Working Small: Refining Your Perfect Pocket Watercolor Travel Kit

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Watercolor boxHaving something small and portable with which to be artful can be a great thing. Aside from painting something and mailing it off to a friend, there’s something about being prepared to record the colors you see around you. Drawing skill isn’t required; just a vague affinity to paint. Everything you need is in your coat pocket because you put your little 4×6 box there last night… 

For travel this summer I refined my usual watercolor paint kit of loose stuff in a zip-loc.  The key component in my new kit is a $3 4”x6” plastic Iris photo storage box  found at places like Michael’s and JoAnn Fabric that pulls it all together without a prolific use of rubber bands.  The kit doesn’t slow you down at airport checkpoints, fits in a pocket and is unobtrusive to use. The Iris 4”x6” photo storage box serves as an easel, drying box, and carrier. It stays securely shut and is rugged and easy to clean. Into this box add:

  • a Van Gogh travel paintbox (available at Blick Art Materials) with #3 round travel brush (other paintbox/palette solutions can also be made to fit)
  • a 1/2” flat paintbrush chopped down to fit
  • a #6 round travel brush
  • a stub of white vinyl eraser from a mechanical pencil
  • a little golf pencil and
  • a pack of 4×6 postcard watercolor paper

Paintbox closed

It’s minimal, a grab-and-go packet that has every basic thing you need to make a painting.

Let’s say you’re working on a painting and have to pack up and move quickly (due to picnic ants, bee attack, a tiresome acquaintance coming into the coffee shop).  Dry the paintbox palette with a paper towel, turn the postcard so the wet side is facing the plastic box lid (the bend in the paper will give it a little space so it doesn’t smear), replace all the tools, snap the box shut, and go.

Brushes and water: Water is the least portable part of this setup. In a coffee shop you can get a paper napkin and paper cup. On the move, stuff paper napkins into two nested paper cups, and bring a little water bottle. For sketching you might like the waterbrush  which comes in several brush sizes. I’ve used them before, and I ended up using a cup of water anyway, so went back to regular brushes. (Here’s a nice page with more information about the waterbrush that you ever knew existed)

(Some friends and I went to the Blossom Music Festival in Ohio with a picnic, and I ended up using red wine instead of water to paint a scene. Another time I used tea. So there you go. Art will find a way.)

Paintbox with painting

Palette and Paint: The Van Gogh paintbox I’ve been using has a good mixing palette in the lid. It’s also possible to use the lid of the Iris storage box as a palette, providing it is wiped out before closing it up. If you’re shopping for a new paintbox, the smaller 5″x2.5″x.75″ Winsor & Newton kit holds a dozen half-pans and will leave you room to put in a few more sawed-off brushes, and an Altoids Smalls tin with 6 half-pans of new colors to play with. You can get empty half-pans and full pans from Daniel Smith. Sadly, they’re just a hair too large to fit in the Van Gogh paintbox, but they do fit the Winsor & Newton boxes.

I thought you’d enjoy the inexpensive and stylish postcard-sized travel kit you can make for a few dollars. It’s time to stop fiddling with gear now and get to painting! Here’s one I did while riding through farm country in California on the Amtrak Coast Starlight – the sleeper car’s upstairs lounge is perfect for painting.

If you’ve made a traveling paint kit you like, share it with us!

About Leslie Strom

Stand out. Be bold. Prove you exist. I try to do this in web design, writing, publishing, and with my frequently bad ideas. Since I spend about 85% of my time collecting information and am willing to set myself out as a human cautionary tale, I think you might enjoy the enlightening (or not) tinkertoy workings of my mind. Welcome!
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3 Responses to Working Small: Refining Your Perfect Pocket Watercolor Travel Kit

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  3. LMNOP says:

    In the spirit of working small, I’ll share my mobile pallet and daily quick sketch system I’ve set up.
    Spoiler alert: there’s recycled business cards involved.

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