Friday, April 06, 2007

Home Made Watercolour Bijou Box

It seems that the people at Home Depot rarely know what they have as products. I have received many emails saying that they don't carry shelf edging. NOT TRUE! The do. They are usually kept in black piping that is hug from the bottom of the wood section in the shelf isle. For your convenience, I stole a bar code so you can print it and take it with you and ask them to scan it and maybe that will alert them to the FACT that they have it!! Here it is:

For the watercolour sketchers, The Winsor an Newton Bijou Box has got to be on top of their wish lists. It is a beautifully compact and solid enamelled box that measures 79mm x 60mm x 16mm (or approximately 3" x 2.5" x 3/4"). I have always wanted to have one of these, but since I own two larger Winsor and Newton boxes and have made my own Altoids watercolour boxes before, I could not justify the cost of the Winsor and Newton Bijou Box.

This size box is excellent for carrying around in a pocket for sketching when you are out in the everyday world. It is the size of a Blackberry, and when coupled with a small size pocket sketchbook and a waterbrush, can turn into an instant pocket studio.

I love my Altoids box. It has been my companion for a while now, but over time it has become loose and clunky and with spring around the corner, it was time to retire it. I had been constantly on the look out for a metal box that approximates the dimensions of the Bijou Box. Call it an ideal, or just the fact that it is a classic and THE one to be imitated. I always look for boxes, mint boxes at convenience stores, metal boxes at garage sales. Anywhere I see a metal box, I try to envision it as a watercolour box.

A few months ago I was at a conference where they were giving away mints boxes. They called them "Manage-mints". Smart idea! I didn't care much for the mints, but the box? The dimensions of this small metal box were almost the same as the Winsor and Newton Bijou Box. They are exactly 80mm x 63mm x 17mm. It is professionally covered with white enamel, and I was able to easily remove all the marketing graphics off of the box by using a bit of my wife's Acetone. That left me with a very nice white enamelled box. Granted the Bijou Box is black, but hey! This was the home made version so white would be just fine by me.

In my earlier work on the Altoids box and in restoring one of my Winsor and Newton boxes, I used 3/4" shelf-edging to hold the pans in the boxes. These shelf edging strips work perfectly and allow you to change the pans and half pans easily, but hold them in place extremely well. For this box, I decided to use 5/8" shelf-edging. If you go to your local hardware store you will actually find three sizes of these shelf-edgings. 3/4", 5/8" and 1/2". The first two sizes will hold half pans very well in different directions, the third size is not useful for our purposes, but I am sure I will find a use for it soon. The reason I used the 5/8" edging is that three strips of that size, will fit perfectly in the box while only two of the 3/4" would fit in and I would be left with significant unused space in the box. Moreover with the two 3/4" strips, I would be able to hold 10 half pans, while with the 5/8" edging, I could fit 12 half pans into this box of 2.4" x 3.0" x 3/4".

Aside from the shelf edging, I needed a plain white vinyl tile, six 1/2" staples (The kind used with a staple gun), and a small piece of white adhesive shelf lining. I also needed the smallest drill bit in my tool box.

I started by measuring the inside of the box and cutting a piece of the vinyl tile to fit snugly in there. I also measured the inside of the cover and cut the shelf lining to size and stuck it there. The white shelf lining makes the inside of the box cover a perfect place mixing colours.

I then cut three strips of the 5/8" shelf edging to fit in the box and secured them to the vinyl tile by drilling holes in the edging and the tile and threading the 1/2" staples in these holes to hold the tile and edging together. The 1/2" staples hold the pieces together very well and you do not have to worry about them becoming unglued if you try to change the half pans. I fit the finished component in to the box, and filled the edging with 12 half pans.

I am ready for spring now. This blackberry-size paint box fits easily in my jacket pocket and with a couple of travel brushes and a small moleskin-like sketch book, I am ready and able to sketch any where, any time.

Watercolour artists fall into two groups: Those who use tube paint, and those who prefer pans and half-pans. Whether you are traveling near or far, you should consider using paint in pan and half-pans in boxes. There is a myth in North America, that you can't get rich colour out of pans. Not true. You can get colours that are just as rich from the pans as you can get from the tube. All you have to do is wet them before you use them. If you are still not convinced that you should give pans a try, maybe this will do the trick: With new carry-on travel restrictions on liquid and jells, tube paints are not likely to make it past the security counter at your local airport. So if you plan to travel with your paint, I hope that this article has given you an idea of how to make your own home made watercolour Bijou Box.


  1. A lot of products are packaged in tin boxes, and they're fun to use not just to store paint - although that's probably the most inventive use I've seen. I have a couple of old Fossil boxes I've kept for years. Paint box question: Do you prefer boxes with hinges, do they keep the paint better, or does it not matter?

  2. I have been eyeing your Fossil boxes for some time now :-) But yes the hinged top is important. The open side of the top serves as a place to mix paints and when it is attached to the box it all fits in the palm of your hand.

  3. You are such an inventive guy. I always admire those that can go to Home Depot and see art supplies! I especially admire how you used the vinyl siding to attach your trays, rather than trying to attach the trays directly to the metal box. I can tell you already, if I had been trying to do it myself, that's where I would have got stuck.

    Dumb question: you didn't make the little pans of watercolor yourself, right? Can you buy dry paint like that -- loose -- or do you buy them in a set and then take them apart to make them portable?

  4. Hi Debi,

    You can buy the dry paints in pans and half pans loose, or you can buy the empty half-pans and fill them with tube paint :-)

  5. Zan,

    I'm trying to make the Bijou Box from your website but cannot locate the edging anywhere here un the states. I saw your 1st box on Russs sketch site. I wish I could find the edging! This box rocks.

  6. Hey Sean,

    Thanks for the comment. You should be able to get the shelf edging at Home Depot. They are usually placed in a pipe somewhere around the 2x4s. If all else fales let me know I could send you some of mine.

  7. I've been thinking about making one of these myself, only with a different sized box, and I can't find dimensions for the pans anywhere (I haven't bought paint yet, I'm a preplanner, lol). You wouldn't happen to have the complete HxWxL measurements of empty half pans, and loose cakes themselves? I can't find this info *anywhere*!

  8. Gina, the half pans are:
    2cm x 1.7cm x 1.0cm
    The full pan is:
    3cm x 2cm x 1cm
    Hope that helps!

  9. Monica10:40 pm

    Thanks for this great tip!

    I made myself one of these using a wooden "cigar box" I purchased at Michaels, a floor tile, and these plastic casings that are used to hide wires going up the wall. Cost me $15.00 total.

    It was going to cost me more than $100.00 to buy two tins big enough to hold all my 1/2 pans.

    Having all of them in one box works out much better!


  10. Anonymous12:32 pm

    This is the best home made version I've ever seen.

    Question: Do you think I could also use the 5/8 edging to fit 12 half pans in an altoid box? I'm having a hard time figuring out the exact dimensions. Thanks!

  11. The altoid box is a bit narrower than this box that I am using here. I would suggest that you try both. The shelf edging (available at home depot - stuck in black pipes under the wooden shelves) is cheap and worth having the two sizes.

  12. I've just joined Katherine Tyrrel's Sketchercise group and was wondering how to carry supplies with me in a compact form, so this is great to find. Thanks!

  13. I couldn't find the self-edging as well, and went to Home Depot. I asked 6 different people who had worked there, and they said they've never seen it before. Even went to my local hardware store on two different days with the same results. Is there a brand name you bought, so I may just order online somehow? Awesome idea!

  14. Anonymous11:42 pm

    This is a good idea! I've been looking for a tiny watercolor paint set that will fit in my purse.

    Now I'll have to give this a try.

    Mind if I boost this post?

  15. Thank you for your note. Boost away :)

  16. Anonymous8:14 pm

    Hi there,

    This is a message for the webmaster/admin here at

    Can I use part of the information from this blog post above if I provide a link back to your website?


  17. Anonymous8:16 pm

    thanks for this tips

  18. Anonymous4:17 am


    This is a message for the webmaster/admin here at

    May I use part of the information from your post right above if I provide a link back to your site?


  19. Hi Anon,

    When you say part, how much or how little? It is always better to link to the post. There are several posts about bijou and altoid boxes that you can link to here.

  20. Hi For those that can't find edging try the office supply store of craft store. There may be some kind of plastic binder clip thing that will work. A cabinet shop might have something also. I have also made these with the plastic daily pill boxes to hold the paint inside the altoids box. They are bigger so you can't get as many in the box. I haven't tried it, but a 1/2 pan might fit in the little compartments. The plastic pill box also has a cover over each compartment and helps keep in the moisture. I love the idea of the floor tile. It would hold the plastic pill boxes in place with the sticky side up and might help with the rust problem. Don't get too attached to these little guys, the lids get rusty and become hard to open and close and the flimsy hindges give out pretty quick but having the whole thing on a tile that is easy to move to a new box is a great idea. I have tried spray painting the insides and also covering with white vinal contact paper.
    If you want something a little bigger try a kids poster paint box for a couple of bucks. They have 7 or 8 removable, oval pans . Just pop them out and soak them for a while and remove the cheap paint and add your tube colors. Room for a brush and more mixing space. Thanks for the great tips Fawzan!

  21. Anonymous2:10 pm

    And here I was trying to buy another WN box on ebay. This is much better! You are awesome! Happy painting! I have also used tube paint in bead/craft boxes- Craft mates.


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