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!

Summer Reflections

Summer started early for us. Without sporting events to attend, we were on the beach in June as soon as the weather allowed.

In July, I was busy teaching – acrylic painting classes, watercolor workshops and mixed media camp weeks. I love teaching the kids at the art studio, helping build their creative confidence. I also taught an adult watercolor workshop at my local library. It is so satisfying teaching adult beginners, many who think they aren’t creative. It’s my goal to convince them otherwise. I was so happy to hear the women say how relaxing painting was.

During most of August I was traveling – helping two of my kids move into new housing (in two different states). Just like college visits, this one on one time is priceless!

Last week we went to a family reunion on Harrisburg Lake in upstate NY. As a born and bred beach girl, spending time on a lake is such a novelty! I loved this peaceful lake – no motor boats, just canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards. Harrisburg Lake is such a beautiful spot. Lots of inspiration for painting!

Like a squirrel storing nuts for winter, I take tons of photos over the summer to paint from. Speaking of squirrels – have you met Sidney? Sidney is the squirrel I’ve been painting recently for author Lolisa Monroe – learn more here.

I love the beach and am usually a little sad for the sun to set on summer…

but Fall is a great season too! The crisp weather, Fall holidays and activities, new routines…

Looking for a head start on Fall? Browse 14 Creative Fall Projects here.

I forget my art supplies … so I bought a donut

When I travel, I pack art supplies in case I have down time at the hotel. This trip, I’m in Athens, Georgia, and I forgot my art stuff. Perfect excuse to visit the local art store!

Painting the view out my hotel window with my new travel set.

The k.a. Artist Shop is a really cute art store. It makes me feel like a kid in a candy store – everything looks pretty, and colorful, and I want it all.

I like visiting independent art stores. The Artist & Craftsman Supply in Charleston is another one of my favorites. It has everything and it’s employee owned which is cool.

When I lived in Manhattan, I loved visiting Kate’s Paperie in Soho. Sadly the store is no longer around (as far as I know). Such a colorful, creative store to visit.

At k.a. I bought a new sketchbook. I figured it was a good excuse to sample a different one and update my watercolor journal recommendations post. I also bought a Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolor travel set. The watercolor pans come out, making it convenient to replace and or swap out colors. Unwrapping each color felt like I was unwrapping Starbursts, without the sugar.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Travel Set

After the art store, since I was out in the rain already, I figured I’d try Zombie Donuts. Wow! The freshest, lightest, fluffiest donut I’d ever had. I should have bought more.

Back in the hotel, my donut eaten, I set up my purchases near my big window and started unwrapping each color and testing them out. It’s always good to know the colors in your palette – read this post: Painting Tips for Beginners.

I have to admit, I’m not loving the new sketchbook. It’s mixed media paper, but I don’t think it’s suitable for watercolor. The paper is coming apart as I paint. See my sketchbook/ journal recommendations here. Paper is so important with watercolor!

A few days after I wrote about my time in Georgia, I traveled to upstate New York. We were staying by a lake. Unfortunately one day was pouring. Good thing I had my paints with me!

For more travel watercolor supply recommendations click here.

Get more watercolor tips:

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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!

 

 

12 Tips to Improve your Watercolors

1. Look before you paint. I’m so impatient I want to dive in and start painting. I need to remind myself to stop and observe before my brush hits the paper.

2. Paint the same subject over and over. Painting is seeing. The better you see your subject, the better your paintings will be.

3. Play in a sketchbook regularly. You’ll feel more free to experiment. A sketchbook takes away some of the pressure and the fear of “ruining” a painting. My favorite is the Canon Mixed Media XL.

4. Add more layers of detail for more realistic looking paintings. Don’t forget to allow for drying time between layers.

5. Invest in thin brushes for finer details. I use a 3/0 brush and 5/0 brush. These brushes have made a huge difference for me.

6. Create a color key of all your paints. Paint each color at the darkest (less water) and the lightest (more water). This color guide will help when selecting your colors. It will show you what your paints are capable of.

7. Mix your colors from the primary colors. Even though I have tubes of paint in many colors I often use Winsor & Newton cadmium red, cadmium yellow and ultramarine blue to mix almost all of the colors in a painting. I especially do this when painting seascapes, as it allows for more natural looking ocean colors and allows me to mix more variations on the blues, greens and browns.

8. Create shadow colors by mixing a color with its complement. Sometimes using black for shadows can be harsh and unnatural looking. Instead mix a color with its complement. Colors across the color wheel are complements – red and green, blue and orange, etc. If you need a color wheel – I have a printable one in my Etsy shop – click here.

9. Use painter’s tape to mask areas and to “draw.” I use painter’s tape to tape my watercolor paper to a piece of cardboard to keep the paper from buckling when it gets wet. I also use tape to help me paint a straight horizon line. Sometimes I use it to “draw” a shape and mask an area.

For example a couple of pieces of tape can create the shape of a lighthouse. Then you can freely paint the sky without having to paint around the lighthouse. You paint right over the tape and then peel it up (carefully), when the sky color dries.

10. Add white back in by using white gouache. Instead of leaving white areas blank (the color of the paper), I often add back the white at the end of a painting using white gouache. Gouache is thicker and more opaque than watercolor. I use this when I’m painting seascapes.

11. Try new things and experiment. It’s easy to get comfortable in the way you paint. But it can be beneficial to mix things up. I was “stuck” using 6” x 6” paper until I accidentally ordered bigger. I never went back!

12. Learn from others. Read a blog post, watch a YouTube video, do a painting tutorial. Getting other people’s perspectives and painting tips can be invaluable to your painting process!

I have variety of printable tutorials and video lessons that teach watercolor fundamentals and techniques while you create a beautiful final painting. Browse painting tutorials here.

Coneflower painting lesson

Read Next

Watercolor Wisdom – 12 tips from 12 years of painting

watercolor wisdom – 12 tips from 12 years of painting

Learn Watercolor

Learn the fundamentals with fun painting exercises and projects! Click here for more info.

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!

August Creative Exploration

Watercolor sunset sketch by Eileen McKenna

I’ve been missing painting regularly, so I’m dedicating August to Creative Exploration! Won’t you join me? There are no rules, just some suggestions to inject new life into your creative practice.

August Creative Exploration Ideas:

  • New creative schedule. Create daily (or regularly). Even 15 minutes a day is great! 
  • New place. Paint in a new place or paint a new place. I’ll be in some new places so I’m excited about this one!
  • New medium. Try a new medium. I’ve been wanting to incorporate collage into my watercolor journal pages. (Note to self – pack a glue stick!)
  • New ideas. All of the above helps open you up to new ideas! Keep track of them (and prioritize them) with my ideas worksheet – available on Etsy.

Let me know if you are joining me!

Explore your creativity at https://eileenmckenna.com/shop/

Watercolor Rules

Orange Sunset by Eileen McKenna

This past week I was teaching watercolor to the kids at the art studio. I’ve noticed that the kids are often impatient. They paint a background color and then they rush to paint the details. Since the background is still wet, the details bleed creating a blob.

I told the kids that painting in watercolor is like getting dressed in the winter. Just like you add layers of clothes to keep warm, paint layer after layer, letting each layer dry before adding another. With each layer add more and more detail. 

When you start a painting, start with a wet, bigger brush, painting the lighter colors. As you progress to the final layers, paint with a drier, thinner brush to allow for the finer details.

Watercolor “Rules”

PAINT LAYERS – LET THE PAINT DRY BETWEEN LAYERS.

PAINT LIGHT TO DARK, BIGGER BRUSH TO SMALLER BRUSH, WET TO DRIER BRUSH.

Following these “rules” helps you to turn beginning blobs into a detailed illustration or painting.

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Learn the fundamentals

from beginner brushstrokes to a final seascape painting and four other painting projects in between!

Check out my “Watercolor Exploration Guide” – which walks you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and five painting projects. Discover a love of watercolor!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

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!

Children’s Book Illustration

Sidney and the Traveling Tree, by Lolisa Monroe

I’ve illustrated a book! For years I aspired to illustrate a children’s book. When the kids were small, taking them to the library and looking at picture books was my favorite thing to do. I even wrote and illustrated my own children’s book – although that one hasn’t seen the light of day.

This book – “Sidney and the Traveling Tree” is by Lolisa Monroe is “a story about a grey squirrel from Western Maine and his adventures in the woods. He discovers a mysterious tree that takes him on the journey of a lifetime. Your child will be engaged as they help ‘fill in the blanks’ in Chapter 1 and actually write and illustrate Chapter 2 by themselves! Develop the writer and illustrator in your child.

This is the first of the series of Miss Lisa’s Little Writers featuring the illustrations of Eileen McKenna. More volumes coming soon!”

Finding a children’s book illustration style

The early days of my blog were about trying to find a children’s book illustration style. I struggled with that for a long time. How do you decide on a style? What I learned is that you develop a style, by drawing or painting a lot. Just keep painting – your style will emerge. It’s okay to emulate the style of others in the beginning or try out their techniques. In the end your style will shine through. And it will evolve as time goes by.

How to get hired as an illustrator

I’m working on two books at the moment – one is the second book in the Sidney series, the other is about a dog (by a different author). So how did I suddenly find myself with all of these book illustration projects? The dog project is through a friend. The other is through Etsy. The author of the Sidney books, Lolisa Monroe, found a watercolor clipart squirrel that I sell as a digital download in my Etsy shop. Lolisa liked my style so she reached out and asked if I would do custom work.

Visit my Etsy shop

How can you get hired as illustrator? Post your work. Even your friends need to know what you do, in order to consider you for a project or to recommend you to a friend. Post the work you are doing on social media. I hate to say this, because it’s what everybody says and because for me it took years for it to happen. I was posting in 2015/16 about children’s book illustration.

I will say that even though the children’s book work took awhile, other great opportunities have come my way because I post my artwork. I have been teaching art to kids for over three years. I got the opportunity because I posted a watercolor seascape on facebook. The owner of the art studio, who was my web design, marketing client, saw my painting and ask me if I would teach a three day summer camp week. That one week of summer camp has evolved into me teaching three days a week. And I absolutely love it. I love working with the kids.

Side note of advice – take opportunities that scare you. I was terrified to teach that week of camp. Now I can’t imagine teaching not being part of my life!

how to Illustrate a book

Because I am new to illustrating books I am learning so much about the process of working with an author and about illustrating. Here’s the top things I’ve learned in hopes of helping you with your process.

Request detailed descriptions from the author with photos

Since we can’t visualize what is someone else’s head, ask the author to provide a description of what they want the illustrations to be. Also ask for supporting photos. These things will help you visualize what the author is thinking. Don’t rely only on the text of the book unless the author is giving you creative freedom.

I realize as I’m writing this that the two books I’ve been working on have been very different processes. In the dog book, I was given the text of the book and creative freedom. With the Sidney book, the author has had specific ideas of what each illustration should be. Before you pick up your brush get as much direction as the author has to give.

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show rough sketches and/or descriptions of illustrations

Before painting, show the author what you are intending. It is much easier to adjust at that point than after you have fully painted an illustration. In the case of the dog book, where I was given creative freedom, I wrote out what I intended each illustration to be, and got approval beforehand.

In the Sidney book, I learned the hard way. I completed illustrations based on the author’s descriptions and photos and then got feedback. For the second Sidney book, for a more complex cover illustration I did a pencil sketch and made adjustments based on the author’s comments before painting.

Sketch for future illustration

image retouching is part of the process

Incorporate into your estimate the time it takes to scan and retouch your illustrations. It is rare that you would be mailing your originals to the author. They probably will want digital files that are ready for a graphic designer to insert into the book.

high tech and low tech tools for adjusting illustrations

photoshop

Photoshop was extremely helpful for me when I completed an illustration and then had to make edits based on the author’s comments. In some cases, I painted elements separately and put them together on the computer in Photoshop, so I could have more control and it would be easier to change things.

This was especially useful when I painted the squirrel separately from the grass background. I had to adjust the illustration proportions to fit on the cover. I was able to reduce the squirrel but not the grass. If the squirrel and grass were one illustration, it would have been more challenging to fix.

Tracing paper

A couple of times, when I had to edit an illustration I used tracing paper to trace the area that needed to be changed. Then I put graphite on the back of the tracing paper. Then I traced the area onto mixed media paper. This way I had a light pencil line indicating the exact size of the area I needed to repaint.

This transfer technique is one we use with the kids at the art studio to transfer their drawings onto canvas. It came in handy! I didn’t have to repaint the entire illustration. I used it for the folded quilt below. The original quilt illustration had solid red border. The author requested that the border be removed and instead I continue the leaf pattern. For the quilt, I added the shadows in Photoshop. I figured I’d have more control than if I added them with paint.

get sizes up front, work larger and include bleed

Again, I learned this the hard way. You can always reduce an illustration but for resolution reasons, you can’t increase it. As a graphic designer I should have realized that any illustrations that go to the edge of the page need extra image size so that there is “bleed.” The image needs to have about .125″ more to give room for some of it to be cut off after printing. This prevents a white edge if things shift slightly in printing or trimming.

refine your process

With each illustration and book – keep track of what went smoothly and what didn’t. Try to incorporate ways to improve the book illustration process.

check out “sidney and the traveling tree” On Amazon!

want to learn watercolor?

Check out my “Watercolor Exploration Guide” – which walks you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and five painting projects. Discover a love of watercolor!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

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!

Summer is Blooming

coneflower – Echinacea

It’s that time of year when the gardens are blooming! They are at their peak, before the August heat starts to take its toll. I love taking lots of pictures to use as reference for future paintings. I’m like a squirrel stocking up for winter. I’m storing creative inspiration on my phone for the winter months.

I’m in awe of every hibiscus bloom we get. I’ve made several attempts to paint them. And the coneflowers –  Echinacea – are one of my favorites. Last spring I created a new printable tutorial if you’d like to give coneflower painting a try!

Coneflower Painting Tutorial

See more Beginner painting ideas here.

Beginner Painting Tutorials