A few years ago I was on my way to do a watercolor painting demonstration at a Sydney art society when I had a sudden panic attack as I thought I may have left my palette back at my studio. I was too far from home to turn back. I pulled over and checked my materials and quickly realised that I had all my gear and that I had panicked for nothing.

This incident got me thinking. During the remainder of my journey I wondered what I would have done had I really left my watercolor paints and palette behind. I wondered what other material I could use instead of watercolor paint. After all watercolors are just a pigment that you mix with water. Sure they have other chemicals added such as binders (gum arabic) and fillers, but the main ingredients are pigment and water. I wondered just what material would have been at my venue as it was quite unlikely anyone would have turned up with their own watercolor palette and paints that I could borrow. I realised that I could use something like instant coffee as a pigment as it would surely be available and as a palette I could use a plastic cup.

Later in the week I related this above story to my regular watercolor painting students who responded by asking me to demonstrate just how I would have produced such a painting.

The painting below is the result of that test. It turned out to be quite a nice little watercolor sketch and I often take it out when I run workshops or do watercolor demonstrations to highlight that it is water that is the key ingredient in a watercolor painting and the pigments are secondary (though also very important if you want your painting to be around for a long time and want to use different colors in your work).

Watercolor painting with instant coffee

Quick Sketch of simple Beach Scene watercolor painting using instant coffee

Using instant coffee to paint a watercolor painting

So I mixed up some instant coffee into a very thick past. This became my strongest tone from which I created my lighter tones by adding more water. It is actually water and how it behaves that is watercolor painting’s most important ingredient.

So if you ever find yourself without your paints but with a burning desire to get creative with some watercolor painting then maybe this is one possible solution for you. Of course if you leave your brushes and paper behind then that is another story. Oh,in case you are wondering, I used Nescafe Espresso blend coffee!