Packing Art Supplies for Travel

An artist rarely travels without their art supplies, but some need to travel with more than others.  While I dream of the days of simply carrying a few pens, a nice watercolor sketchbook, and a small field set, the reality of my traveling demands I bring much more. 

 This tutorial was put together when I was packing to return to Louisiana for Christmas.  For this trip, I needed to bring a lot of supplies- stretcher boards for watercolor comic pages, watercolor comic pages, watercolors and supplies, inking supplies, pages with bluelines for the inks, and a selection of my Copics.  This meant I needed to do some careful planning when packing my bags, as over the years I've had to sacrifice a lot of expensive art supplies to the TSA gods.  FOREWARNING:  Even if YOU pack carefully, if an agent goes through your bag and just shoves stuff back in there, you will probably still lose supplies.  This has happened to me.  I'm not really sure what you can do to prepare for someone else's lack of concern besides contacting the airport for damages and filing a complaint.

When packing my supplies, I try to plan for the two options in luggage: Carryon and Checked.

  • has a size limit but not a weight limit
  • is only handled by me, so I know the supplies will arrive ok
  • can't have liquids more than 3 oz
  • pressurized cabin
  • 2 bags- one personal bag and one carryon.  The personal bag can include backpacks.

  • Has a weight limit (50 lbs per bag, 2 bags limit usually)
  • Can be carried in a much larger bag
  • Tends to be roughhoused 
  • Non pressurized storage
  • Can bring liquids greater than 3 oz
  • Unless you fly Southwest, checking bags starts at $25 a bag for MOST airlines

Packing My Bags

 The majority of my supplies were packed in my large checked bag, an inexpensive Swiss Army bag from Target that I bought for my trip to Japan.  This bag has seen a lot of conventions, and is starting to show its age, but it isn't falling apart yet.  I like it because it's fairly bare bones and I can fit a lot of supplies in there.

Packing for travel isn't too different from packing for conventions, save for the fact that I get to leave the heavy table setup at home.  For this trip, I sandwiched my precious comic pages and commission work between my two stretcher boards (just cheap lapboards, really) to keep the pages save during travel.

Top of the sandwich.

 My watercolor supplies are stowed in a somewhat structured zip top bag.  Palettes, watercups, and brushs all go into this bag.  This keeps them secured in one place, rather than scattered all over my bag.

 During the Christmas excursion, I had a marker commission to work on, so I packed some of my Copics in a plastic craft box.  Taping your containers with blue tape before travel helps your supplies stay where you put them.

NOT SHOWN:  Me cramming clothes around my art supplies to provide padding for when this heavy bag gets tossed onto (and inevitably falls from) the luggage heap at the airport.

If you travel a lot, investing in a small luggage scale is smart, as overage fees usually cost more than the scale itself.  I enlisted the help of someone with more upper arm strength than I have to do the heavy lifting.


I had two carry on bags- a smallish orange roller bag containing the rest of my clothes, Christmas presents, and toiletries and my laptop bag containing my laptop, tablet, sketching tools, and my sketchbooks.


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