
I carry them on in a box that doesn't leak dust and fits their over head bins. I've had inspectors smile at me and ask: Artist? Others get confused and one asked to look inside. Usually no problem. Of course, mine are hand made and more turd shaped than bullet shaped :) And the box is paint stained and I'm a grey-haired woman.

09-22-2004, 11:05 PM
I flew with my supplies in a sturdy carry on case to a workshop. It passed through inspection without any problems,,,on the return trip I checked the case and it made it home without a single stick being broken. I have been advised the check with the FAA website for a list of prohibited items.....for instance..... no razor blades or fixaitive. Ditto on the question. "Artist?"

Kathryn Wilson
09-22-2004, 11:17 PM
It depends on who you get - I would not check my pastels. Those gorillas throw things!!! During the security check, I had all kinds of personnel giving me looks - like, what have we here? The first time through, the guy looked every pastel stick - took 1/2 hour. The other airports the guards were more savvy and knew what they were. What you don't want to do is interrupt or grab or tell them anything other than what they want to hear.

09-23-2004, 03:30 AM
I travel quite a bit with my pastels. If I take them in my hand-luggage, I am almost inevitably stopped, and have to open the box to show them the contents.

So to avoid that aggravation I now pack my box in my suitcase. I try to be fairly frugal these days ... I do not believe, any more, in travelling by air with hundreds of pastels. I now take a watercolour kit, and a smallish kit of pastels, and when I work on the spot, I work smallish too, and do an underpainting with pastel work on the top. If it needs more work at home, I can do that easily enough. But a small kit of pastels is fine.

I learned a lesson when I travelled once with a group of really good professionals. There is no hard and fast rule. One chap took the kitchen sink with him - big trays of pastels, huge boards, and he did massive pics on the spot. He sold a couple of them at the show later, but not all of them. Another took the tiniest kit I have ever seen, just a W&N baby watercolour set, a pot of white gouache, and a cut-down paintbrush. And a sketchbook. In a plastic carrier bag. He produced the most wonderful small images, every one of which sold at the subsequent exhibition.

You have to work with what suits you. Taking your entire studio with you does not mean you will produce a better pic tho.


09-23-2004, 08:55 AM
This is such a good question!

Last October, I traveled to Jamaica with two boxes of pastels. I had made them out of rigid foam core and put foam on the inside to cushion the pastels. I had velcro to fasten the top and a ribbon glued to the outside and to tie around the whole thing. I also had large rubber bands (the kind for folders) around each box in both directions. I also wrote on the outside "fragile, artist pastel sticks". I packed one in each of our checked luggage. Oh yeah, I also put each one in a white plastic bag with a twist tie on it to keep any pastel dust from getting on the clothes.

Needless to say, one of my pieces of luggage was marked for opening and inspection and they opened the pastel box -- but did close it and it made it through with minimal breakage -- some did break. On the return trip home, the same thing -- they happened to open the other piece of luggage -- and this time (when I opened it at home), there were many broken and crushed pieces in one box -- many of my beloved Terry Ludwig pastels too!!!

Next time I will try carrying them on the plane instead. I think it really just depends upon whom you happen to get -- either way -- carry on or checked. I think there is probably a better likelihood of some getting broken if you put them in checked luggage.

I am trying to pare my number down and also am trying to learn some watercolor -- to do like Jackie talks about. And I also work small -- most are in the 12x16 or smaller size.

Thanks for asking -- looking forward to more ideas!

09-23-2004, 01:41 PM
I flew to France from the UK and back last week, taking my new Heilman 'backpack' pastel box, which has firm wooden dividers which latch into place, wedging all my pastels so that they don't move. It's easy to take as carry-on and isn't heavy, and I didn't want to leave the box inside my check-in luggage because I couldn't bear the thought of someone else opening up my bag when I wasn't there to check that they fastened it properly again, though I don't know how often that happens. On both journeys my box was stopped as it went through the scanner and I was asked to open it up so they could have a look, because, as the guy on the English side said (quite apologetically), 'It's just because we don't know what it is!' I told them that it was pastels and opened it up to show them (they made me open both sides just to be sure) but they didn't rummage around or anything. On the French side they were very matter-of-fact about it and again, I had no trouble, just had to open the box for a quick check. Thankfully the latches on the Heilman box hold everything securely in place, so I knew all my colours would be safe when I fastened it again. I was very nervous about the whole prospect before I travelled but now I've done it once, I will feel confident about taking my pastels with me on future flights. I think, though, that you may have more of a problem with airport checks in the US, as they're becoming much more rigorous and frankly unpleasant.

09-23-2004, 10:10 PM
I traveled cross-country last spring with my Richeson folding case, with duct tape around it because the latches don't hold the sides quite closed, as carry on. From San Francisco, no problem, it sailed right through security after I told them what it contained and that they were very fragile. Coming back from Raleigh, the security person seemed to have no idea what pastels are, and had me open the whole thing up--still seemed mystified, but he let them through. They were packed with foam and small bubble wrap, and I had no more problem with breakage than walking across campus with it!

I don't recommend using duct tape on a wooden box tho--made a gooey mess, and pulled a couple of splinters of wood off the case!

09-23-2004, 10:23 PM
I had mine packed in a box centered and surrounded by clothing on all sides, inside the suitcase- checked- and had no problems with it. They seemed a whole lot more interested in the batteries and charger for the camera. Go figure.

09-26-2004, 11:32 AM
I had my box of oil pastels opened ... upside down! What a mess. Next time I will put "This Side Up" on the box (which btw is transparent- you can clearly see what's inside).

10-05-2004, 05:30 PM
I travel extensively with work and have recently (since last Jan-04) stating painting with pastels. I travel with my pastels always. It is a perfect travel art medium Ö portable, dry (no liquids), can store it in hotel room without mess or smell (... well with less mess than oil paints). Although I never travel with fixative (itís flammable).

With that in mind, my pastels almost always get the extra scrutiny of our well trained and educated (HA!) TSA staff. I have learned:

[1] I pack my pastels carefully Ö I use the original box and foam holders.

[2] I carry-on the pastels because I do not want the gorillas in baggage handling crushing my sticks into powder.

[3] I remove my pastels from the carry-on bag and send them through the x-ray machine separately (like a laptop). I have been told the pastels x-ray very dark and suspicious looking. I can get though airport security with minimal time (not any longer than w/o my pastels). :clap:

[4] I do trim down the total stuff to fit within a carry-on bag. This is the biggest challenge.

Katherine T
10-09-2004, 12:41 PM
I've travelled by air with pastels for some years and usually get stopped by security. I travel with them in my carry on case as I can always replace clothes which go missing but it does seem a bit silly to be on a painting trip with no pastels! I also can't face the thought of having to replace them all in one go!

I take my Unison Pastels with me (some 12 boxes) and keep them in their original boxes. I make sure they're very snug and secure when in the case but very easy to access when asked to unpack them (ie the box lids come straight off). I also find that telling the security people that I'm a painter and that the things they're interested in are pastels helps too. Also having a few other art type items in the case helps to persuade you;re not really a terroritst disguised as a artist. By the time they get to my freshly cleaned boxes of Unisons they're agog with interest and very happy to chat about what I do/paint etc. :)

This summer, I left the pastels at home and took my coloured pencils instead (mainly Karisma) in Derwent pencil wraps - again in my carry on case. I use these on Canson paper, they layer and scumble wonderfully and I get very painterly pastel type results. The other advantage of coloured pencils is that they're so much lighter.

And when I get home, I get to have a go at reproducing the paintings I like best as pastel paintings. :clap: