Friday, December 31, 2010


It’s probably not a great idea to change oil painting medium for a trip. Having said that, some oil painting mediums just won’t fly. Here’s what I mean: Flammable liquids (defined for airline purposes as any liquid with a flash point below 141 degrees) are prohibited in your carry-on and checked luggage.

It’s perfectly possible to paint with just the oil paint and no medium at all. But if you’re accustomed to painting with medium, you might want to match, as closely as possible, the working properties of the medium you are accustomed to using. You might want to bring medium to alter working properties, speed or slow drying time, or affect the final look of the paint after it is dry. There are many mediums on the market, all with their special properties. Some of them will be possible to bring in your luggage on an airplane. Others you might be able to purchase at your destination.

Generally for air travel it is nice to have your paintings as dry as possible before you transport them home, so it’s best to choose a medium with as short a drying time as possible, but still slow enough for you to complete your work on location. If you’re travelling to a cool climate, the only mediums that might be too quick would be something like Galkyd, which gets tacky pretty soon after leaving the bottle. If you are travelling to a hot desert, your paintings will dry pretty quickly, and you may not need any medium at all to speed the drying. For those of you joining me in MAUI, unless you will be in a damp area or you will be unable to leave your paintings in your car for drying, a moderately speedy medium is plenty quick. Unfortunately, in general the faster drying a medium is, the lower the flash point. That means that you cannot transport them on a plane. If you wish to work with a really fast-drying medium, you will probably have to purchase it at your destination.

SOLVENTS. If you are accustomed to starting your painting with paint thinned with solvent, you will need to either paint differently when you travel by air, or buy solvent when you reach your location, as nearly all solvents are not allowed in your luggage.

ALKYDS AND GELS. Alkyd Gels impart a particular working property to your paint that is very pleasant to work with outdoors. Most gels shorten drying time considerably. Liquin, with a flash point of 70 degrees is not flyable. Gamblin’s Neo Megilp, at 137 degrees, is barely not flyable. Seems like they should oughta fix that. Galkyd Gel (147 degrees) can fly. Liquid alkyds shorten drying time, increase the fluidity of your paint, and shorten drying time. Those with the shortest drying times are not flyable. Galkyd Slow Dry (147 degrees) is flyable, as is M. Graham’s Walnut/alkyd medium (215 degrees.)

DAMAR. Damar, and other varnish-type mediums are made with solvent, and are generally not flyable. You might be able to bring some of the components and purchase the solvent at your destination.

DRYING OILS. It is also possible to thin your paints with a drying oil (an oil that will oxidize into an oil paint film). This generally adds fluidity to your paint, and gloss to the final paint film. Generally, drying oils are flyable. For tropical locations, such as MAUI, the oil in your paint will be very fluid in the heat, and unless you are using the drier end of a tube of cadmium, for example, you probably don’t need to add oil to your paint to make it more fluid.

PACKING YOUR MEDIUM. Medium should travel in your checked luggage. It’s best to pack it in the manufacturer’s packaging. Whenever possible I pack unopened bottles, to prevent odors from escaping into the luggage. As with all liquids, surround it with tissue and pack in a ziplock bag in case pressure changes affect the package. Around this, I wrap the printed MSDS with the flash point highlighted.

Go to the manufacture’s web page.
Look for the Materials Safety Data Sheet. (And print it out for packing.)
Look on the sheet for the FLASH POINT.
If it is above 141 degrees, the medium is flyable.

SOME FLYABLE MEDIUMS AND OILS, from fastest drying to slowest drying:
Gamblin Galkyd Gel (147 degrees) (This medium becomes tacky pretty quickly in hot weather.)
Gamblin Galkyd Slow Dry (142 degrees)
M. Graham’s Walnut/Alkyd Medium (215 degrees)
Linseed oil
Safflower oil
Poppyseed oil
Walnut Oil

For those traveling with me to MAUI, the nearest art supply store to our workshop locations is inside the Ace Hardware Store in Lahaina.  If you want to check whether they carry your favorite medium or other supplies, their phone number is:  (808) 662-7051

Bon Voyage!

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