About five years ago, my daughter abandoned a makeup kit in the bathroom closet. It opened to reveal slide out trays with metal pans filled with eyeshadow, little screw cap pots for lip gloss, a mirror set into the lid, and even a small mascara tube. I have to confess that I coveted it from the first moment I laid eyes on it, hoping to someday convert it into a painting kit. The last time she came to visit, she gave it to me. Yes, I do wish I'd asked her sooner!
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As you can see above, the makeup kit folds into a very compact size of just under 7 1/2" x 4 1/2". I placed the Q tip on top for size reference. It was important to me that it be small enough to lie flat in my painting bag, so that dried paint from the shallow pans wouldn't migrate all over the set in transport.
When you first open the lid of the makeup kit, it looks like the image above. But wait!
As parts are opened up, multiple trays slide out from one another, to reveal a much larger kit inside. This is what it looks like fully opened. The lip gloss containers in the back can be removed to provide deep recesses.
You can open up any combination of trays, depending on what you want to use at any given time. The set was so versatile that it was hard to decide what I'd put into it! The first big job was to clean it out and wash it.
It cleaned up like a dream. I also discovered that I can easily set a 9x12" coroplast board right into the hinge area of the kit between the paint pans and the lid, and clip my paper (1/8 sheet, about 7 1/2 x 11") to that. I use this size for plein air work most of the time.
I love the little pots with the screw caps, and cleaned them all out. In the long run, I might use them for assorted inks with dip pens, or various painting mediums. The possibilities are endless. But no matter what their future holds, one of them is destined to hold fresh white gouache! Yum!
It also came with tiny mascara and eyeliner tubes that are only 2 3/4". The eyeliner tube has a fine brush, perfect for highlights. I spent three days soaking and cleaning one of those tubes so I could fill it with white gouache, with the little brush inside to apply highlights. It's perfect!
Of course, after I spent hours and hours over a few days trying to get all the black gunk out of that little eyeliner tube, I saw these on Amazon. I don't know how good the Amazon ones are, but I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort by buying them instead!
I decided to fill the top pans with gouache for now. I selected an assortment of my usual colors, leaving two pans for white -- one to use with warm mixes and one with cool. This helps prevent the white from turning into a dingy gray. I was even able to save room for my gray mixes for value studies. A 4x6" watercolor post card pad can set right into the lid.
I always need to have fresh, wet white too when I'm working in gouache. Between the eyeliner tube for highlights, and the little pot with a screw lid filled with white gouache, I'll have all the paint I need for several excursions right inside the kit. Until now, the wet white gouache was something I'd have to fish out of my painting bag. Now it will be at my fingertips all the time.
One down side was immediately apparent; there is no flat mixing area. Although tempted to add some watercolor pans to the lower trays, I decided to leave all the extra pans empty. That way, I can slide them out to mix more colors as needed. Removing four of the five screw top jars from the set gave me three recesses for water in the back: one for cool colors, one for warm, and one clean. The white circle on the right is a compressed towel.
You can find the little compressed towels on Amazon. They come individually wrapped, and some are reusable several times. There are lots of different sizes and thicknesses, and the compositions of the towels vary, so choose a type that would suit your own needs if you decide to try them. These are about the diameter of a quarter, and 3/8" thick. I've found them especially handy when using a waterbrush. Sometimes with other kits, I've put one in a little palette cup, and clipped it onto my watercolor setup. You can see one that's partially expanded in the palette cup above. These are the ones I got. I should have gotten a larger quantity because I've been giving them out to my plein air friends. They're just too much fun!
If I'm sitting and painting on location, I can attach a small bungee cord or headband around my leg and the paint set, and have both hands free. I've used it once out on location so far, and that first test drive went better than most. We never know how practical something will be until we use it. Some experiments go by the wayside. I like that it's so compact and quick to set up. I just open it, set my board/paper or pad against the lid, fill the little water wells in the back (or just use a water brush), grab my brushes, and I'm good to go. The only down side I've encountered so far is that the angle of the lid is not adjustable. However, it's really easy to just lift the board out and hold it more horizontally for the short time I'd need to, since I am hands free with this setup.
The size adjustability is a big benefit. The image above shows only the right tray slid to the side, revealing half of the inner compartment, and the small front tray pulled forward. The left tray and other front trays are still inside the unit, in their original positions, and can be pulled out for extra mixing areas whenever I need them.
Here's another image of the kit fully opened, with a little painting (just under 4x6") set right into the lid.
Online you can find a selection of inexpensive makeup kits that have potential for paint sets. I couldn't find this exact one, though I tried to find a link for you. You may find one in your bathroom cabinet! I've bought smaller versions at the dollar store, and have made paint palettes from a bunch of those in the past. Be sure that whatever you select:
- will not tip over when fully opened
- is small enough to lie flat in your painting bag
- has potential for a mixing area
If the lid opens to 180 degrees, it can serve as a mixing tray. But then you'd need to rig up something to hold your paper, or bring an easel. I didn't want to have to transport anything except the kit, brushes, paper, and water. The size you like to work plays a big role in what setup will work for you. If you're like me, that changes a lot!
This is a perfect time of year to see what you might have lying around that you can repurpose for plein air season. It's just around the corner! I hope this post will help some of you explore some new options. Feel free to post what you've done in the comments!
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If you enjoy working in gouache, you may be interested in the following posts: