Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The traveling painter and musician....?!

Trinidad Tobago in the south eastern Caribbean was our destination. We were flying out of way sub zero Wisconsin. The morning we left to catch our airport shuttle to MSP it was 17 below zero Fahrenheit. So cold that when you drew air in to breath, it actually made your cold-sensitive teeth ache. That was a first! But we could put up with that knowing we'd soon be in a steady equatorial climate, warm and humid, for two months!

I was transporting artist's materials (warned not to tell TSA that they are paint) acrylics to be exact. I have been a watercolorist – the easiest to travel with, an oil painter- not so easy- and a pastel artist- the pastel sticks show up on the xray machines looking like bullets or shells as they are composed of heavy metals such as cadmium and cobalt-which need to be left out like a lap top if carrying through security.

I have recently started using acrylics which have the advantage, or disadvantage of drying quickly. I hadn't had the time in the studio in the last two years to work on the large scale series of semi-abstracted plant forms that I had started and thought, 'that's it, I'll do that in Trinidad'! I imagined I could take the pre-primed canvas, broken down stretcher bars, tacks and painting supplies and stretch the canvas there, complete the painting, untack it from the stretcher bars and roll it up to return home where I would re-stretch it. I wanted to work large, four by four feet or so. Trying to imagine how to do this I thought of using a golf travel bag to transport all these things. Eventually I got the 'bright idea' to use a ski travel bag which I borrowed from a friend. It was over six feet long and about twenty four inches in circumference. Perfect. NOT. It was so heavy and cumbersome, once loaded, that I realized that it was highly unlikely that the airlines would allow this.

(Warning: this paragraph is about dealing with the airlines customer relations and if you might find this tedious, skip over it!!) In fact, I spent quite a few hours on the phone or waiting in the American Airlines phone queue and reading the fine print on the airlines baggage policy. On the Sports page of the baggage policy it allows a ski and boot bag to count as a checked bag. But, and this is the kicker, in the fine print it says that the bags can only be used for the intended purpose: golf clubs in a golf bag, skis in a ski bag, etc. But, three times I called customer service to see if this was strictly enforced. The first two times, the staff were very easy going, 'sure you can take art supplies in a ski bag', until I'd mention the fine print and then they'd back off, possibly contact a superior, try to contact MSP American Airlines ticketing to eventually say, 'we aren't sure'. The third time I got a definite 'no', from the resolutions department. So I cut my canvas roll from sixty inches long to 40”, eliminated my four foot long stretcher bars and found a former tent bag that I thought I might be able to use. I kept most of my paints, carefully repackaged in plastic tubs or zip-lock bags, a bin of brushes and such intact. I unrolled the canvas from it's core, cut some of it off, rerolled it around the three foot stretcher bars and then rolled that with shrink roll. The airlines also have a limit on weight and size. Fifty pounds, and 62 inches. So if I understood the size limit correctly, I could have a forty inch bag with a twenty two inch circumference. I took the plastic shrink roll along in case I needed to 'shorten' the tent bag which was about sixty inches long and eighteen inches in circumference, to eliminate the $200 oversize charge at the check-in. We got to the counter plenty early-in fact we took the 3:07am shuttle to have plenty of time to spare. The attendant asked suspiciously, 'what's in here'? I said 'artist's materials'. She started to get excited....I said ' but they are acrylics; they are not flammable!' She settled down and put the bag tag on. Away it went to Port of Spain,Trinidad. The tent bag was oversized, but not such that it was charged and it went to special handling but made it to POS thankfully. Phew!! I'm gonna' be painting!!

One other concern about acrylic paints is that they don't like to get cold. They can turn to 'cottage cheese' if they get below about forty degrees Fahrenheit or so. The tent bag with the paints in them road in an unheated cargo trailer from Menomonie, Wisconsin to Minneapolis/St Paul airport, about an hour and a half ride at about 15 below zero Fahrenheit. Would I have usable paints in Trinidad???

I can happily report that I'm am now sitting in my cottage in central Trinidad, having just checked the paints to find that they are still in good form....sigh of relief!

But what about the Musician you ask? He, Yata, wanted to travel with two guitars, supposedly so I could 'jam' with him. I play the bass unprofessionally, he's a professional singer and rythmn guitar player. We've traveled the globe with two guitars. One great find was an inexpensive guitar we picked up in Antiqua Guatemala years ago, an Aranguez, a nylon stringed sweety, only about two feet long with a cut-away neck. And Yata bought himself a Christmas gift of a Yamaha tenor guitar, another nylon stringed smaller sized guitar (nylon is better in a humid environment-they can't rust). So again, the airlines....they are pretty lenient with small guitars if they fit in the overhead compartment. No problem.

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