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Learning acrylics

Acrylic seascape by Eileen McKenna

In May I switched from painting in watercolor to painting acrylic seascapes. I painted ten 12” x 12” canvases – intent on getting comfortable with the different medium. It was so frustrating in the beginning, but with each painting I learned something. I’ve pulled out the acrylics again – this time with bigger canvases, and I’m reminded of what I learned so far.

What I’ve learned about acrylics:

  • A coat of gesso makes the paint go on easier
  • When your brush starts to split – you need more water
  • When your brush is drippy – that’s too much water
  • Blend the colors next to each other for a more natural look
  • Blending works best when both colors are wet
  • Add highlights by adding white paint (or lighter paint) to your brush and blending it with the wet paint on the canvas
  • Use little canvases (or a canvas pad) to test color mixes
  • Painting in acrylic involves more set up and prep than watercolor. And more clean up.
  • It is not as easy with acrylics to make a quick fix or change
  • It is better to work when the paint on the canvas is wet and you have plenty of your colors mixed and ready
  • Using painter’s tape for a straight horizon line presents some challenges. The paint can accumulate at the tape creating an edge.

Click here to view my collection of watercolor and acrylic seascapes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.

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Teaching kids to paint watercolor seascapes

Watercolor seascape seashell wall hanging project

Last week I had the opportunity to teach kids ranging from 1st grade through high school how to paint the ocean with watercolor. The seascape painting was part of a 12” seashell wall hanging project to be completed over three days. I was excited but nervous.

Even though the kids were somewhat divided up by age – the age range was the biggest challenge. The kids were so sweet and I really enjoyed getting to know them over the course of 3 days. And their paintings (and projects) turned out amazing.

I had the whole project mapped out, which was helpful. Finishing early worked out fine, because I used the extra time to allow them to play and experiment with watercolor. Finding a few fun projects on Pinterest helped. What I would improve on next time would be setting up the project to allow them to work more independently – if possible.

I hope the kids had fun and have a new appreciation for watercolor.


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Watercolor and my sketchbook

Mini watercolor seascapes
After a busy time, it feels good to be playing around with watercolor again. When I haven’t painted in a while it feels easier to dip my toe in by working in my sketchbook. At first I don’t know what to paint so I just doodle and play around. Usually inspiration strikes. I started painting a series of mini seascapes. I’m practicing for a workshop I’m teaching next week.

July is World Watercolor Month – learn more here.


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Summer Fabric Designs

Summer fabric designs by Eileen McKenna | beach | pool | print patterns | summer themed fabrics
I am so inspired by summer! Click here to browse my summer fabrics in my Spoonflower shop.

If you decide to make something with one of these fabrics – I’d love to see! Click here to see some recent sewing projects.

At the beach or the pool, I find endless inspiration for new paintings, sketches and designs. View my seascape paintings here.


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How to Paint the Ocean with Watercolor and Gouache

How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | tutorial | step by step instructions | painting tips
The beach has been the backdrop of my life. It’s where I was born and raised, played, worked as a lifeguard…and now enjoy summer days with my family. I spend a lot of time learning and practicing capturing the ocean in watercolor.

How to Paint the Ocean with Watercolor and Gouache:

1. Reference photo. I always work from a photo. I have the luxury of taking my own ocean photos, but even if you can’t, there are plenty of photos online to use as reference.

2. Tape your paper to a board. My favorite paper is Fluid watercolor blocks. I use the cardboard back of an old, larger pad and painter’s tape.

4. Tape your horizon line. To ensure a straight line I tape it. I eyeball how much from the photo and measure and mark with pencil both sides of my paper so it’s straight. Put the tape above your marks.
Tape your horizon for a straight edge when painting the ocean in watercolor

5. Mix your colors. I use ultramarine, cadmium red, and cadmium yellow and mix them to achieve the different shades of the ocean. Since the ocean is many different colors I find this to be the best way to achieve the natural looking colors I’m looking for. The color of the distant ocean is usually bluer, the waves that are closer are greener, and underneath the foam is brown water. Very wet sand reflects the sky and has a bluish tint. As the sand gets further from the ocean (and is drier), it is lighter.

6. The first layer. I paint with a brush, wet with paint, onto dry paper. I start at the horizon with a bluer mix for the distant ocean and switch to a greener mix for closer waves. For the underneath of the foam of the crashing wave I add a little grey (made from my mix of blue, red, and yellow) and light greens. In front of the wave, I use a browner blue mix and closer to the shore, where the foam is, I use a brown mix. The sand closes to the water’s edge is darkest. From there I lighten the brown (make more translucent) with water for the drier sand. I cover most of the paper.
How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | painting tips
Let your first layer dry. The first layer often looks like a blob – don’t be discouraged! Watercolor is all about building up the layers and nothing is really permanent. You can manipulate and even erase the paint (by touching it with a wet brush and blotting the brush on a paper towel).

7. Adjusting the first layer – If your first layer is a bit washed out, add more paint to darken it. Use your photo as your guide. You can use this time to add darks and lights in the distant ocean, as well as within the wave in the foreground. If your first layer is very dark, you can use a wet brush to pull up some of the paint, to create highlights.

8. The sky. When your ocean at the horizon is completely dry, gently peel up the tape. The simplest way to paint the sky is to start at the top of the painting (I always turn it clockwise to paint the sky). Paint with a brush saturated with cerulean blue at the top of the painting (on your right if you turned it). Test the saturation of cerulean blue on a scrap of paper before touching your painting. Paint a few thick strokes, then dip your brush into your water, and paint another few strokes touching your first one. Paint to horizon line, dipping in water again if needed. You are watering down the paint as you get closer to the horizon line. The sky is lighter at the horizon and more saturated as you look up from there. Read this post if you want to explore painting more complex skies.
How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | painting tips

9. The foam – White gouache. Add the foam in the break of the wave and closer to the shore with white gouache. Gouache is more opaque than watercolor so you can paint with white over other colors. Use a flat brush and create overlapping horizontal zig zag lines for the foam close to shore. The flat brushes I use are: 1/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″. In the breaking wave use different techniques – with a round brush paint circular strokes, and paint small dots or specks (stippling).
Painting with gouache
How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | painting tips

Let this layer dry.

10+. Adding details. Compare your painting to your reference photo. They do not need to be exact! What areas need more detail, highlights, shadows, or color changes, etc.? This can involve several additional layers, with drying time in between, or just one or two. It all depends on the look you are going for – how loose, how realistic.

Details I add:

In the foam: I usually add more shadows (with dark brown or grey) within the foam, and blend it with the gouache, and more white gouache zig zag strokes on top of that.

In the crashing wave: There is a lot of depth in a crashing wave. I usually add shadows on top of the gouache and then add more gouache on top of that. Add little white dots for spray. I sometimes pat my finger on top of these so they look more natural. Depending on my reference photo, I may need to paint on the barrel of the wave (with a mostly dry brush). I usually add darker areas in the water in front of the breaking wave.

Distant ocean: If needed – dark and light areas for forming waves, and moving water.

Dark sand at the ocean’s edge: Right next to the edge of the water add a dark line of brown. Then go back with a wet brush and touch the line to “bleed” the brown.
Painting the ocean's edge
Add more paint to the wet area if necessary to create more wet sand.
Painting the ocean's edge

Calling it done! I usually work on a painting on and off for about a week. When I think it is close to being done, I prop it up and look at it from across the room. I may add a few more details. Sometimes it’s better to call it done, because tweaking it, may affect other areas. I’ll remember the “challenges” with a painting and try to overcome them in the next painting. I’d love to see YOUR seascape! Email me at lidesigner@yahoo.com.
How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | painting tips

View my collection of watercolor seascapes here. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!

 


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Several paintings at once takes the pressure off

Several paintings at once takes the pressure off
I always have a few paintings in progress at once. With watercolor it’s about having to wait for the layers to dry. With acrylics it’s convenient to have a few going on, when you have the paint mixed up and ready.

Having more than one, takes the pressure off one particular painting. During my drawing class days, I became so stressed about a drawing I was working on. I was afraid to add a single mark and ruin it. Thankfully I realized the unnecessary pressure I put on myself to make every drawing frame-able, and I relaxed way back!

Click here to view my collection of watercolor seascapes. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.


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Confidence in painting

Confidence in painting
The other morning I sat down to paint in an effort to turn my bad mood around. As I was painting, and not feeling great about myself, I was thinking how much confidence plays a part in painting. When you are feeling good, you are hopeful about the outcome of a painting as you work. But when you are feeling low, it’s easy for negative thoughts to sabotage your work. At these times it’s even hard to motivate to sit down and paint in the first place.

Thankfully, painting did help turn my mindset around and most of the things bothering me either worked themselves out, or proved to not be as bad as I let them seem.

A few days later I was reading Chip Gaines’s book “Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.” Chip, along with his wife Joanna, starred in HGTV’s Fixer Upper. Chip’s book is about their story, and is also very motivational. Because of my recent thoughts on confidence and painting, this quote really spoke to me:

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff

I’m glad that I sat down the other morning to paint despite my mood. I know that if you really want something, you have to work at it no matter what, and I’m trying to put that into practice. Check out Chip’s book here.

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!


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Know your Subject

Knowing your subject when painting | painting the ocean
I often think about an online class I took by Val Webb called “Drawing Children.” At the time, I was amazed at how well Val knows the nuances of the faces and figures of children. Now as I paint the ocean – almost exclusively, mostly in watercolor, but recently in acrylics – I think about not just the techniques to make the painting look realistic, but the characteristics of the ocean.

As I was painting the water, specifically the foam at high tide, I was painting and pulling back the strokes, because I was thinking about how the water is being pulled back by the tide. This is something you wouldn’t know just by looking at a photo. All the time I’ve spent at the beach might be making a difference in my painting. Last summer, after painting the ocean all winter, I looked and observed the water differently than before.

Work in progress where I was “pulling back”
Know your subject - painting the ocean

My son recently asked if I was going to paint anything else. I guess to him, every painting is similar. To me I’m learning with each painting. The ocean looks so different at different times and different angles. I’m sticking with the ocean, and I’m currently challenging myself by working to capture this amazing subject in acrylics.

Click here to view my collection of watercolor seascapes. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.


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Comfortable with Acrylics

Going from watercolor to acrylics, painting acrylic seascapes
Starting this third set of canvases was the first time I felt comfortable – instead of frustrated – with acrylic painting. I was working on my first layer, blending all my colors on the canvas, and I had that feeling that I usually have with watercolor. It’s a happy, satisfied feeling, that what you are picturing in your mind is coming out on the canvas. I’m learning how to work the acrylics. I’m getting it. The first layer of this painting felt like a break through.

The first layer:
Going from watercolor to acrylics

What I’ve learned about acrylics so far this month:

  • A coat of gesso makes the paint go on easier
  • When your brush starts to split – you need more water
  • When your brush is drippy – that’s too much water
  • Blend the colors next to each other for a more natural look
  • Add highlights by adding white paint (or lighter paint) to your brush and blending it with the wet paint on the canvas
  • Use little canvases (or a canvas pad) to test color mixes
  • Painting in acrylic involves more set up and prep than watercolor
  • It is not at easy as watercolor to make a quick fix or change
  • It is better to work when the paint on the canvas is wet and you have plenty of your colors mixed and ready

Click here to view my collection of watercolor seascapes. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.