"Me and my sweet ride, back in 2012..."
I am constantly asked what is the best way to fly with oil paint, mediums, and solvents. Here is what you must do to keep your paint from being impounded…
Important: While the following advice conforms to TSA’s present rules and regulations it is still possible to have your paint seized if you pack it incorrectly or act inappropriately. Also, since what the TSA allows seems to change on a regular basis I recommend that you call the airline you plan to fly prior to your trip...
• First and foremost, if an airport security person at any point asks "What are these?" do not say oil paints. Oil and Paint are hot button words for the TSA. Even water-based acrylics and watercolors have been impounded because they have were identified as "paints" by an artist. So if asked, politely inform the security representative that they are "Artists’ Colors”.
• Technically, you should be able to carry-on your 'artist colors' but it is unwise to try. It is better to check them in your luggage. Specific instruction for how to do so can be found below.
• Please Note: The US Department of Transportation defines "flammable liquids" as anything with a flash point of 140º F or below. (60º C)
• Every manufacturer should post a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) online for each color they sell. Sometimes they provide one MSDS sheet per color, sometimes one sheet encompasses range of colors. You will find MSDS sheets by visiting the manufacturer's website. If a manufacture fails to provide one then reconsider no longer using that product. Lack of a MSDS sheet often mean something is being concealed from the general public. Never a good thing with art materials.
After you have printed out MSDS sheets for all your colors
follow these instructions exactly:
• Wrap the paint tubes in a way the bottom corners will not puncture other tubes around it. I also recommend packing your tubes in a tupperware-like container with leak-proof lid so that if one does get punctured nothing else in your suitcase will be ruined. Packing your paint carefully will engender goodwill from the TSA agent that will inspect your luggage. And a TSA agent will open and inspect your suitcase once the tubes appear on the scanner.
• Using a bright yellow highlighter, call out the manufacturer’s contact information, the flashpoint of the paint, and where the manufacturer clearly states the artist color is vegetable oil based and is not hazardous. Most MSDS sheets will list the flashpoint for their oil paint as 550º F or higher. Well above TSA’s safety threshold.
• Staple the sheets together neatly. If you have a business card, staple it to the top sheet or write your name and cell number at the top. I’ve never received a call en route but you never know.
• Lay the document on top of your artist colors in your suitcase in a way the TSA agent will immediately see it. Again, if you make it easy for them they will make it easy for you.
Mediums and Solvents:
DO NOT attempt to carry-on any liquid mediums or solvents and do not pack them inside your checked luggage. Just don’t. No mineral spirits, turpentine, or linseed oil can be guaranteed to make it past the TSA. From my experience, it is the liquidity that is the concern. (Gel mediums in a tube are viewed differently.) The TSA always errs on the side of caution so if you attempt to fly with liquids mediums you may trigger a more critical look at your paint. Instead, check the internet to see if what you want can be purchased at your destination. If not, you can ship such mediums ahead, although it can be expensive and take a while. Or learn to paint without.
IMPORTANT: Do not attempt to carry on a palette knife. It will set off the metal detector and be impounded. Ask me how I know. The only thing a TSA agent will hear after the alarm goes off is “Knife! Knife!” So pack it in your luggage with the paint.
IMPORTANT: Wipe all the paint crud out of your empty solvent container. It doesn’t need to be squeeky-clean but there shouldn’t be anything that looks suspicious inside. Before I fly, I pull the screen out of my Holbein brush washer, wipe it with a rag, and let everything dry overnight. Then I stuff the parts into a clean zip-lock bag with the lid off so the TSA agent can easily see there is nothing else inside.
And finally, if you are approached by TSA about something...
Keep your cool because if you followed these instructions you are not doing anything illegal. Don’t hassle them for stopping you because they have an important job to do. Again, present the MSDS sheets and explain how you are going on a painting holiday. Stress the holiday aspect. You can try to argue with the TSA but you will not win. The agents are given wide discretion in deciding what is and isn't allowed on the plane so your best strategy is to be prepared, look professional, and remain non-threatening.
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