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The Gifted Artist: DIY Art in a Bottle Kit

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by secret messages, pen-pals, and treasure maps: mysteries carried on pieces of paper. This was waaaaay before home internet access, and AOL Instant Messenger was still light-years away. At school, we had this phone book sized directory of schools across the USA that were part of a nationwide pen-pal program. It sometimes still amazes me how far we've come in terms of communication and information access -- it's nearly instantaneous. The only way it can be made faster is if we developed some sort of app that enables telepathy.

Art in a Bottle -- like a message in a bottle -- is another one of those nostalgic treasures of a bygone era. One bottle that was found in 2018 off the coast of Australia was over 130 years old! This DIY gift idea is so easy to customize for the artist-adventurer in your life, and it's a safe bet that no one else will get them the same thing.

Suggested Supplies:

A Glass Bottle

A Natural Cork


Art Materials: Make them Plein Air friendly. Easily portable supplies may include a fine line pen, watercolor pencils, a compact watercolor pan set, squeeze brushes, or pencils. Lightfast pigmented supplies are more archival than dye-based.

We suggest using materials that can be broken down in case your bottle doesn’t make it intact to its final destination. Glass breaks down to become sea glass, and paper disintegrates. Natural materials like wood and cork will break down over time, as well.

Theme Ideas:

Location, Location, Location Send a note with instructions to sketch a scene at the spot where they cast off their bottle, or create something inspired by their locale.

Time Traveler

Put together a kit with a time traveler theme and suggest they make something signature to their style, or even to create a self-portrait. Include some notepaper with the art paper for them to write down anything they think would be interesting for someone in the future to find.

Environmental Experiment

Include ways to track their art once the bottle has been cast. If you know where they are traveling to, include a current chart, a mini GPS tracker, or instructions to use the interactive map here: This site was developed by the scientifically minded folks from Imperial College London, Utrecht University, and the Arc Center of Excellence for Climate System Science to track plastic ocean waste. Still, the same concept applies to your glass bottle since it uses a mathematical formula that uses data from currents and weather (Van Sebille, England, & Froyland, 2015).


Encourage your gift recipient to take a photo of their art before casting it off and posting it on social media. Include contact info, hashtags, or other information on the reverse side of their art should someone find the bottle intact. Other identifying info, such as the coordinates where it was cast off, can help connect the art back to the sender.

We'd love to see where your work ends up, too. If you've made one of these sets, or you were lucky enough to receive one, take a photo and post it to Instagram using #KINartinabottle


More on this idea: Thanks goes out once again to Diana Waldon, who made the artwork and the video for this project example.

If you'd like to read more on currents and what happens to things we throw into our oceans, the open environmental research letter for the website is referenced below.

Van Sebille, E., England, M.H, Froyland, G. (2015). Origin, dynamics and evolution of ocean garbage patches from observed surface drifters. IOP Science: Environmental Research Letters, 7(4). Retrieved from

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