How to make a mini watercolour set

The sun is shining and your thoughts turn to painting outdoors or maybe a spot of urban sketching, but by the time you get all your supplies together you have given up. Wouldn’t it be great to have a mini watercolour pocket set with all the essentials?

Of course you can buy commercial pocket watercolour sets and many are fabulous, but they have some distinct disadvantages. Besides price, often they come with colours you would not choose yourself and miss out ones you consider vital. One I looked at recently had white, which I consider a waste of space, and didn’t have either French Ultramarine of Burnt Sienna – these are vitals in my opinion.

What about making your own mini watercolour set?

A few of the supplies along with my prototype pocket set

First you need to decide what you really, really need. For me it is paint, a mixing well, water, brush, sponge, paper towel, magic eraser and a bulldog clip. You might have other thoughts!

Next you need a container. I prefer metal, as it is more robust, so I searched high and low and came up with all sorts – from pencil tins, to sweet tins to a glasses case. Altoid tins are particularly popular for this type of project, but I got given some very lovely sweet tins.

There are all sorts of pretty tins you could use – ask around on your local facebook group too or look in junk shops for old cigarette tins

What to put the paint in

Now we need something to put paint in. Of course you could simply put refilled pans or half pans in your chosen tin, but where is the fun in that? Empty pans can be bought very cheaply or you might save yours, but if you don’t have any there are a few alternatives. Some people use Lego bricks. You will need to remove the central ‘dobble’. I tried nail clippers, but they only took off two thirds. To remove it all you will need to drill (go careful!). You can stick a flat section of Lego in the bottom of your tin upside down and then fix the bricks in place.

Lego bricks are an option if you do not have plastic pans, but removing the centre is tricky with a drill (see the grey square on the right)

My favourite option, which a student (Aline) introduced me too, is to get a silicone mini ice cube tray (£2.99 eBay). This can be cut to size and shape with ordinary scissors. If you want bigger wells for favourite colours, the dividing walls can be cut away. You can see this in the first picture. Just be careful not to puncture the squares as you cut.

A blister pack is a good option

Another alternative is to use an empty blister pack. Throat sweets, tablets etc come in good size packs and these can be cut to size. Water bottle lids are also good.

Choose your colours with care, considering the types of subjects you might paint. A cool and warm primary is a good start, of course. Then simply squeeze the paint into whatever you are using and allow it to dry naturally for a few days. You will find that watercolour containing honey never fully dries.

How to fix everything

All these items will need to be fixed in place. Of course they can be glued, but you might want to swap things around, so Blue Tac or sticking on small magnets is a more flexible bet. You can get mini magnets which need to be glue, or magnetic tape or self-adhesive magnets.

Mixing tray

I painted the back with watercolour ground and used it to swatch. The inside of the lid was painted white

It is easier to mix colours on white, so unless you are fortunate enough to have a white coated tin, you will need to do something to cover up the silver. You could stick a piece of Yupo paper inside your lid, or if you happen to have some white paint suitable for metal just use that. I had neither, so I primed the tin with watercolour ground having rubbed it down with sandpaper and then used white acrylic paint. I do not know how long it will last. If you want a few mixing wells, you can use a hot melt gun to put lines of glue to keep areas separate (see picture below).

Colour chart

It’s a good idea to have a colour chart. You could swatch your colours onto paper and then laminate it and place inside the tin. You could also stick it to the bottom of the tin and cover with sticky tape or sticky back plastic. A more elegant solution might be to sand the tin and then prime with watercolour ground. After doing your swatches and writing the names, varnish or seal with Dorlands Wax.

Putting it all together

So with everything dry, its time to assemble your tin. If you have a stopper, you can use a waterbrush and take it apart so it fits. Cut sponge and Magic Eraser to fit. Fold up a square of kitchen towel. The bull dog clip can be used to clip the lid to your tin if it is not hinged, so everything can be held in one hand. If you look here you can see the mixing wells in the lid.

For a full demonstration, please watch this film:

What is your favourite hack for painting on the go? I would love to know!

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