Eileen McKenna Art & Design

Watercolor Art | Creative Inspiration to help you be creative on a regular basis


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Explore! We’ve got nothing but time

In the second year of my blog and my creative resolution, I was so inspired! I wanted to try everything. So many of the things I saw online interested me – designing repeating patterns, block printing, etc. That second year, I set out to try it all. As I struggled with cutting my first linoleum blocks, I realized how much time it would take to master block printing. To get “good” at any of the things on my list would require time and focus.

At that time I was making progress with watercolor and loving it. I was enjoying the feeling of moving beyond the struggling beginner stage. I also realized that if I continued to try everything, I was diluting my focus and time, and wouldn’t progress as much with watercolor. I made the decision to trim my list and keep watercolor at the top.

With the Coronavirus and self quarantine I, like many of you, find myself with lots of free time. Work has dried up, and leaving the house is extremely limited. I now have nothing but time. It’s not easy during these scary and uncertain times to put time into creating. Every morning I write a list of the “productive” things I want to accomplish. It motivates me. With each item I tackle – a chore, exercise, painting, writing a blog post, going outside, I’m motivated to do more things. The sense of accomplishment helps keep me positive.

Not sure what to put your energy into? My book takes you step by step through the process for introducing regular creativity into your life, finding inspiration, and exploring mediums. Learn about Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life by clicking here.

How to be an artist | how to start an art practice | explore art mediums
Available as an ebook or paperback on Amazon!


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Watercolor Wisdom

I starting painting in watercolor about twelve years ago when I enrolled in a class. A few years later – during the early days of my blog – I gave myself the freedom to explore everything and anything. I came back to watercolor to make working in my sketchbook more fun, and remembered how much I loved it. Watercolor has been a focus of mine ever since. Here are the most impactful things I’ve learned.

Embrace the magic. When I showed my teacher my first watercolor painting she said, “No, no, no, you’re drawing.” I was quite proud of my painting and didn’t understand what she meant. But as my familiarity with watercolor grew, I began to understand. Allow watercolor to do its thing. Colors bleed into one another creating interesting effects. It’s magical!

Go with the flow. Give up control. Some people say they don’t like watercolor. I think it’s because you don’t have as much control as with other mediums. Colors will bleed into one another whether you want them to or not. But over time you will better be able to predict what will happen – how the paint will react. You have more control then you think. Embracing the fluidity creates beautiful effects.

It’s not (quite) permanent. A damp brush can “erase” watercolor. This is more effective when the paint is still wet. A wet brush can also soften edges. You can “work” at a painting to turn it into your desired outcome.

Paper matters. Always use watercolor or  multimedia paper. Other papers are not made for watercolor and will wrinkle and tear, especially the more you “work” your painting. Tape your paper to cardboard if you are painting to the edges, to prevent buckling.

It’s all about the layers. Add more and more detail with each “layer” using a finer and drier brush as you go. Allow drying time between each layer. A watercolor painting is like a camera coming into focus. It’s starts out blurry – the first layer. With each layer the painting comes more and more into “focus.”

Use super thin brushes for fine lines. Years ago I began using a black gel pen for thin lines. I really liked this illustrative effect and used it for years, but unfortunately unlike watercolor every pen line is permanent. You can’t erase and adjust. Just this year, I saw on Instagram an artist using super thin brushes. I’ve been using them ever since.

A simple paper towel is one of your most important tools. How wet your brush is (with water and/or paint) is an important factor in how your brush stroke will react to the paint on your page. To control how wet your brush is, blot it on a paper towel to absorb excess water. I do this constantly as I paint.

Test what’s on your brush before painting. Use scrap paper to test color mixes and saturations. I test what is on my brush often to see how watery or dark a color is, before I touch my painting.

Mix your shadows instead of using black. Mix a color with its complement to desaturate it – make it less bright – or to create darker values. Complementary colors are those across the color wheel from each other. I keep a color wheel with my paints. There’s a printable color wheel in my Etsy shop – click here.

Preserve your brushes. Don’t leave your brushes sitting in water. Lay them flat to dry. Use an old beat up brush to mix colors or to mix water to dried up paint.

Repurpose. The top of a plastic egg carton makes a great mixing tray.

Try white gouache. White gouache (more opaque than watercolor) was a game changer for me. Instead of using frisket to keep areas white, I use white gouache at the end of a painting to “add the white back in.” (Frisket is like a glue that keeps paint off the areas you apply it to. You peel it up when you are finished painting.)

Beginner Watercolor Painting Instructional PDF "What you need to know to get started with Watercolor" Beginner Printable Introduction
Get the “What you need to know to get started with watercolor” pdf here.

ONLINE LEARNING
easy watercolor online lesson for beginners fun project Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners

Start your creative journey with:
Creative Exploration book -
Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life
– Develop a regular practice of creating, explore mediums and subjects in search of your thing, and experience the joy that creativity brings. Creativity is for EVERYONE! Talent is just a starting point.

This post contains affiliate links to products and 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! 

Watercolor Wisdom - 12 tips from 12 years of painting

Watercolor Wisdom – 12 tips from 12 years of painting


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A Project to Motivate and Inspire

Watercolor poppies

I need a project to motivate and inspire me. Something to break up the routine and dull-drums of the week. Without a project I’m bored.

For me, a project doesn’t need to come from someone else. I’m just as motivated by my own projects and challenges. A deadline certainly helps, even if it’s self imposed.

Right now I’m embracing the freedom to work on anything now that my “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” project has wrapped up. But I also need something to get me excited to create and to hold me accountable.

I took a trip down memory lane to review some of my bigger projects:

  • This Blog – when I started it and it was new, it was so motivating! I finished so many projects just because I wanted to post the final product. “Finishing” was a skill I had to learn.
  • Designing one fabric a month. In the early days of the blog I was so intrigued by surface design! I now have a collection of fabric designs on Spoonflower.
  • Month Long Challenges – I participated in several, back to back challeges – InkTober, a month of World Watercolor Group’s prompts (food), and my own Countdown to Christmas. These focused months led to me dedicating myself to…
  • Painting Watercolor Seascapes – Originally a month long project it lasted well beyond that (a year?, 2 years?), and is still a focus of mine. I’ve just launched an watercolor seascape painting online lesson to share all I’ve learned.
  • Acrylic Seascapes – I dedicated a month to exploring seascapes in acrylics. I learned so much and progressed so much. I’m dying to get back to acrylics!
  • The 100 Day Challenge – I participated in the 100 Day Challenge and focused on illustrated map making, something I was curious about for years. The project was great, but map making was a side interest that took over and 100 days was way too long. I didn’t make it to the end.
  • Finalizing my book on creativity. Since the early days of the blog I had ideas for a book. Finally I committed to finishing it and hired an editor as the accountability I needed to finish -> Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life.
  • “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” – After our trip to Paris, I was so excited to paint what inspired me. I decided to invite others along via a paid email series. The program included four weekly emails with watercolor tips, a Paris theme, specific prompts with details and links to learn more, reference photos, and videos of my process painting each prompts. Turning the idea to paint Paris into a shared experience pushed me and motivated me so much! I dove much deeper into the theme than I would have if I painted alone. But I almost bit off more than I could chew – painting and filming and editing five videos a week was a lot even without the technical issues I experienced. But, I learned so much.

A project is great because it gets you excited and forces you to focus, but it’s important to remember that saying yes to one thing is essentially saying no to other things. I want to be intentional about picking my next project. In the meantime, I’m painting poppies. 🙂

Start your creative journey with:
Creative Exploration book -
Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life
– Develop a regular practice of creating, explore mediums and subjects in search of your thing, and experience the joy that creativity brings. Creativity is for EVERYONE! Talent is just a starting point.

ONLINE LEARNING
easy watercolor online lesson for beginners fun project Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners


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Don’t Compare Yourself to Others. Be Competitive…with Yourself

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others. Be Competitive...with Yourself

When I was a kid I compared myself to other people. Was I faster, smarter, a better artist than so and so? Part of this had to do with the insecurities of being young. I thought my “abilities” were set in stone. I never thought about how I could improve in an area. As a swimmer, it never occurred to me that I could train differently, harder, or improve my stroke to get better. And we didn’t have access to endless resources on the internet to help with improvement.

Comparing myself had negative effects on me. If someone was better it devalued what I could do. It made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. In my book, Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life, I share the story of getting to high school and seeing amazing pencil portraits by a girl named Peggy. Seeing Peggy’s drawings made me feel bad about myself. It never occurred to me that I could learn new techniques and practice to develop my skills. Looking back – yes Peggy’s portraits were impressive, but all they really did was shine a light on the fact that I lacked shading skills, and experience with portraits. Instead I thought the “comparison” showed I lacked talent and wasn’t “good enough” for art school.

As an adult I’m much more focused on what I’m doing. When I paint, I’m challenging myself. I work at it because I enjoy it, but also because I want to improve. I now know that practice plays a huge part in developing skills. If I’m struggling with a technique I’ll spend time experimenting and sometimes look online for tips. I don’t necessarily equate knowing a technique with being “better” as I would have as a kid. I just think of the person (I learn from online) as more experienced in that area. Or I think of them as someone further along in their creative journey.

I think of each painting as a learning opportunity. What went well? What aspect do I need to work on? Identifying areas to improve upon is the first step to getting better. Even paintings that are unsuccessful are helpful in that they reveal areas to work on. And everyone has their own way of painting (drawing, creating, etc.), their own unique style, which is another reason not to comparing yourself to others. Keep the competition with yourself.

Start your creative journey with:
Creative Exploration book -
Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life
– Develop a regular practice of creating, explore mediums and subjects in search of your thing, and experience the joy that creativity brings. Creativity is for EVERYONE! Talent is just a starting point.

ONLINE LEARNING
easy watercolor online lesson for beginners fun project Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners

 


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Push Yourself

Watercolor painting by Eileen McKenna inspired by Degas | Degas’s dancers

This week, as I paint the final week of my “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” email series, I’m so happy with what I’ve accomplished. It’s amazing what we can do when we venture outside of our comfort zone.

Painting Paris has given me the opportunity to revisit our trip, to learn more about Paris, to push myself creatively, and improve my watercolor skills. It’s like starting this blog six years ago. I made a commitment, announced it, and then felt accountable to following through. Before the blog I famously started creative projects and then abandoned them the first time it wasn’t easy.

I’ve learned it’s part of the creative process that there inevitably is a difficult phase. I no longer give up but push through and if pushing through doesn’t work I try again. And I appreciate the lesson each painting or sketch teaches me.

Recently I read an urban sketcher say, that sketching a place allows them to really see that place. I’m doing the painting after the fact, but I feel the same way. More than just looking back at photos of our trip to Paris, painting the photos is allowing me to relive it, see the details and it’s compelling me to dig deeper and learn more about aspects of our trip.

There were a few elements to the email series that I didn’t fully think through – the time it takes to do more detailed paintings – all while filming my process. The time it takes to edit the videos – five per week! Not to mention memory issues and technical problems that put my back five days and had me completely upgrading my desktop computer.

You don’t know what you don’t know until you do. Despite the frustrations and the time, I’m grateful to have learned as much as I have about video. I’m still fairly new to it but on my way. I never would have progressed as much if I hadn’t embarked on the email series and the idea to paint Paris on my own would have fizzled out much sooner.

I’m really proud of the content of the email series. I didn’t have it 100% mapped out when I launched it, and am happy with how it’s come together. Each of the four emails has a Paris related theme, includes tips on painting in watercolor, and includes five prompts within the week’s theme. There are detail on each prompt as well as links to learn more. There are several reference photos for each prompt on the Let’s Paint Paris pinterest board.

For each of the prompts there is a video showing my process for painting the prompt, where occasional watercolor tips pop up. (There is no audio in the videos.)

The “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” themes for the weeks are:

Week 1: Food (especially pastries!)

Week 2: The Architecture – Details of the city

Week 3: The Masters – Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Signac, etc.

Week 4: The Palace of Versailles

Each week as I started planning the prompts, searching for photos and links that gave further details, I became more and more inspired to paint that theme!

I loved thinking about my watercolor painting process and breaking it down into tips to share.

The email series is not available now, but I plan to release it again in the future – make sure you’re on my newsletter list if you’d like to be notified when it becomes available again. It’s a great program to inspire you, motivate you to paint daily, and help improve your watercolor skills. Sign up for my newsletter here.


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Keep Trying

Cafe de Flores Paris France watercolor sketch

The other day I was working in my sketchbook, painting the outside of a Parisian cafe. Buildings and perspective are not my strong point. I am impatient and like to just dive in and start painting with minimal pencil sketching – which is probably why I struggle with perspective. Anyway, I quickly realized my sketch was not going to work. The placement of things was off and there wasn’t any saving it. No big deal except, filming and creating a painting of a cafe is part of my “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” series and I was committed to delivering the video, which meant I had to paint a cafe.

So I tried again. It didn’t start out great but I persevered and used a trick I sometimes use, which is to flip my painting and the reference photo upside down. This allows me to “see” things differently. It has to do with the right and left brain. I worked through the painting and was moderately pleased with the results. I was VERY pleased that I’d pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I thought of the saying, “You never know what you can do until you try.”

Ironically after I edited the video, of the cafe painting process, I ran into technical issues exporting it. It took several days of troubleshooting and trying different things including re-editing it several times, before I was finally able to export it and add it to the other “Let’s Paint Paris” videos.

I couldn’t help but see the correlation between working through the painting of the cafe and working through the technical video issues. In both cases I had to stay committed to the final goal, but I also had to stay focused on the step right in front of me.

Commit to your goal, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Focus on the next step, and then the one after that. Celebrate when finished. Sometimes what is most valuable is what you learned on the way to your goal.


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Painting Watercolor Seascapes

Watercolor seascape painting lesson - How to paint the ocean in watercolor online video lesson
Three years ago I started painting watercolor seascapes. I wanted to find the answer to, “How do you capture the ocean in paint?” I had just finished participating in three back to back month long challenges and I saw how focusing on a single theme or medium leads to real progress in ideas and skills.

Focusing on seascapes was so valuable. Painting the same subject over and over helped me progress so much. I developed a process for painting seascapes that I continue to follow. Over time I added white gouache – more opaque than watercolor – to my process. I also incorporated some techniques I learned that others use.

I observed the ocean (both in person and the photos I took) to truly “see” what I was trying to paint. I continued well past one month. When summer came and I went in the ocean I momentarily had the feeling that I was IN a painting.

Even now three years later the ocean is my favorite subject. It’s such an amazing subject because it changes so much. The water in the same exact spot can change based on weather and tides even within a short time period.

I’m excited to announce that my online watercolor seascape painting video lesson. During the lesson we paint using a specific reference photo. But aside from learning to paint the seascape pictured above, you’ll learn the process to follow which can then be applied to your own photos.

Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners

The lesson is appropriate for all levels. Beginners should have a basic understanding of watercolor before trying this lesson.

If you are completely new to watercolor sign up for my newsletter and get the “What you need to know to get started with watercolor” pdf for free!

Other resources for complete beginners:

Click here to order the Watercolor Seascape Painting Lesson.

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Looking to explore creativity? Get my book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life! Develop a regular practice of creating, explore mediums and subjects in search of your thing, and experience the joy that creativity brings. Creativity is for EVERYONE! Talent is just a starting point.

Creative Exploration book -


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Is the key to watercolor – layers or patience or both?

Recently I was talking to a friend who paints in acrylics. When I said I painted in watercolor she said, “You must be very patient.” I was so surprised by her comment, because actually I’m not patient at all!

As I teach and share more and more of my watercolor process I continually come back to layers. Watercolor painting is all about building up the layers. Paint the first layer wet and loose. Let it dry. Work drier and with thinner brushes with each added layer. As you add the layers, it’s like focusing a lens on a subject. Your painting gets more and more “in focus” as you add layers/finer details.

I’ve been teaching a kids painting class, primarily acrylics. Occasionally we paint in watercolor. What I notice with the kids is they paint one layer and declare the painting done. They are reluctant to wait for it to dry and then add to it.

Maybe I’m more patient than I give myself credit for. I look at each painting like a challenge. The first layer is a blob – the ugly stage. Can I work at it and turn it into something?

Ready to explore creativity? Read my book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life – Develop a regular practice of creating, explore mediums and subjects in search of your thing, and experience the joy that creativity brings. Creativity is for EVERYONE! Talent is just a starting point.

Creative Exploration book -


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Are you “creative” or “not creative”?

Are you creative or not creative?
Recently I went to a high school reunion. I went to an all girls high school – which is quite a bonding experience! The “reunion” was a party a bunch of us threw to celebrate our fiftieth birthdays. It was a lot of fun and great to see and spend time with this great group of “girls.”

A few friends commented that they love watching me paint on Instagram. One said that she didn’t remember me being creative in high school. While I loved art class in high school, I certainly didn’t spend my off hours creating. What I think is interesting is that when it comes to creativity most people have an us or them mentality. They assign themselves to one camp or the other – creative or not creative.

They assume you must have an innate talent to paint and probably have always done it. What I believe is that ANYONE can do it. You might deem yourself “terrible” at the start, but with time and effort it is almost impossible to NOT get better. But, it’s hard to convince some people of this. It’s almost like converting them to a new religion. They firmly believe they belong in the “not creative” camp and aren’t willing or don’t think it’s possible to venture out.

What camp are you in? Have you ventured out of your original camp? Or are you ready to?

Ready to explore creativity? Read my book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life – Develop a regular practice of creating, explore mediums and subjects in search of your thing, and experience the joy that creativity brings. Creativity is for EVERYONE! Talent is just a starting point.

Creative Exploration book -


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Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor!

lets paint Paris in Watercolor an email series | Learn Watercolor
Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor!

Join me in February for The “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” Email Series – an inspirational program for February 2020 (4 weeks) aimed at inspiring regular watercolor painting through virtual immersion into the city of Paris – the food, the architecture (no straight lines required), the Masters and more! At the start of each week, you’ll receive an email outlining the theme for the week. Week 1 is food. Think colorful macarons! The email will include daily optional prompts with stories about each prompt, links to reference photos and videos AND a link to an instructional video. Learn/practice watercolor as you go!

Together We Will

Paint Daily – just 10 minutes a day is enough! Themes and prompts provided, as well as the stories behind them.
Learn/Practice Watercolor – I’ll share my tips and tricks on my favorite medium. Video of my process included each week!
Immerse ourselves into Paris – a virtual trip – the food, the architecture (no straight lines required), the Masters, and more!

Sign Up Now

to get the early bird rate of just $12.99*
for the February 2020 email series.

Learn More Here

Early bird rate expires 1/17/2020. Regular price $24.99.

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What are your creative plans for 2020? Hoping for a creative year but don’t know where to start? Try my book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life – Develop a regular practice of creating, explore mediums and subjects in search of your thing, and experience the joy that creativity brings. Creativity is for EVERYONE! Talent is just a starting point.

Creative Exploration book -