Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Ongoing Evolution of A Mint Tin Watercolor Kit

St. Claire's licorice tin with 12 half pans
When I first started thinking about making a portable watercolor kit, I saw plenty of clever ideas on the Internet, many of which centered on mint tins filled with half pans. My primary design motivation was devising a way for the tin to attach directly to my sketchbook so that I could sketch standing up. I finally came up with the idea of using a tiny, square Trader Joe’s mint tin that could hold up to 16 colors in the form of stubs of Daniel Smith watercolor sticks – the maximum number of colors in the smallest, lightest space. I’ve been using that tin happily for nearly a year.
While taking a watercolor class in January, I wanted to try using Winsor Newton tube paints (recommended by the instructor and preferred by many sketchers). I started to appreciate their richness of hue, and I was learning about their mixing qualities. In class I used a full-size traditional palette that easily accommodated the 17 colors I had, but I didn’t want to use that palette in the field. I picked out eight colors and put them into half pans, which was all that would fit into a TJ’s mint tin. Unfortunately, I was very unhappy using only eight colors, and no matter which eight I selected, the one I wanted was the one I didn’t have with me. So that tin didn’t last long, and I happily went back to my 16 Daniel Smith sticks.
Now I’m getting ready for another watercolor workshop – this time with urban sketchers extraordinaire Gail Wong and Frank Ching as instructors. I’ve also been looking over the supply lists for the workshops I’m taking at the Urban Sketchers symposium in Barcelona, and a couple of those instructors recommend Winsor Newton tube paints. So now I want to again give tube paints a try. 
I dug through a junk drawer and found a St. Claire’s Organic Licorice Sweets tin, which is the same size as Altoids, Sucrets and other popular tins that sketchers are transforming into sketch kits, so I knew it would accommodate 12 half pans. (I miss the transparent window in the TJ’s tin, but the quotation by Helen Keller on the St. Claire’s lid makes up for it.) It wasn’t too hard to eliminate five colors from my collection of 17 tubes to get 12 into the tin. Below is the palette I selected.
The 12 colors in my latest portable sketch kit.
Despite all the sketch kits on the Internet that center on the classic Altoids tin, I’ve resisted using it because it would be larger and therefore heavier. Indeed, the St. Claire’s tin filled with 12 half pans weighs 58 grams, while my faithful 16-color TJ’s tin weighs only 40 grams. That difference might not seem significant, but when it’s attached to one side of your sketchbook, it’s a matter of both weight and balance. But I’m motivated to give tube colors another try.
To see the complete evolution of my mint-tin-on-a-stick sketch kit, see these posts:

Portable Sketch Kit, Part 2: Velcro is the Key
Tossing Out My Coloring Book
Coming Full Circle


  1. Interesting. 12 is about my minimum. I've just made an 18 half pan tin but haven't yet filled it.

    I always used WN qouache when I did manuscript illumination but now I'm using Daniel Smith tubes. Maybe we could do a compare?

    I'm currently fussing over a workshop I'm going to take in which the instructor has a palette of 24 colors, some of which I think are down right ugly. I've made a list of what I do not already have and am thinking about what to do.

    1. Yes, I'd definitely like to compare WN and DS colors... maybe we could trade dabs of paint next time we're out sketching.

      - Tina

  2. It is great that you finally worked out all parts of this. I went back and reread your other posts about attaching all of this together. Looks like it will work out fine. I just went and weighed my little tin that I purchased. I have 12 colors in the wells and 3 colors dabs on the lid and it has a lid area for mixing. It weighs 77 grams but needs some of the colors refilled. I like the way you worked it out so it attaches to your sketchbook so you can stand. I think that would be helpful at times for me too. Thanks for sharing your process.

    1. 77 grams is definitely too heavy to attach to a sketchbook, but the tradeoff is having to settle for fewer colors. It's an ongoing process, for sure!

  3. You're so innovative. I love reading your blog.

    1. Thank you, Elaine! I get lots of great ideas from other people's blogs too, and it's fun to share.


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