“Chips?!” you shout.
“Check!” yelps back a tiny voice.
“Sandwiches?” you ask.
“Chhhheck!”, squeals another little one, excitedly.
“Toy kits?” you ask with a smile, knowing the response it’ll bring.
“CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!” a chorus of small voices yell out excitedly, punctuating each exclamation with a gleeful jump in the air. They shake their bag of heirloom, watercolor toy blocks that you helped them paint just last week, rattling and clanking to the beat of each other’s cheers.
“Alright then, let’s go gang,” you chuckle, as the parade of littles follow you out of the parking lot and on to the beach. You all agree on a nice spot, not too far from the water’s edge but not too far from the car, just in case. You start to set up their foldable chairs but they all agree that the sand is more fun and more comfortable too.
“Why not?” you ask yourself, and decide to sit in the sand with them too. And you know what? They’re right, it is pretty nice.
You turn your back for just a moment to grab everyone’s snacks out of the cooler, but when you turn back around you see that the show has already started! The cement sky has begun to crack wide, leaking hot pinks and cool purples, dripping down the horizon to meet the ocean where the waves jump gleefully to greet it.
The children are no longer nestled in the sand, but rather back up on their feet, pulling at your sleeve with one hand and pulling out one of their hand painted blocks with another, yelling: “Look! The sky is watercolor! Just like we painted our homemade toys! Our toys look like the sunset!”
The youngest grabs the bag and dumps the rest of the DIY toys into the sand.
You wince out of reflex but then remember these are made to last – not just through a little sand – but through a lot of sunset memories like tonight too.
Making these beautiful watercolor toy blocks is simple but requires a little practice. We recommend working with one wooden block at a time until you feel confident moving forward with the rest of the toymaking. If you make a mistake or do not like the look when you first practice, it is much easier to sand one toy block than the whole set.
For this wooden toy set, we painted the end grain white with a pink star and used pink, purple, and red to create the watercolor effect. But feel free to switch out colors as you desire to get unique and special look for your Made-With-Love toys! Purple, blue, and green; or pink, yellow, and blue would also make beautiful toys!
How to Make Watercolor Blocks
Prep the Blocks
Check every side of your toy blocks, especially around the edges. If there are rough patches, take your sandpaper and smooth them out. To prevent scratching, sand by rubbing the sandpaper up and down along, not against, the long grain.
For detailed instructions and tips, see the “Prepping the Blocks” Tutorial.
Mix Your Paints
Our “Mixing Your Favorite Colors” Tutorial will teach you how to get the perfect shade.
We used the following colors in this example, but you are welcome to use YOUR favorite combinations!
- For Pink, mix Rosy Red and Butter Yellow in equal parts together.
- For Purple, mix Rosy Red and Mary Blue in equal parts together.
For these first steps, keep the paint in the pots. We will show you how to add distilled water later to get the watercolor effect on your toys.
Identify and Paint the End Grains
- Identify the end grain: it will appear curved with a darker appearance, while the long grain will be smooth and creamy white. If you need help, check out this toymaking tutorial full of picture examples that make identifying the end grain easy!
- Using your foam applicator, paint both the end grains Snowy White.
- Use only a little paint to start and slowly build up. You can create a smooth, even surface to make applying the silk screen stencil as easy as possible.
- Set the toy block on an unpainted side to dry.
- You might need two or three coats to get even coverage. Continue painting the end grain of the rest of the wooden toys. When you finish the last toy block, your first wooden block should be dry and ready for its next coat.
- Let dry once finished.
Finishing the End Grains
Paint the Stars
Sand the Edges
- Once the paint is dry, take your sandpaper and sand along the painted edges of the block. Check out this tutorial to learn the easy technique for getting a professional, clean edge on your wooden toys.
- Wipe clean.
Seal the End Grains
- Take your foam applicator and lightly dip it into the sealer.
- Seal the painted sides of your toys. Do not seal the four raw, unpainted sides.
- Set on an unpainted side to dry.
Mix Your Watercolors
- While your toy-safe sealer dries, mix your watercolors.
- Take the red, pink, and purple paint and dab small amounts on an artist’s palette or ceramic plate.
- Using a clean eyedropper or spoon, apply two or three droplets of clean, distilled water onto each paint dab.
- Using your detail brush, mix the water and acrylic paint thoroughly. Keep the individual paint colors separate to prevent them from mixing.
- Aim for a consistency like half and half cream.
Apply the Base Coat
- Take a little bit of your pink watered-down paint and move it to a separate area on the plate.
- Add an additional droplet of water and mix. You want the consistency to be like milk.
- Dip your detail brush into the watered-down pink paint.
- Cover one side of the block.
- Take care not to have the paint run down your wooden toy’s sealed, painted star side. If this happens, quickly take a baby wipe and wipe it clean.
- Flip the block over and paint the same color on the opposite side of the wooden block.
- Set on an unpainted side to dry.
- Continue with the rest of the wooden block set.
Creating the Watercolor Effect
- After the base coat is dry, take your detail brush and dip it into the pink paint with half and half cream consistency.
- Flood the top of the block with pink paint, corner to corner. You want to create a little puddle with uneven edges from one side to the next.
- Clean your detail brush.
- Dip the brush into the watered-down purple paint.
- Working quickly, put a drop of purple paint in the opposite corners that have not been flooded with pink paint. Gently swirl the paint, so it touches the edges and lightly mixes on the outer edge of the pink puddle.
- Clean your detail brush.
- Dip the brush into the red paint and apply it to empty sections.
- Gently use the brush to nudge the edges of the paint puddles together. You want them to touch but mix only a little.
- Look at the effect. Do you like it? Add more paint or gently swirl the paint to get your desired look.
Let Dry & Continue on the Other Blocks
Painting the Opposite Side
- When the watercolor effect is completely dry, flip the wooden block over to the other side.
- Repeat the technique to get the same effect on that side of the toy block for the entire wooden toy set.
- Let Dry.
Sand The Edges Crisp
- When the wooden blocks are completely dry, sand the edges so they are perfectly crisp.
- Leave two sides of the wooden block unpainted.
Seal the Last Four Sides
- Once dry, use your foam applicator or perfect brush to apply two thin coats of sealer to the last four sides of the toys.
- Set on a dry and sealed star side to dry.
- Cure for 72 Hours.
- Although the sealer will be dry to the touch very quickly, the underlayers still need to cure and dry.
- Store the toys a finger-width apart and on a gallon plastic freezer bag to avoid ‘gluing’ them to each other or the drying surface.
- Turn daily to ensure even curing on all sides of the wooden toys.
After the toys cure, they are ready for gift wrapping and playtime! Making toys is lots of fun, but playing with your loved ones is even better! This is the time to go and create special memories with your little ones. Go! Be Present. Be Happy. Be With Your Loved Ones.