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How to Pack Art Supplies

Updated on May 19, 2009

Colored Pencils are Delicate

Colored pencils are delicate. Protect the soft-core ones with elastic band cases or foam or flannel pads inside their tins.
Colored pencils are delicate. Protect the soft-core ones with elastic band cases or foam or flannel pads inside their tins.

Pack Art Supplies with Care!

 Whenever I've moved, the one thing I have to put the most planning and organization into is packing my art supplies. For one thing, I don't like to pack all of them first thing and then have to wait for varying periods of time before I can use any of them again. At the very least I'll put together one messenger bag or tote with supplies I can get at easily for sketching and watercolors till I get done unpacking the rest.

For another, organizing them has to start with making sure these expensive artist grade supplies arrive intact where I'm going. The insides of trucks and vans can get extreme heat or cold that may crack some supplies or alter them chemically. They will get jostled around and Murphy's Law (Everything that Can Go Wrong, Will) usually means that it's the box with the glass ink bottles that'll get dropped on someone's foot and kicked across the street, or stepped on when someone falls, or have something really heavy dropped on it.

Mysteriously, when I order these supplies from Dick Blick, they are almost always in perfect shape when I open the box. Blick really knows how to package delicate art supplies. So I've saved a good many of those plastic insert pillows and big chunks of bubble wrap from unpacking many supply orders in the past three years, thinking that stuff would be useful to help me ship finished paintings later on since those are delicate too.

My archival mat boards are 30" x 40" so I packed those into the same box with the 30" x 40" archival foam board backing boards I bought last year. Then just sealed that box up again with as much packing tape as Blick used sending it to me, so I'll trust that big box probably won't get bent in half or punched through. I've done what I can for it. Smaller pieces of mat board and full sheets of watercolor or pastel paper are in a big 24" x 36" canvas portfolio, which is horribly heavy, and a newer one that's not quite as large.

Most of my larger flat artworks will go into a third portfolio I picked up cheap, a Star recycled eco-friendly green one a lot like those red cardboard portfolios you see art students with. It's just like that with a tie closure, but Army green and made out of recycled materials. I might use that to lighten up the canvas one and put less important stuff in there since it's flimsier. This should make it easier to carry those heavy things though.

The biggest challenges for packing are spray cans full of gloss varnish, workable fixative, Krylon Make-It-Acid-Free Spray and anything else that's explosive in a spray can. Those are going into a small box all by itself. If heat or puncture or anything nasty happens to that box, I can handle replacing some or all of its contents. But if it explodes, I don't want goop and dried clear varnish of various kinds all over everything else in that box. It might actually go in the car too so that I can keep it from getting overheated, since if it caught on fire it could burn up a lot of other things around it.

Packing spray cans of anything may have that problem, so keep that in mind when going after things like hairspray and spray paint too. Pack separately with plenty of padding and nothing else in the box. Maybe wrap in plastic inside the box so if one breaks and leaks it doesn't wreck the other cans.

The second small box of rather dangerous things will get the Gemini Masterpiece Odorless Thinner, Damar Varnish, Bestine Rubber Cement Thinner, Walnut Oil, Safflower Oil, Turpenoid Natural Citrus Oil and I might as well pack the lighter fluid in it too as long as I'm putting all the stuff that might a) spill and b) explode in one place. Ditto for protecting from heat. This box should not ride on the wheel well or any part of a vehicle that gets hot. But it will also keep sticky gooey difficult to remove liquids from getting on and in everything else if it just breaks and doesn't burn. Most of these things are in tins, but have plastic lids that could crack if banged wrong. I'll put some padding in around them, especially since the oils are in glass bottles that I got from a health foods grocery in larger quantity than an art store would have them.

Next in the category of Wrap With Care is just the simple mess of inks in glass bottles. I have some packed within a wooden sectioned SmartBox. They can stay there. They're safe inside and have made it through multiple moves tucked into a wood box with a handle that's always kept upright, because they're jammed in tight with other small things around them to keep them from banging into each other or anything else. This leaves a set of 12 Bombay India Inks in glass bottles in a round styrene tray with a cover, each of them is laying on its side. However, the tray does hold them in place and they did survive getting to me from Blick with a double layer of bubble wrap.

So that tray can go on the bottom of a box where it'll be kept flat, with other fragile things packed on top of it and FRAGILE marked on the top and sides with an arrow for which side is up. Many other things among my art supplies want to be handled with care and kept flat.

Like any colored pencils set that's still in a tin, which is about half of them. The ones in Global Classic leather cases can just get tucked into suitcases or messenger bag or the Tote Express that I used to use for a taboret when I lived in Colorado and Minnesota. It's a nice big piece of blue nylon luggage with a reinforced squarish bottom compartment and plastic sectional box inside that, and a top compartment that can unclip and be carried as a shoulder bag. It's got wheels.

Any art supplies I want to be able to get at immediately after the trip -- except the Bestine and thinners -- can ride in that Tote Express, including sets of pastels that have to be kept flat and vertical, because it's unlikely to get shoved on its side or knocked over. Wheeled things tend not to be. So many of my supplies will fit in it but I'm going to plan that for all the things I use the most and try to pack up spares in boxes.

Tube acrylics and tube oils are already in plastic Sterilite tubs. Those can travel as they are, maybe with some other things tucked in to fill any gap at the top, loose small stuff. An incredible amount of loose small stuff accumulates in an art studio, amateur or professional. You wind up with extra pencil sharpeners, rolls of tape, a plastic jar of this, a squeeze bottle of that, assorted brushes and pencils until it starts looking like organization is a myth.

It didn't seem that crazy while it's all in use because I've got drawers. But the contents of those neatly organized drawers need to be repacked into small, medium and large boxes and labeled with what they are.

This is the part that's worth the extra minute or two per box.

Mark what's in it on the box. If the box says "pastels and colored pencils in tins" then I won't be tearing through it looking for canvas boards, but look for the box that says "Canvas Boards and Tape."

It helped in some previous moves to pack things by medium. This time I'm packing more for how it handles and how often I use it, because I have a lot of spares in some things that won't need to be unpacked immediately the way the most important stuff will. For one thing, since I started I've wound up with an entire box full of student grade oil pastels, most of them about similar in quality that I use in sketchbooks a lot and rotate so that I will actually use them up, plus sets of super good artist grade oil pastels that I tend to save for doing serious art unless I'm testing their qualities in a sketchbook.

The good artist grade ones and my favorite sketchbook set, Pentel, can go into the Tote Express where I'll be doing more oil pastels demos almost as soon as I get there, or should in order to start posting more articles. The site will eventually have 200 pages and be a complete reference book online, though I'm not doing many during this HubChallenge I do mean to get back to it. Part of the reason for the challenge is to get used to writing more articles in a day.

The student grade ones can all go into a box with the spare box of Prismacolor stubs, various watercolors, various extra things in different mediums that are all good and important but not essential if I want to sit down and draw or paint something and write about it during my first week there. More essential that I know where that box is in the closet when I start getting my new room organized and decide what to keep out and what to keep stored. Lots of extra student oil pastels may live in that closet permanently anyway, at least until I get students and start lending or giving them out to share.

Another packing problem is Soft Pastels.

They are delicate. They crumble. They are in foam padded flat boxes that shouldn't be jostled and ought to get wrapped in bubble wrap or layers of towels and clothing inside flat boxes that don't get turned over, like the colored pencilsl tins. Otherwise I could open it and find $100 worth of gray powder with all the sticks broken and mixed into an indistinguishable mess.

I've got a stunning, beautiful wood box set of Derwent Artist colored pencils that I lucked and got on sale at ASW for $100 in 2005. It's awesome. It's rosewood colored and it does have good flocked heavy styrene holders for the pencils, they won't bang around in it. But I would really rather not see that good wood box get scratched up either, so it goes in bubble wrap in the box with the pastels.

My Pan Pastels will actually be easy to pack. Those and my color Conte set may just ride in the top part of the Tote Express, in tallish stacks along the sides next to the stack of small tins and boxes and pads like 48 Conte Color sticks, (hard pastels), the best oil pastels and the 24 color tins of assorted Derwent specialty pencils.

Tube watercolors are organized in a couple of boxes, one for Daniel Smith ones and a slightly larger one for all the Winsor & Newton ones.

If you're a pack rat who likes to take everything with you, then you may have done what I did and accumulated multiple assorted interesting totes and messenger bags that include brush carriers and brush loops. I don't think I'll have a problem finding places for brushes, there are probably more loops than good brushes if I go into everything. However, all of them do need to get put into those loops before going so that their delicate tops don't get squished.

Several of these bags are freebies from book clubs and other offers. I wound up with a little one from North Light that can hold a variety of things, a khaki one that turned out to be just right for 9" x 12" pads of watercolor and pastel paper, a large black messenger bag with pockets and brush carrier that will actually also serve as my laptop bag since it's got a laptop pocket, and another one that I got years ago somewhere like a thrift shop and forgot I had till I unpacked the stuff that was in it when I moved here.

I'd had things like random electronic bits, extra mice, extra pocket knives and other low priority stuff in it so I hadn't gotten into it for years, just carried it along on several moves in succession. Now, since every bit of that junk came through just fine, I think it'll serve to hold more pads and assorted art books, maybe the ones I'm currently reading.

All books and magazines need to be sorted by topic. This really helps in putting them away later. I have several years worth of good art magazines worth keeping, that's two boxes in itself but they don't need to be unpacked in a hurry. Not until I get another bookcase. So those need to go in a non-digest magazine sized box along with the ones that have photo references like Natural History.

How-to books can sort by size and medium, but the ones I'm still reading need to be in the bag I carry with me in the vehicle. Some of the rest could stay unpacked for a few weeks. Books of any kind do weigh a lot though, so those all need to be in smallish boxes or Karl will hurt his back getting them into the truck.

Last, there's big cans and things like the quart of clear Colourfix primer. Not urgent to get into them, but expensive to replace and pretty important. Same thing, storage boxes. Anything in even plastic jars goes in plastic bags just in case it breaks. Pads, small sheets and smallish watercolor blocks can be treated like books of their size but should be in their own box labeled or I'll go through four boxes of books trying to find watercolor paper.

I think that's about it -- packing my art supplies is planned. The more organized and clearly labeled I get it, the faster and easier I should get my studio unpacked and ready to use -- for some things as easy as unzipping a bag.

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    • apeksha profile image


      10 years ago from India.

      I am also an Artist and got any prises for my paiintings I have same prob..but now solved by U..thanks Go throgh my Art hub...



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