USk Gear: Altoids Watercolor Kit

As much as I enjoy my Koi watercolors, the box is just too big for a small bag. I thought about going down to the 12-color version, but wanted something that would go almost anywhere. Even a pocket!

I knew there was at least one Altoids tin around the house, and it would probably make a decent everyday carry kit. A few searches for “altoids watercolor” and I had a pretty good idea of what would fit.

The next step was to gather up paint and a brush.

Gathering the supplies.
Gathering the supplies.

Here’s my list of stuff:

  • Altoids tin. If you can find the older ones with the flat lid, so much the better.
  • Paint. I used LUKAS Aquarelle 18621 half pans in the following colors:
  • Brush. The Sakura Koi 4ml waterbrush is the only waterbrush that fits.
  • Foam. This is generic open-cell foam that I saved from some other packaging. Cutting up a dish sponge also works.
  • Paper towel. The foam I used was thin, so putting a folded up paper towel under it keeps the waterbrush from rattling.
  • Magnetic tape. I stuck this to the bottom of the watercolor pans to keep them in place. (No link because I wouldn’t buy this again. See below.)

Magnetize the paint

Measuring and cutting the magnet tape.
Measuring and cutting the magnet tape.

It seems simple enough. Cut the magnetic tape, and stick it to the paint pans. Well it turns out that it really likes being rolled up and wants to keep it’s curve. Also the sticky part isn’t that sticky. One magnet stuck to the pan. The rest needed some help.

Rolled magnet tape wants to stay rolled.
Rolled magnet tape wants to stay rolled.

You can see the curve in the tape. I wanted it flat. So I had to apply pressure. I also snuck a bit of glue onto the bottom of the pan to help out.

Clamping the magnet tape flat.
Clamping the magnet tape flat.

In the end all the pans needed a little bit of clamp love. The paint blocks fell out of all but the yellow which made them easier to clamp. The yellow also was filled slightly above its rim. Using one of the empties upside-down on top of it let me clamp it without damaging the paint.

If some is good, more is better.
If some is good, more is better.

In the end, the magnet tape stayed put. All the pans were magnetized and really to go into the Altoids tin. A drop of water in the pans before reinstalling the paint blocks keeps them from falling out again.

Paint! Pans! Magnets!
Paint! Pans! Magnets!

If I were to do it over I wouldn’t use the magnets. Something like poster putty would work just as well, and save quite a bit of time.

Final assembly

First I trimmed the foam to fit around the pans. The small piece can go on top of the paints, if you want. The foam really works well for wiping the waterbrush. If it gets too messy, rinsing under warm water cleans it right up.

Don't cut your fingers or your desk!
Don’t cut your fingers or your desk!

Then I trimmed a folded paper towel to also fit. This is mainly so I’ll have something to wipe out the lid before closing it up.

Almost done.
Almost done.

Everything in the tin and the brush doesn’t bang against the lid.

Ready to go!
Ready to go!

What’s next

I’ll eventually get around to painting the inside of the lid white. I don’t feel like buying a can of spray paint just for this one little thing. With luck a friend might have a can I borrow.

The Lukas paints are of indeterminate quality. The reviews on Jerry’s Artarama site are glowing to a fault. Out on the wider ‘net2 not so much. I used them because out of the three art supply stores near me, Lukas was the only brand sold in pans. I could of got empty pans and filled them, but for five colors plus pans it would have cost me almost $60 to test this out. That was more than I wanted to pay for this experiment. Now I have pans set up to go, and I can fill them with any paint in the future.

I also prepared some test strips to see just how lightfast the Lukas colors I have are. I’ll be writing about that soon.

If I build another, I’ll be skipping the magnets. The magnet tape was only a dollar because I used a 40% off coupon at Michael’s. It wasn’t worth the trip to return it. So I used it.

Since there’s room, I’ll probably toss in a short pencil and a small chunk of a kneaded eraser. The eraser can also be used as to prop the Altoids lid up so it’ll be flat.

Overall, it worked out nicely. My bag is much less bulky and feels quite a bit lighter. Most importantly, I don’t have to carry anything else to paint. I’ll call this one a win.


  1. These are only sold in North America by Jerry’s Artarama. I have a Jerry’s near me, and I find it annoying that I can order their stuff from Amazon, pay the shipping and come out cheaper than if I walked into the store and bought it there. ↩︎
  2. I’ve read some reviews that say Jerry’s won’t allow negative reviews to be posted on their site when it involves their house brands. ↩︎

3 thoughts on “USk Gear: Altoids Watercolor Kit

  1. Pingback: Lightfast Test: Lukas Aquarelle 1862 vs. Arizona Sunlight – Words & Ink

  2. Super compact, and nice selection of colors. I don’t know about Jerry’s stores, but I’ve read that Dick Blick stores have some sort of price matching with their online catalogue. Not sure the details though.

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    1. That’s new at Blick’s with the loyalty card. But they also don’t seem to carry half-pans in the store. I wanted to try them for size in the tin before buying.

      But…Blick’s did have half & full *empty* pans. Jerry’s didn’t. But empties & tubes blew the budget for this little project.

      Everything’s a compromise.

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