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The idea for this project started in order to help a friend try out leather-craft by making a laptop sleeve. I wanted to make a somewhat similar but smaller prototype first to try things in order to provide useful guidance.

Around the same time, I had started learning watercolor painting and had been in need for a practical way to carry and protect the brushes and paints needed to paint on the go.

This is how I started thinking about how to adapt the laptop sleeve design to fit my specific needs.

Design considerations


The compartment to store the brushes is directly inspired by the etsy product listed in the footnotes. It is designed to accommodate the brushes and pencils I have at the moment, with a few extra slots to add more brushes in the future.

I chose to paint the koi fish because I thought that it may end up looking quite good even considering my very limited skill level.

The brushes and paints box should be secured with an unintrusive and easy to operate closing system.


The sleeve should be wide enough to accommodate the brushes.

The compartment should be based on the dimensions of the of the watercolor paints case. It should slide in and out with ease.


The leather(s) should be light and relatively thin (3/4oz or less).

The leather that will be painted on should be vegetable tanned to provide a good canvas for the watercolor pigments.


Initial measurements and pattern drafting

Measure twice tent times, cut once…or so the saying goes.

Experiments with watercolor and leather

Two questions needed to be answered before starting anything serious:

  1. Can I actually use watercolors on the leather and will the pigment stay on? Turns out the answer is yes. The technique is similar as it would be on paper, the main difference being that an extremely generous amount of water has to be used in order to obtain similar effects. Some of the pigment penetrates the fibers of the leather but a good portion stays on the surface. Thus I had to apply a leather finish to protect the paint.
  2. Can I actually replicate the beautiful Koi fish I saw on a youtube video? Also yes, and as a bonus the practice round turned out so well that I have a new painting hanging on my wall now.

Designing and cutting out the brushes sleeve pattern

The pattern was designed on inkscape, printed on thick paper and cut it, then traced on the shipskin used for the brushes sleeve.

Finally the different parts of the sleeve are cut out with an X-Acto knife.

Sewing the brushes sleeve

Next is sewing the two sides of the sleeve and all the pockets with flax thread au chinois.

Cutting out the parts for the clutch bag

The back of the clutch bag is separated so that I can use it as a canvas without putting paint on the parts that will make up the paint box compartment.

Painting the watercolor background

The most satisfying part of the process. It turned out much better than I had hoped for.

After that the paint dried completely, I coated it with leather finish hoping) to fix it in place.

Cutting and assembling the pieces

Next the different parts of the clutch bag were cut to dimensions.

The paints box compartment was assembled and sewed first to the backside.

Then the brushes sleeve was sewn in turn to the backside as well.

Installing the magnetic snaps

3 magnetic snaps are set-up:

  • 2 which will secure the brushes sleeve.
  • 1 which will keep the clutch lid closed.

I chose magnetic snaps because I wanted the clutch to be very easily opened and closed.

Wet-forming the clutch lid

After I finished installing the snaps, I realized that I didn’t like the way the flat clutch lid lookied once closed.

I decided to try to wet-form it in order to shape it on the compartment below to provide a tighter and cleaner fit.


All in all, I am very pleased about the result. The watercolor painting looks very good and both the brushes and the paints are secured in a container that is easy to carry and to operate.

In future versions, I would like to find a more elegant way to cover the backside of the magnetic snaps, as well as a different design for the lid. I find the last-minute folds that I made a bit inadequate.


The following online content provided some assistance and/or inspiration during the making of this project:

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