Tiny Travel Watercolors
Travel water color sets can be expensive and might not have the colors you want. Here’s a quick and easy way to make your own.
- A clean empty little altoids tin (or any tin you like the size of)
- InstaMorph moldable plastic
- paper towels
- a dowel or Sharpie or unsharpened pencil
- tubes of watercolors or gouache
- a water brush
- watercolor paper
- rubber cement
Warm up a mug or jar of water to about 150F (65C) (I used the hottest tap water my faucet puts out and then popped it in the microwave for another 30 seconds).
Fill up the tin you are using to make your travel set to the rim with InstaMorph beads (right up to the edge with maybe a little more as the process of squishing it all together later will reduce the volume).
Pour the beads into the hot water and wait till they turn clear. Grab your paper towels. I find flipping the blob of beads over after they are mostly clear will expose the beads on the bottom to more heat and speed up the heating.
When the beads are ready pull them out and put them on the paper towels. (don’t burn your fingers – maybe use a plastic spoon or something to grab the blob) Squish them into one piece and use the paper towels to dry it off as you work it.
Once its all one piece pop them back in the warm water for a second to warm it up again, you can continue to do this as you work if the plastic becomes too stiff to manage – you can even put the whole tin in. (Not once you put the paint in the wells, of course!) Take it out and dry it off.
Put it in the tin and flatten it into the bottom of the tin, pushing it into all the corners until it covers the bottom of the container and is level.
Use the end of your dowel to make impressions in the InstaMorph – these will be the wells for your paint. Try not to break through the bottom of the blob to the tin.
As you make more wells the first ones will deform – go back with a knitting needle or paint brush handle and push the InstaMorph around to make shape of the wells regular.
Let the InstaMorph cool before filling the wells with paints. I fill mine right up to the top because I don’t mind a little leaking over the top. If keeping the paints separate is important, be sure to keep the level below the top of all four sides of the impression you’ve made.
Cut a piece of watercolor paper a little smaller than the lid of the tin, and paint a little sample of each of the paints you filled your wells with. Then, use the rubber cement to glue this to the lid of your tin. (Use the “let thin coats on both surfaces dry and then stick that sucker on there” technique)
Fill up your water brush with water and you’re ready to go!
I used to make these with Sculpey – and you could still do that with the added step of baking the whole shebang (before you put the paint in) to cure the Sculpey (and of course skipping all the hot water stuff) but I like that InstaMorph is non-toxic and biodegradable, and over all feels like less of a hassle to me.
Sometimes when you open a tube of water colors or gouache, there is a clear liquid that comes out before or around the paint. Try to catch that stuff on a paper towel rather than in your paint well.
Why do go to all this trouble when you can find pretty good travel watercolor set for around $25? Making your own gives you more control over which colors are included and the quality of the paint. It also allows you to make a REALLY tiny set. If you already have most of the supplies, it’s cheaper than buying a whole new set of half pans. It’s fun!
Let the paint dry before traveling with it.
Little altoids tin
(or any tin you like the size of – other tins)
InstaMorph – Moldable Plastic – 6 oz
watercolors in tubes
Pentel Arts Aquash Water Brush
Polyform Sculpey III Polymer Clay 8 Oz: White