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Turn Dried Up Markers into Watercolour Paints

Apr 22, 2015

Today, in honour of Earth Day, we're sharing one of our favourite upcycling projects. 

We're going to show you how to turn your old, dried up markers, into awesome liquid watercolour paints that you can craft and create with. Then we'll show you how we used ours for a simple Earth Day art activity.

Now, normally kids are disappointed to discover that their markers have dried up, aren't they? Well, here in my home daycare, we actually get excited when we find a marker that doesn’t work anymore. We add it to a special basket that we keep on our colouring shelf, and the hooligans know that when we collect enough, we'll turn those useless markers into a batch of liquid water colours.

Liquid watercolours, if you’re not familiar with them, are fabulous for painting and crafting with, and they’re great for conducting colourful art experiments with. You can buy liquid watercolours at most craft stores, but they tend to be a little expensive. Making our own saves us quite a bit of money, which means we can use them a little more liberally than we would if we’d paid 10 or 15 dollars for them.

Let me show you how it's done!

You Will Need:

  • a collection of dried-up, water-based (washable) markers
  • glass jars
  • water
  • needle-nose pliers
  • scissors

To begin, the hooligans sort our dried out markers into colour groups. That’s always a fun activity in itself.

A variety of markers being sorted into colour groups.


You'll also love: Salt + Glue Watercolour Art Experiment


When we have our colours all organized, we remove the lids, and place the markers, tips down, into the jars. Then we add about a  to 1/3 of a cup of water to each jar.

Three small kids loading markers into jars based on colour.

We swish the markers around in the water a little, and then we let them sit for several days. We check our jars daily to observe the water becoming darker and darker.

After a few days, I use the pliers to remove the ends of the markers, and pull out the ink inserts. Those inserts usually still contain lots of colour, so I cut them up with the scissors, and I let those pieces sit in the jars for a few more days. 

A clear glass jar filled about 1/8th of the way with snipped marker nibs sitting in water.

FYI: that step can be a bit messy, so I use the kitchen sink as my work space.

After another couple of days, your watercolours will be ready!

Jars filled with brightly coloured

Remove the chopped up felt pieces, and start creating!

You can use your liquid watercolours full-strength, or if you'd rather, you can dilute them with a small amount of water.

To store your watercolours, just pop a lid on the jar. They will keep indefinitely.

A simple Earth Day art activity: 

Today, for Earth Day, we’re using our liquid watercolours and a few cotton make-up pads for an absorption experiment.

Don’t the results look like little replicas of the planet Earth?

A collage of four images of kids using droppers to drop small amounts of blue and green paint onto round cotton makeup pads.

The hooligans used pipettes (or medicine droppers) to drip green and blue colour on to their cotton pads. Droppers are terrific for developing fine motor skills and co-ordination.  

It’s a whole lot of fun dribbling colour onto the pads, and watching it quickly spread as it’s absorbed into the cotton.

What will we do with our miniature Earths? We might create a collage with them, or string them into necklaces, or use them to decorate homemade greeting cards.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Article Author Jackie Currie
Jackie Currie

Read more from Jackie here.

Jackie Currie is a mother, daycare provider, and the creative spirit behind the blog Happy Hooligans. A self-proclaimed glitterphobe, she specializes in easy, affordable arts & crafts and good, old-fashioned play.

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