Look a little longer

I’ve been working at a museum since September. Last week, I learned that on average people view a work of art for only FIVE seconds! Can you believe that? Actually, who am I kidding? I’ve certainly zipped through a museum focused on what was for lunch.

In my role at the museum, I work with kids and we ask them to focus on the details, to look for a longer amount of time and to share what they see. It is really fun and fulfilling!

The other day, I glanced out the window at one of our Crepe Myrtles. The tree glows when the sunlight hits it. I thought about the five second statistic and how it’s not just about artwork, but things that inspire us. How long do we sit and observe something that strikes us? I know myself, I’m pretty impatient. If something inspires me, I’ll take a photo or rush to pull out my sketchbook. While drawing is a way to help you observe, I thought, “What if I just look at the tree for a few minutes?” What else will I notice?

As I sat there I was amazed at all the colors in one tree – green, orange, gold, red, purple. The leaves, hit by the sun, glowed – like they are on fire. When the sun went behind a cloud, the colors dimmed. As I looked at the closely entwined branches rising upward from the soil, I could imagine them taking on the shape of a woman. 

Next time something inspires me, instead of snapping a quick photo and walking away, I’m going to spend a few minutes really looking and noticing all the details.

How about you?

Looking to explore your creativity…

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Play and have fun with this easy idea…

Play and doodle step 1 - Eileen McKennna

Last week, I participated in a virtual art workshop. A small piece of canvas was supplied to participants prior to the workshop. I taped my canvas square to a piece of paper, so I could paint to the edges without getting paint all over. After the workshop was over and I removed my canvas square, I had areas of acrylic paint on the edges of my paper. Over the next few days, I mindlessly doodled on these patches of paint. It was so fun!

In fact, it was so enjoyable, I purposely made more patches of acrylic paint to doodle on! Art shouldn’t always be about the final piece. The creative process and the fun of exploration are just as important.

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Yesterday, when I pulled out my new patches of paint to doodle on – I was so excited! The bright colors were so inspiring.

When you have a chance – Play. Try my acrylic doodling idea or doodle on a newspaper, catalog, or scrap paper. Just have fun and play. 

Play and doodle step 2 - Eileen McKennna

You don’t need any specific materials to play – grab what you have on hand. But if you want to know what I used:

Happy Playing!

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Planting Fields Arboretum and Coe Hall

Planting Fields Arboretum
Planting Fields Arboretum

Last Sunday, we visited the Planting Fields Arboretum and Coe Hall in Oyster Bay, Long Island.

Planting Fields Arboretum

The grounds are beautiful, we had visited last year, but this time we booked a tour of Coe Hall. It was so interesting. There are pieces of stained glass that originated in Anne Boleyn’s childhood home! And a weird light box in the bathroom that was an invention of Dr. Kellogg (like the cereal).

One of the things I loved the most, were the murals by William Chanler. One of Chanler’s original murals is in the breakfast room and depicts Buffalo in Wyoming, where the Coe family also resided. Chanler built up the layers of paint, giving the buffalo a 3D effect. He added gold metallic paint too. It’s really cool.

A replica of another Chanler mural is in Mai Coe’s bedroom. The mural is a silvery tropical scene of birds and palm trees. The most interesting part, is the fine layer of lace painted on top of it.

I also loved the dining room with tall windows on all three sides. That’s where some of the Anne Boleyn stained glass is. The beautiful candelabras were refracting the sunlight and creating rainbows all over the room.

Planting Fields Arboretum
Greenhouse Planting Fields Arboretum

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I love the ocean, but I’m also fascinated with the sky. The colors at sunrise and sunset are unbelievable. Every morning when I enter the high school parking lot I’m greeted by a wide open view of the sun rising over the trees. It’s a great way to start the day.

When I look up at the sky, or down from an airplane window, I’m amazed at how the clouds remind me of the ocean. Sometimes there is so much movement and power, other times it’s calm. 

If you are struggle with the question of what to paint – just look up!

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Setting yourself up for Creative Success

I’m excited for Inktober, excited to get back to daily creativity. I’ve adjusted to my new work schedule and am ready to fit drawing and painting in. This is how I’m setting myself up for a successful October and how you can too!

Inktober check off calendar – Eileen McKenna

Organize your supplies. I’ve selected the tools I’ll be using for daily ink drawings – a sketchbook that isn’t great with watercolor but the smooth white pages are perfect for ink. I have enough pages left for all of October plus a few warmup pages. I even dated all the pages to make sure. And I have my favorite ink pen ready – a Uniball signo.

Find something or someone to hold you accountable. I printed a small calendar for daily checking off. I plan on posting my daily work on Instagram. When we feel we have to check in with someone or something (like social media) it helps keep us on track.

Schedule creative time. Pick the time of day you plan on creating. For me it’s early morning before work. It’s a nice relaxing way to start the day. If something gets in the way, I can always catchup later in the day.

“Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life"
Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life”

Make a plan. The more detailed your plan the better. I recommend in my book Creative Exploration that you start simple – pencil and paper. Each week after that you can try out different mediums. I’m participating in Inktober so I’ll be using an ink pen. When the mood strikes I’ll add watercolor. The benefit of some kind of plan is to prevent you from either not sitting down to create because you don’t know what to do or from sitting down and not having any direction. In Creative Exploration I recommend keeping a running list of subject ideas to refer to when you need it.

Find a creative space. Having a designated creative space makes a big difference. Years ago I took over our dining table and leave my supplies out. It makes sitting down to create so easy. No setup needed. Sometimes when I want to get back in the zone, I spend time organizing my supplies and space. By the time I’m done, I’m so ready to get to work!

Be kind to yourself. No one is perfect. Missing a day here or there isn’t the end of the world. Forgive yourself and pick up your pen or paints the next day. Don’t let one day turn into a week.

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October is Inktober

Let’s Get Excited for Inktober by Eileen McKenna

When I think of October I think of Fall colors and black ink lines. October is InkTober! For several years I’ve participated in Inktober, a daily challenge to create in ink. In the early years of my participation, I was a purest, only drawing in ink. But it’s hard for me to stay away from my watercolors for a whole month! In more recent years I’ve blended the two – creating fall themed illustrations with ink outlines using my favorite ink pen.

Inktober illustration by Eileen McKenna

There are optional Inktober prompts – which I don’t follow. Prompts are great, but I prefer to paint what inspires me. There are tons of creative challenges online. It doesn’t matter which one you follow or if you follow all the “rules.” The point of these challenges is to inspire and motivate us to create more regularly.

I’m adjusting to my new work schedule and am ready to fit in daily creativity – so Inktober comes at the perfect time for me. What about you? Are you ready for Inktober?!

Learn more:

Learn more about Inktober
find out where I met the creator of Inktober,
and read my Inktober supply checklist:

Don’t miss out:

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Let’s Paint Fall

Last weekend, after a beautiful beach day, I was sitting in my yard when a yellow leaf floated past me and landed in the grass. I yelled to my son, “It’s fall!” Despite the beautiful, summery weather, fall is indeed on its way.

I remember the first fall after making “my creative resolution.” It was a time when I had long lists of ideas for projects. I was noticing everything around me, soaking up the inspiration. When the leaves started to change and fall from the trees, I was stunned by the explosion of color. Was it always like this? How come I never noticed it before?

Being open to inspiration is a big part of the creative process. Knowing what to paint when you sit down comes from soaking up inspiration in the time before painting. I welcome the change of seasons. I welcome the fresh inspiration.

paint a single leaf

Paint a single leaf and challenge yourself to make it as realistic as possible. It’s all about noticing the details and painting more and more layers, with thinner and thinner brushes as you go.

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paint a pile of leaves

Paint a pile of leaves and challenge yourself to use as many colors as possible.

Capturing fall works perfectly with watercolor. Think of all of the colors on one leaf, or in one tree. Allow your watercolors to bleed and blend – like they love to do. Be inspired by the season! 

Fall landscape printable tutorial

Embrace the vibrant colors of fall with this step by step tutorial. Trace the barn and create the farm house with a few pieces of tape – no drawing required!

Fall Pumpkin Farm Painting Tutorial
Download from my Etsy shop!

for more beginner watercolor painting ideas:

Savoring Summer

Painting summer. Watercolor sketchbook.

I originally planned to write about looking towards fall, but after scrolling through my photos I was inspired to paint a seascape and sunset. Thankfully, even though we are away, I had my supplies with me and some time to sit and paint. I haven’t painted enough lately and it felt SO GOOD.

In NY the weather has been spectacular. Without the oppressive heat and humidity we’ve had some beautiful “top notch” beach days. And what’s more inspiring than standing in the surf watching the waves roll in?

Soon enough the blue, green and brown color palette will be replaced with red, orange and yellow. For now I’m holding on to summer a bit longer.

Summer inspiration – standing in the ocean watching the waves roll in.

Seascape Painting Lessons in pdf or video format

Watercolor seascape PDF tutorial
Watercolor seascape video lesson

September Routines and Creative Goals

My friend asked me the other day how it was going with creating every day in August. I looked at her blankly until she explained that I had written in my newsletter that I was going to create every day in August. Red faced I admitted that not only had I failed in that goal, I had also forgotten about it.

September Routines and Creative Goals

what I’ve learned while pursuing a “creative life”

  • Goals motivate us
  • Keep your goals realistic
  • Be kind to yourself when you don’t meet your goals

When we falter in our regular creative practices, we need to brush ourselves off, adjust our focus and expectations, and try again. September is the perfect time for this!

I’ve always loved September- it has the fresh start feeling of the new year. Life gets back to more of a routine, especially if you have kids. I always use September as a chance to reassess my goals, projects and routines.

This year I’m starting a brand new job so everything will change in terms of my schedule. Up until now my schedule has been very flexible. I mostly work from home and teach at a kids art studio several afternoons a week. With my new schedule I will really have to prioritize to get stuff done.

One painting or illustration a week

I’ve decided that painting every single day isn’t going to be realistic for me. My September goal is to create one painting or illustration a week. When possible I will sit and paint. I truly believe even 10-15 minutes of painting makes such a difference!

As usual, I’ll paint what is inspiring me. Maybe I’ll paint within a theme each week. I’m sure the upcoming fall season will play a role. At some point I’ll dive into all the photos I took this summer. These projects will take a few days to complete, so while I won’t be painting every day, I’ll be painting a few days a week.

Any illustration work will not count towards my weekly painting project. I have to have some rules for myself.

Sharing with you

I also want to keep up with my blog and newsletter. I’ve been sharing my creative journey on this blog for almost eight years! I love thinking and writing about creativity and painting and collecting interesting links. If you aren’t signed up for my newsletter – sign up here:

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When I first made “My Creative Resolution” – the blog was what held me accountable each week. I had to create and post finished pieces – otherwise I would be revealing myself as someone who lost motivation and didn’t finish things. That was in fact what I was, but the blog helped me change that.

If you are looking to introduce regular creativity into your life check out my book Creative Exploration. I turned my journey into a process for others to follow. Creativity has brought so much joy and opportunity into my life!

Learn more here!