Since I started exploring watercolors, I’ve come across the “use an old Altoids tin as a travel paint box” trick several times, and it’s always intrigued me. It just looks so easy to do! It combines being creative and MacGyver-y with materials you either already have on hand or that are easily accessible, so win-win right?
And also, regular watercolor tin boxes can get crazy expensive! Nobody said art was a cheap calling, but still – I’m just getting started and haven’t even graduated to all non-student-grade paints yet!
So I started reviewing all the different methods and suggestions people had for creating their own Altoids paint boxes, like in these links:
- Tweaking Tiny Tins: Making Mini Watercolor Kits from Mint Boxes
- Cathy Johnson Art Tips #90: Make Your Own Tiny Travel Watercolor Kit
- Turn An Altoid Box Into A Mini Watercolor Travel Set
- Hey! Don’t Throw That Away: Altoid Tin Watercolor Palette
- DIY Altoids Watercolor Tin
So, after perusing enough links to get an idea of how to get started, I decided to try using magnets to hold the watercolor pans in place. I assembled the following materials:
- Altoids mints tin
- A sandwich baggy to put the mints in because I’m too impatient to eat through them all
- A pack of thin magnets I found from The Container Store
- Empty half and full paint pans, sold individually from Dick Blick
Step One: Determine Your Box Arrangement
First lesson learned – these paint boxes are waaay smaller than I thought they’d be!! I ordered 6 half pans and 2 full pans, thinking I wouldn’t be able to get all them in. But actually I have room for more – at least 2-3 half more at least. I think I’ll be ordering a few more in both sizes to experiment with finding the perfect combination. Right now I have a weird gap on the side because I had too few pans.
Step Two: Attach The Magnets
Once you’ve found a paint box layout you like, attach the adhesive magnets. The set I found had them pre-scored into 1″ squares. Cutting each square in half worked perfectly for the full paint pans, and in quarters for the half pans. They stick to the Altoids tin firmly, and even when the tin is held upside down and shaken, they didn’t fall out.
Step Three: Add The Paint
I chose the following pigments as my test paint palette – all Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor tubes:
- Alizarin Crimson Hue
- Burnt Sienna
- Permanent Rose
- Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue
- Payne’s Gray
Step Four: Final Touches
The paint will dry out to avoid messiness when traveling, and can be reactivated with drops of water, or kept moist by adding a drop of glycerine. I didn’t have anything handy to add to it, so am just going to let them air-dry and add water as needed. Ideally, in the future I will find a waterproof or enamel paint to coat the inside of the lid, so I can use it as a mixing surface. But for now, I created a mini watercolor chart to show what combinations I can get from the palette I chose. I also added a square of parchment paper to put over the paints just in case they did fall out of the pans or get messy.
Extra Step: Making a Watercolor Color Chart
Of course, whenever getting new paints I want to make a watercolor chart! So I made both a full (sketchbook sized) version, and a little mini version to keep with the Altoids tin. I think my beginner paint choices were good ones – I can get some pretty nice secondary colors like oranges, greens and purples from the 7 colors I chose. Some action shots of the color charting process, just for fun!
The Final Result!
So, here it is in all its glory! It has some future tweaks – including coating the lid for a mixing surface, and adding some extra pans or a sponge or somehow using the blank space. But otherwise I’m really pleased with how it turned out!!