Eileen McKenna Art & Design

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


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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

Immerse yourself in the worlds of watercolor and the city of Paris in this 4 week online program. Learn more here.Let's Paint Paris in Watercolor Email Series by Eileen McKenna
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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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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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 -


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It’s hard to commit to a daily painting challenge

Daily Painting Challenge | Regular Creativity Creative Practice
It’s hard to commit to a daily painting challenge but every time I do, and stick with it, I’m always happy with the results. The first few times I did my Christmas countdown (daily watercolor illustrations counting down to Christmas) I followed prompts. Last year and this year, I’ve allowed myself the freedom to paint whatever fits into the Christmas/winter/holiday theme. I love the flexibility to explore.

The first few days of a daily challenge can feel a little awkward, or stiff. But after that you open up to the inspiration around you. Flipping through a skiing catalog I saw a Telluride ad that I thought would be so cool to paint. It was totally outside of the normal thing I would do. I enjoyed the process and was pleased with the results. The thing I get most excited about are the ideas. Last year I painted a girl with a record player in front of a tinsel covered tree – me as a kid, playing a favorite gift.

Daily painting or drawing is hard, especially during the busy holiday season. But the break from the busyness and the interesting creative process of coming up with new ideas is so worth it!

Want to be creative on a regular basis and experience the joy that creativity brings? Explore mediums and subjects, in search of your thing? Learn about my new book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life by clicking here. Creativity is for EVERYONE! Talent is just a starting point.

Creative Exploration book -


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Online Video Lesson: Easy Birch Forest Watercolor Painting for Beginners


Two years ago I created a blog post called “Easy Forest Watercolor Painting for Beginners.” The post outlined the steps I took to create this birch forest painting.Easy Forest Watercolor Painting for Beginners

I created this image to go with it and pinned it on Pinterest.
Easy Forest Watercolor Painting for Beginners | Learn watercolor techniques! #winter #forest #watercolor #beginners

The post became my most viewed post. Currently it has over 47,000 views!

For a long time I aspired to create a watercolor video lesson. It is much easier to learn by watching something then to read about it. But I struggled with the exact format I would use to create the video lesson. Finally I came up with a format and figured my most popular post was the obvious lesson to start with.

Instead of a long continuous video where I explain what I’m doing as I paint the project, my format is as follows. For almost every step, you can listen as I explain the step. You can also read the slide to follow along. Then you can watch a video demonstration of that step. My hope is that this format will better communicate the nuance of each step.

I’m really excited to see how effective the video lesson is. The birch forest painting project is such a great project for beginners. You learn so much about watercolor while painting the project. And it yields a great final painting at any level.

Easy Birch Forest Watercolor Online Video Painting Lesson – Learn Watercolor with this simple project!

  • Learn several watercolor techniques
  • 10 step, easy to follow 17 minute video lesson
  • Listen and/or read the easy to follow instructions, watch a video demonstrations of each step
  • Great for watercolor beginners

Click here to purchase access to the Birch Forest Online Video Lesson. 

Watercolor techniques used:

  • Masking areas with tape
  • Wet on wet painting
  • Dry on dry
  • Using salt
  • Softening lines with water
  • Adding details in ink

Click here to purchase access to the Birch Forest Online Video Lesson. 

Would you like to: Be creative on a regular basis and experience the joy that creativity brings? Explore mediums and subjects, in search of your thing? Learn about my new book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life by clicking here.

Creative Exploration book -

Beginner Watercolor Painting Instructional PDF "What you need to know to get started with Watercolor" Beginner Printable Introduction
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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Routine and Regular Creativity

Watercolor travel palette | regular creativity
It’s important to be creative on a regular basis. It’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the start of the school year. There is more of a routine, which helps me stick to regular creativity. Once the kids leave for school, I sit and play in my sketchbook, work on a painting in progress, or whatever strikes me. It’s a no pressure time.

Lately I’ve been carving out time for creativity, even on our vacation –  a few minutes in the hotel while we get ready, or now a morning on the back deck of the condo. The water and pine trees out back is such a contrast to the beach, which is a short walk from the front door. It’s fun to use different colors than I use with seascape painting. My Koi watercolor travel palette is serving me well. The paints are very saturated. I can mix them to get the desired colors.

I was also inspired by the ironwork while we were in Charleston.
Secret garden watercolor illustration Ironwork door watercolor illustration

Looking to add regular creativity to your life? Learn about my new book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life by clicking here.

Creative Exploration book -

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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Avoidance

Painting figures in watercolor
It’s ironic that the project that started with such excitement and enthusiasm, is the same project that had me avoiding my paints last week. Every time I walked by my painting table and saw the work in progress I thought, “ugh.” I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t being creative, when I realized this project was the issue.

Watercolor
It wasn’t going well and I wasn’t sure how to fix it. The sky wasn’t coming out the way I wanted and efforts to “fix” it made it worse. I’ve been playing with painting skin tones, and was struggling with adding shadows. What to do?

Practicing figures in watercolor
I made myself sit down and practice skin tones and shadows. I painted the same man from a reference photo over and over. The first versions were horrible, but I began making progress.

The next day, I put the project to the side and painted shells in my sketchbook. Something simple, no pressure, just to play. It felt good. I’m glad I recognized that this painting was holding me back. I like to push myself to practice new things, but learning new things takes time and can be frustrating. I try to finish any painting I start, but sometimes you need to take a break, and come back to it later, or not. For me the important thing is getting back to creating!

I share creative tips and inspiration in my weekly newsletter. Sign up now and get the following freebies:

  • Watercolor Quick Start Guide – everything you need to know to get started in watercolor
  • 50 ideas on what to draw or paint

Sign up for the newsletter here.

Beginner Watercolor Painting Instructional PDF "What you need to know to get started with Watercolor" Beginner Printable Introduction