Thursday, June 10, 2021

Teeny, Tiny Sketch Kits, Part 1

Made during my first year of sketching, this
watercolor kit in a TJ's mint tin served 
me for many years. It will probably always
be my smallest.
What is it about teeny, tiny sketch kits that I find so appealing?

When I first got started nearly a decade ago, I became fascinated by all the tiny watercolor sketch kits people were putting together. It seems to be a collective obsession of the urban sketching world. Of course, I made my share of them. My tiniest was a Trader Joe’s mint tin containing eight-to-16 colors, which went through a few evolutions. It served me well through my watercolor years.

Long after I had stopped using watercolors on location, I was still enamored with tiny kits. When I saw an adorable, handmade palette at the Amsterdam symposium two years ago, I grabbed one, even though I knew I had no current use for it.

This adorable palette was handmade by Charlie's Urban Sketch Factory.

My adoration of tiny kits has nothing to do with my annual minimalism challenge, which is about simplifying the number of implements and materials in my bag. The tiny kit intrigue has more to do with compactness than simplicity.

In fact, it’s not even about practicality: A tiny watercolor palette might be easier to carry, but is it easier to use than a full-size one? Not really. And yet I don’t seem to be alone in my fascination with size (or lack thereof).

The pencils in this Polychromos travel set
are 3/4 length. The tin design is a reproduction
of a 1908 tin.

Mini-sized versions of colored pencil sets are not as easy to make as their watercolor counterparts. Itsy-bitsy novelty pencils are available, of course, but if the barrels are the diameter of toothpicks, they are impractical to use. If the pencils are simply short with a standard diameter, however, there’s potential.

The Uni Water Color Pencil kit rekindled my interest in building a mini kit.

Recently I showed the mini-size Mitsubishi Uni Water Color Pencil travel set in my review of its full-size big sister. But I know you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s not the only mini-size set I own. I also have a travel-size Faber-Castell Polychromos set (I got mine at CW Pencils, but I don’t see it there anymore), which has three-quarter-length pencils that come in a replica vintage tin; a vintage Mitsubishi Winnie-the-Pooh set; and a Tombow mini set.

It was the Uni Water Color set, which came with a tiny waterbrush, extender and sharpener that fit in the same box, that put me in the tiny sketch kit frame of mind again. While the pencils in that set are good, wouldn’t it be ideal to build a tiny kit containing my favorite Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils? I have plenty of now-stubby-length Museum Aquarelles to make the kit!

Naturally, my first thought was to swap out the Uni pencils for Museum Aquarelles in that nicely designed, compact box. Unfortunately, my favorite pencils are just a smidge too fat to fit! (Sharpeners, extenders and now compact boxes: These darn Caran d’Ache pencils are almost more trouble than they’re worth! Almost.) Besides, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

Stay tuned for Part 2

Vintage Winnie-the-Pooh set

Tombow mini colored pencil set


  1. I think I developed my love of teeny tiny things in my girlhood, with doll house furniture, tiny dolls & their clothes, tiny figurines. As an artist, that love just spilled over into art materials. So I can tell myself it’s the practicality, but really it’s my love of small things. Btw, a few years ago I discovered these really tiny perfect little rubbery or silicone figures at Blick’s Art Store. I bought an elephant and a crawling baby. They make easily portable models for my sketching. I like your blog - I just discovered it when I was searching whether 12B pencils are made. Can you tell me if Staedtler’s Mars Lumograph has more wax or something in it that makes it more crayon-y than regular graphite pencils? Thanks.

    1. I loved all tiny things when I was a kid, too! I've heard the Mars Lumograph contains some carbon, which makes it different from other graphite pencils. But the formula apparently changed a while back. Here's an interesting article in which I learned a lot:


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