Monday, November 15, 2021

Teeny, Tiny Sketch Kits, Part 2: Work in Progress


Welly bandage tin: Cute, but not quite right.

If you have been anticipating with bated breath the continuation of this implied series when I posted Part 1 way back in June, I must begin this post with an apology. At the time of that writing, I thought that making my ideal mini-sized watercolor pencil kit was a simple matter. I didn’t think it would take months – and it’s still a work in progress! However, it felt like the right time to report on my progress, especially for those of you who haven’t slept all these nights, wondering how my kit would turn out. These are the issues I’ve been working on since that June post:

My goal is to make a tiny kit for my favorite location-sketching pencils, Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles. The easy part is the number of pencils the kit would need to hold. There was a time when I would hem and haw each winter during my annual minimalism challenge to decide which colors to temporarily eliminate from my daily-carry bag. My ongoing obsession with CMYK-based primary triads, however, makes that choice easy: Cyan, magenta and yellow plus black or dark gray. Four pencils – that’s as slim a kit as I’ve ever had! It should be easy, right?

I already own several mini-sized pencil tins, so it seemed like a simple matter to replace those pencils with my favorites. The complicating factor with Museum Aquarelles is that their barrel is a smidge larger than average pencils, so the lids on all the small boxes I own would not close when the pencils were placed inside. The kit must also include an essential waterbrush, which adds a bit more girth than the pencils.

This is my most compact waterbrush that disassembles for greater portability. It's an ingenious design: The black plug is removed when assembled, then is replaced to contain the water during transport. I think it originally came with a small watercolor kit . . . I thought it was the one that came with my Sakura Koi kit, but that one is aqua. 

Waterbrush assembled for use.

In addition to girth, length is also a consideration. At half length (3 ½ inches), a pencil is still comfortably usable, but much shorter, it becomes awkward. The ideal box would accommodate pencils of at least that length.

I even tried a vintage Caran d’Ache Neocolor crayon tin that I happen to have because I knew the crayons were thicker than pencils. The pencils fit, but alas, the waterbrush does not.

Vintage Caran d'Ache Neocolor tin. . . almost perfect.

However, I liked the idea of using a vintage container, so I went down that deep eBay rabbit hole. Who knew that so many small tins and boxes existed in the world – and that they were all on eBay? And yet all were either too deep, too large, too rusty, too expensive or too ugly.

Meanwhile, I was still looking at contemporary options too, including the cute Welly bandage tins. We needed some bandages anyway, so I got one (top of post). I love the whimsical, colorful designs, and the curvy tin is better made than most. Unfortunately, that stylish shape means the pencils must be shorter to fit.

Another major issue is noise. I couldn’t simply toss a bunch of pencils into a metal tin to carry around – the constant rattle would drive me nuts. All commercially made pencil tins include slotted trays to keep the pencils in place – that’s what I needed! And the natural choice was the tray that my original set of Museum Aquarelles came in. I hadn’t seen it since the day I bought the set, but I knew I still had it somewhere. I dug it out, and indeed, it’s no ordinary plastic tray: These premium pencils come with foam slots for the pencils to nestle in comfortably while they sleep (unfortunately for my Museum Aquarelles, they sleep standing upright in a cup or in my bag). Perfect!

My original Museum Aquarelle box... a cushiony, slotted tray.

Finding the ideal (vintage?) tin could still take a while, but now that I knew what I was aiming for, I decided to make a prototype. Small tins of various dimensions are commonplace. I found one online with inner dimensions of 3 (W) by 4¼ (L) by ¾ (D) inches that I thought would work well. It will hold pencils up to 4 inches long.

The hardest part was cutting up the Museum Aquarelle foam tray – it was a bit messy with scissors. Furthermore, it turned out that the foam walls of the slots were not attached to the foam base, so I had to glue them. It doesn’t look as tidy as I would like, but it does the job of keeping the pencils securely and, more importantly, quietly nestled. The tin accommodates exactly four pencils and the waterbrush, too.

A contemporary craft tin embellished by Weather Bunny.

A good fit in the slotted tray I cut from my Museum Aquarelle box.

Embellished with Weather Bunny, the tin looks OK and serves the purpose, but finding just the right vintage box would be better. The cut-up foam tray isn’t ideal, either. If I find the right one, perhaps I could give the dimensions of the box and the foam tray slots to someone who knows how to design such things and have it 3-D printed. . .? It’s still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, I’ll show you a couple more vintage mini-size colored pencil sets in my collection, including my smallest. It’s obvious that sketchers going back decades, not just contemporary ones, have been in love with small kits. If you adore tiny kits as much as I do, we have a long, rich heritage.

Vintage Caran d'Ache Prismalo mini colored pencil set

The pencils that originally came in this set (acquired used) must have been 4 1/2 inches long.

This is my smallest vintage colored pencil set. The pencils are only 3 1/2 inches long.


  1. Interesting to see how you worked at getting the small set together and your thought process. Just curious...where are the fronts of the pencils or are these pencils that you've already worn down to that size?

    1. I go through a lot of watercolor pencils! These are ones that I stopped using when they got to the right length to fit in the box. ;-)

    2. Good idea! You need one of those pencil holders for the stumps of pencils. That would extend their lives a little.

    3. Oh, yes... I use plenty of pencil extenders! ;-)

  2. This is quite the quest!

    For new boxes: Someone posted that Daniel Smith has boxes full of small metal tins but I don't know what size.

    Is an Altoids tin the right size? If so, Container Store had them in plain metal.

    1. At this point, I think I'll just continue to look for just the right vintage box. I enjoy the hunt. ;-)

  3. This article at Doodlewash was pretty interesting on repurposing Hahnemühle watercolor postcard tins for this purpose.

    1. Oh, I have one of those Hahnemühle postcard tins! Thanks for the idea!


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