this thing's incredible

I Paint at 36,000 Feet With This Liquid-Free Watercolour Set

The pairing is genius and at the same time remarkably simple. Photo: Courtesy the retailer

I never thought that I needed to paint on an airplane. I never thought that I needed to paint on a bench in the park, or on a train ride, or anywhere other than my dedicated uncomfy chair at my kitchen table. Paints are messy, and they require a carefully configured space, cups of murky water, and rolls of paper towels for blotting brushes, as well as sopping up said murky water when you spill it.

Or so I thought. When a friend showed me her Winsor & Newton pocket paint box, I was impressed. When she then showed me her set of water-bearing brush pens, my world changed. The pairing is genius, and at the same time remarkably simple: Each brush tip is attached to a squeezable plastic tube that you fill with water before you paint. The tip screws on, and the water doesn’t come out unless you press it. You gently squeeze the body of the brush over the palette, which is built into this tiny paint set, and use your single, delicate drop of water to moisten and mix. And that’s it. Then you paint. (I swear by my Bienfang sketchbook, which has bright-white mediumweight 70-pound paper, but any sketchbook with a little texture, and at least 50-pound paper, will work just fine.)

I experienced the true versatility of this combo on a recent flight to Chicago: Not only could I slip the paints past security in my backpack (they’re dry and solid, so no issues there), I was able to fill up the brushes with a little dribble of water from the airplane bathroom sink and use a couple of airline napkins to dry the brush. And when I’d finished painting an elegant still life of a chilled plastic bottle of California Cabernet and a resealable bag of Cheez-Its, I wiped off the brush and the palette with one of those napkins and tucked the whole set away. I found it to be an extremely calming way to spend an otherwise not-calming flight.

If I were the kind of person who carried things around in my shirt pockets, I would carry these there, because they would fit. But instead, I just keep them in my bag for those special moments when the light hits a breakfast sandwich just right.

The Brushes

Pentel Water-bearing Brush Pen

[Editor’s note: The exact pens Alex Testere loves are not available in the UK, but these are a very similar model.]

The Watercolours

Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers Pocket Box

The Notebook

Bienfang Sketch Book

A version of this story first appeared on the Strategist US.

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I Paint at 36,000 Feet With This Liquid-Free Watercolour Set