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Traveling by air with precious pastels can be a problem. Even the strongest pastel case in the hands of someone unfamiliar with their fragile
nature can lead to a disaster. Even when buried inside a large suitcase, surrounded with clothing as padding, the pastel case could still not always hold up to rough handling.
So I carry it on the plane now, keeping it in my possession at all times. And, having frequently traveled by air with pastels, I have a few tips that might make your experience less stressful:
Most airlines allow a carry-on bag and one personal item (similar to a woman’s purse). Consider the size and weight when choosing these. Remember, you will be carrying them at all times. What seems a manageable weight to carry from your studio to the car can become unbearable when you’re racing from one end of the airport to the other. Your carry-ons will also have to fit in the overhead bin or under your seat and, depending on the airplane, this can be a problem. The largest pastel case I use fits into a 17-inch laptop computer bag. The smallest case fits a 12-inch laptop bag. (My backpack-size Heilman pastel box is shown in the photo, along with my laptop shoulder bag.)
We often believe we need more pastels than we really do, so try to downsize: If you have a short flight, opt for the larger bag. If the flight is long, with connections, utilize the smaller bag. An added benefit of the computer shoulder bag is the ability to pack additional items in it, such as a few sheets of pastel paper. That way, if your checked luggage is lost or delayed, you’ll still have the bare essentials needed to paint for a few days. The laptop bag also protects the pastel case and makes it easier to handle.
Be prepared to have your pastel case inspected when going through security. This is a good reason to arrive early to the airport. When X-rayed, the contents of the case look very suspicious. The more we travel with our pastels, the more they become recognizable. It’s always a pleasant surprise when the officer just smiles and says, “must be an artist,” and waves me through. Even though this is happening more frequently, it’s still best to be prepared for inspection. Since we’re not allowed to open the “suspicious” case, make it as accessible as possible. Inform them that it is “art supplies” and use the word “chalk” along with “pastel” when describing the contents. We all hate to refer to our pigment pastels as chalks but the general public knows what a “chalk” stick is, and is not always familiar with the term “pastel.” Make sure to mention that they’re very fragile, quite messy, and that the case must be opened flat. Since I expect them to open the case, I make sure it is clean; there’s nothing more irritating to the official than a mess of pastel fragments and dust contaminating the inspection area.
Traveling with a lightweight portable pastel case and being prepared to have it inspected will make for a far more pleasant experience when next you venture out, pastels in hand.
Richard McKinley is an artist, workshop instructor and regular columnist for The Pastel Journal. To send him your pastel questions, email the magazine at [email protected] with “Pastel Pointers” in the subject line of your email.