23 Sep 2012

Making a watercolor travel kit

Much ingenuity with a little money is vastly more profitable and amusing than much money without ingenuity - Arnold Bennett

Recently I've been pricing up watercolor travel kits and to be honest the ones I've seen here in New Zealand haven't been very cheap. The Winsor and Newton Cotman Sketchers Pocket Box is one set I've been looking at and the price is around the $56 NZ mark. Not very cheap if you are just starting out and have children that would like a set each too. This prompted me to start looking at cheaper alternatives.

I've seen a lot of different kits on the internet made from peppermint tins and using half pans mounted on small magnets to keep them from moving around inside. I priced up this option and buying half pans with paint already in them in the Cotman's range was going to be more expensive than just buying the travel kit. As I already have watercolors in tubes I thought that maybe buying empty half pan cases and filling them with my tube paint might work out cheaper. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find empty half pan cases yet so I decided I needed to put a bit more thought into it. 

What I really needed was a container with a lid and different compartments in it. I had a couple of different ideas. An ice cube tray, but I decided that it was too big, a pill type box with separate days, but I thought the plastic hinges wouldn't last, and finally an eyeshadow box, which is small and thin and has a proper hinge on it. Eureka!

So off to the $2 shop I went, looking for a cheap eyeshadow set that I could convert and they didn't disappoint me. The photo above is of one of the three sets I purchased, I spent $6 in total. The eyeshadows were in little metal containers fitted into the compartments with a tiny bit of glue on the bottom. I prised them out easily with a small screwdriver, you could also use a knife blade. The glue came out easily in a chunk just using my finger nail. Below is the case minus all the eyeshadows.

After I'd emptied the case and scraped off all the glue I gave the case a good wash out in dish washing detergent using a rough woven scouring type cloth pad, just to make sure that any remaining glue or eyeshadow was removed properly. Then I dried it all and added the paints from my tubes. See picture below.

I now need to leave the paints for a couple of days to dry out completely and I'll have a compact watercolor set I can fit in my pocket if I want to. Below is a picture of the container I keep my tubes in contrasted against the compact size of my new travel kit. I can use a much small bag now :)

The only other thing I will do to this kit when the paint is all dry is to paint the inside of the lid white to mix on.

 I'll still probably need to carry something else small to mix on and a water bottle. When I go for long walks especially in the summer time, I always carry a drink bottle with me anyway. While at the $2 shop I also picked up a small telescoping brush tube to keep my brushes in. I'd also like to try out the water brushes with the water tank built in at some stage, these could make my kit even smaller. 

I can't wait for the paint to dry so I can get out and test drive my new kit!

I hope this gives you ideas for your own travel kits. Have a great week! :)


  1. Ummm smart.... it was great blog to read while traveling

    1. Thanks Altaf :)
      I was thinking that small sets like these would be great for packing in a small bag with a few toys when kids are traveling. My son and daughter both take a pencil case full of pencils and felts and a sketchbook with them everytime we go away somewhere. The paints would just add another fun dimension for them.

  2. I really love your invention :) Unfortunately I have no such great box, so found another Winsor&Newton set for about 30$ in Poland http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00004THXH/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00004THXH&linkCode=as2&tag=phada-20

    We now have two sets, second one is that cheap one for kids you saw on my blog.

    But I do the same, when I am in any shop I look after any stuff usable for painting;) Cheap ones are the best! Like pots for orchids as the water container etc.

    I'm sure you will be extremely happy with this kit next time painting outdoors. Can't wait to see some results.

  3. That compact set you linked to costs $78 NZ for me :(
    I've found a problem with some of my paints in this set I made. The cheap tubes of student paint I put in it have really cracked and dried out. Not good. However I had a tube of Payne's grey from another company (still student paint)that has dried tacky and much more useable. So I think I'll be buying a few different tubes to use in this. Still much cheaper than buying an actual set and a lot more compact too :)

    1. Had The same problem once, I dont know if it's something crazy bit I tries mixing The paint with a tiny bit of honey before putting it in The godet and it worked quite well :) worth giving a try isnt it? Hope ithelps someone

  4. I don't know why but I'd never have thought to use an eye shadow box to create a compact watercolor set. What a fantastic idea!!!

  5. Thank you for this post! I have been trying to figure out how I would afford a travel size watercolor set of my own. I just did this with eyeshadow set I already had and wasn't using.

  6. Good thinking! Great for children too, as you mention.

  7. What brand of watercolors do you recomend?? Because i tried it, i really loved how it ended up, but then the paint, dried and cracked, and it was totally a waste, since my watercolor tubes are cheap. So, what brand do you recomend??

  8. Hi, Thanks for the great question. I've heard that Sennelier and M.Graham paints have honey in them that stops them drying and cracking but I've not seen them to buy here so never tried them.
    I now use Pebeo watercolors and haven't had a problem with cracking. I did have some pans crack when I used the really cheap Das set that I first bought. You can use the cheap paints in this though if you mix a drop of either glycerin or gum arabic into the paint and mix it in before it sets. This works like the honey in the expensive paints. I wouldn't recommend adding honey to your paints, I would think it would attract ants and possibly mold. Hope this helps.