Introduction: Altoids Tin Pocket-Sized Watercolor Box

About: Self-employer Software Developer in Montreal, QC. I am mainly interested in interesting topics, although some exceptions are known to exist.

This Instructable, my entry in the pocket-sized contest, will teach you how to build your own pocket-sized watercolor box.

Remember when you were a kid and had a watercolor box? Well, this is the grownup version of it, with high-quality pigments. The best thing about it is that you can carry it in your pocket since its made with the ubiquitous Altoids tin.

Oh yeah, this is my first Instructable.

Step 1: Materials

To make this project, you'll need:

- Altoids Tin (shown in picture)
- White Fimo Clay (shown in picture)
- Cheap white plastic color-mixing palette (shown in picture) - OR - white enamel paint (Krylon spray can or such)
- Your selection of watercolor paints (more on this later)

- Dremel with cutting wheel attachment (shown in picture)
- Sandpaper (anything along the lines of 80 grit is good)
- Oven or Toaster Oven
- Toothpicks

Step 2: Color-Mixing Plate

The mixing plate is the surface where you'll mix your colors while painting. I decided to get mine from a plastic palette I got for a few dollars at my local art supplies store. If you're having a hard time finding something similar, you have a few options: spray the interior of the top lid with white enamel paint or use any thin, white plastic part which has ridges and can fit into the Altoids tin.

Option A) using the plastic palette
- Make sure the section you chose fits in the Altoids tin (the bottom part)
- Using the Dremel, cut slightly larger than the area of interest (see picture).
- Once you've cut it down to shape, clean up the edges with the 80 grit sandpaper. The plastic should be fairly easy to sand away in a few minutes.

The palette I used was made of (I think) polystyrene. This material, when heated, melts but solidifies immediately and the burrs area easy to scratch away. If you use a palette made of other plastics, you might run into problems. Try cutting with a utility knife if you run into that situation

Option B) painting the interior lid with white paint
- Read the instructions on the paint can
- Cover up the other parts of the tin
- Spray

Option C) make your own tray
- Stick to options A or B if you need further instructions ;)

Step 3: Build Up the Interior of the Paintbox With the Fimo Clay

Here, I'm assuming that your color palette is made of 10 colors. Adjust if necessary.

Cover the interior of the box with a thin (about 3mm or 1/4") layer of Fimo. Once you've covered the interior of the box with Fimo, split it in 10 equal parts using strips of fimo. I started by laying a strip lengthwise in the middle of the tin, separating the interior in 2 long compartments. Then, I put four equally-spaced strips of clay to split each half-tray in 5. Do the same for the second half-tray.

Once you're done, you should have 10 compartments of roughly equal size. Don't hesitate to play around with the clay to make sure that the compartments have the same size. It's also important to make sure that the surface is as smooth as possible. It doesn't need to be perfect, but the nicer it is, the better it will perform. Make sure that there aren't any cracks in your construction. The walls you build need to be wider at the bottom and narrower. This will make nice cup-like compartments to hold the paint.

Make sure that you leave enough room on top of the compartments to fit the plastic mixing plate when you close the tin.

Sorry, I don't have any pictures of the building of the interior of the compartment. It's simple enough, this shouldn't cause a problem and you can look at the final result pictures to get the idea.

Step 4: Bake the Fimo Clay

Following the instructions on the package, bake the clay.

In my case, this was half an hour at 265ºF. Yours might be different.

I let it in a few minutes longer, just to be on the safe side. Don't exceed the recommended temperature.

What this does is cure the clay and turn it into a solid piece of polymer plastic. I am not a chemist, but that's my understanding of it.

I used my toaster oven and took it in the basement and opened the windows. I wanted to avoid stinking up the house with potentially toxic fumes. It turned out to be OK.

If your tray dividers crack, they are too thin. You can fix that with epoxy glue after the curing process is done and the thing has cooled down.

An optional step is to apply glossy lacker to protect the clay. It will also make the surface shinier and smoother. I didn't do it and so far, all is good.

Step 5: Transfer the Paint Into the Tray Compartments

There are many kinds of watercolor paints. Some are baked into little cakes, some are in the shape of crayons. The ones that interest us here are the watercolors that come in liquid form, in little (expensive) tubes.

The tubes I got were "Holbein Artists' watercolor". These go for about 5$ (or more fore rarer pigments) for a 5ml tube. Expensive. They are decent quality paints though, and I was told they were the "sweet spot" in terms of bang for the buck. If you want to go for cheaper paints, by all means, do so. You can get similar tubes for about 2$ each. You can also get similar tubes for 10$ each, or even 20$ each. Ultimately, it's your call.

Disclaimer: these paints contain various toxic products, which when handled with care, don't pose any danger. These paints are not formulated to be used by children, and should be handled with care.

I decided that 10 colors were enough and I could basically do anything I wanted with them. I chose these. Feel free to use this selection, but bear in mind that my choice is extremely subjective.

I chose 6 primaries (two reds, two yellows and two blues), a secondary (green - because our eyes are very sensible in those wavelengths) and three neutrals:

- Cadnium Yellow (a warm sun-like yellow)
- Gamboge Nova (a.k.a. indian yellow, a yellowish orange)
- Cadnium Red Deep (a firetruck-like red)
- Cadnium Red Purple (somewhat colder than the previous one)
- Raw Umber (a brownish earth tone)
- Hooker's Green (to my eyes, very close to phtalo green - one wonders how that color got it's name)
- Cerulean Blue (sky blue)
- Ultramarine Deep (a darker, colder blue - think bottom of the ocean)
- Payne's grey (a cold bluish gray - If I had to choose a single color, this would be it)
- Burnt umber (a dark earth tone)

How to transfer the paint to the tray:
- To each tray section, one color.
- Squeeze a small bead (about 10% of the tube) into the section. That should be more than enough.
- Add a few drops of water (5-10 drops) to the paint bead.
- using a clean toothpick, mix the water and paint until it forms a thick, uniform liquid of even density, if after mixing it up for a minute it doesn't male a puddle that "flattens", add a few drops of water and keep mixing. When you're done, the toothpick's tip should be barely covered with paint when you remove it from the color mix. If youstill have lumps of paint on it, you're not done or your mix doesn't contain enough water.
- Repeat for each of color.

Step 6: Wait

The paint need to dry.

Don't worry, unlike acrylic paint, watercolor paint is revived with water.

Once you're done, you'll have something that looks like the picture.

Step 7: Done!

We're done.

That wasn't so complicated, wasn't it?

The nice thing is that we saved money and have better quality paints (and/or more of it) than if we would have bought ready-made boxes. This kit is also smaller than the ones available on th market.

How to use
- Take out a sheet of watercolor paper
- Use a waterbrush (I have a Bienfang watercolor brush (the one with no ink in it, just water)
- Paint!

This is my complete portable watercolor kit:
- My pocket-size Altoids color box
- My pocket-size Moleskine watercolor notebook (the small one)
- Waterbrush (you can also use a pocket-sized brush or a cut-down regular brush with a separate supply of water - I prefer the all-in one option)
- 4H pencil (the older the smaller!)
- Micron pens (or any other waterproof, archival quality ink pen) (this is optional, depending on your painting style)
- A few facial tissues will be useful to clean up when you're done (or pick up excess water on the your paintings).



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