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Back to Daily Creativity

Christmas illustrations | Reindeer art | holiday clip art available for digital download on Etsy
I had forgotten how good it feels to just sit and paint, no real thought about the outcome. Feeling free to explore ideas that come to me. It’s almost meditative. I was busy with other creative projects and frankly let procrastination get in the way. But now I’m committed to creating daily. I’ve enjoyed painting holiday illustrations the past few years. It’s a fun way to celebrate the Christmas season.

I’ve made my illustrations into holiday cards available on Zazzle:
Holiday cards on Zazzle | unique Christmas cards | Christmas art

And many of the illustrations are available for download in my Etsy shop for use in your creative projects.
Holiday Art | Christmas watercolor art Digital downloads Etsy

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Acrylic Painting Routines

Acrylic Painting Routines

Since I began painting in acrylic vs. my usual watercolors, I’ve developed a routine. This routine of how I set up and arrange my paint, brushes, water, etc., makes me feel as if I’m emerging from beginner status.

Setting up is more extensive than just pulling out my watercolors, but I like thinking about what I’m going to paint as I get ready. Because it is more involved, I do it less often. I find it’s most efficient to work on a few paintings at once, especially since I’m concentrating on the same subject – the ocean.

I’ve solved a question, I had way back in the early days of my blog, of whether to use an easel or not. I prefer to paint flat and like the 12” x 16” canvas size. It is a manageable size to paint on a table. I’ve learned that anything larger is too cumbersome on the table. For larger canvases, after banging them around a bit, I learned to put them on my easel. Maybe I’ll finally get comfortable using it.

Early on I struggled with the first coat on the canvas – the canvas soaks up all the paint! I read that gesso helps the paint go on more smoothly. So now I apply a coat of gesso to each canvas before painting – wait 24 hours for it to dry – and then the paint goes on easier!
Acrylic Painting Routines - priming the canvas with gesso

Painting in acrylics is very different than watercolor. With acrylics it’s easier to blend and manipulate an area of the painting when the paint in that area is wet. Right now I have five new canvases gessoed and ready to go, and I’m excited about the possibilities.

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

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

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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Create Seasonal Place Cards

Thanksgiving place cards | place card template | Thanksgiving table decor centerpieces place settings
Pretty up your Thanksgiving table this year with seasonal place cards. I’ve created a word template to get you started on creating your place cards.

Steps:

  • Select a font
  • Type in your names
  • Import artwork – The Watercolor Leaf Border Art is available in my Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/EileenMcKennaArt
  • Print, trim and fold

Alternative to importing artwork – follow other steps and hand paint or draw on each place card. A fun project for the kids. Let me know how your place cards come out!

Download the word (docx) place card template here.
Visit my Etsy shop to browse seasonal downloadable art!


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Kick up your Creativity with Color!

Kick up your Creativity with Color! Steps to Creativity for everyone
Want to be creative but don’t know how/where to start? If you haven’t already, click here and start with these 3 steps! If you have started with the beginning 3 steps, then you’ve accomplished a lot!

  • Your eyes are open to inspiration. You take photos and make lists of things to sketch.
  • You’ve been sketching regularly in pencil. Hopefully noticing the difference between the softer B and the harder H pencils. You have a regular creative practice!
  • You don’t just draw something once – you practice drawing it several times. Take a moment to look through your sketches and see overall how much you’ve progressed!

Well done. When you are ready, move on to these steps – that are all about Color!

1. Colored Pencil or Watercolor? – The next logical step may seem to be colored pencils, but if you are itching to paint, and want something more fluid, I recommend watercolor. Here is where YOU decide what path your creative journey takes. This is about finding what YOU like. If you need recommendations on either see below.

2. Start simply with your sketchbook. Continue with your creative habit of sketching regularly – but now use color! You can use regular pencil first and then add color – or start directly with color. I recommend working in your sketchbook because it’s a no pressure, play zone, where you can practice and learn. Note: if you decide to use watercolor – please look at my sketchbook recommendation below, so your pages don’t buckle.

3. Beyond the sketch. After practicing in your sketchbook, it’s time for a drawing or painting that you spend more time on. After all your loose, quick sketches, you are ready. It can be a page in your sketchbook, or perhaps use a nicer paper – see recommendations below based on your choice of medium. Before you start, plan it out. Pick a reference photo, study it, and lightly plan it out in pencil.

When you are working on a drawing or painting for a longer period of time, stepping away and coming back to it with fresh eyes, helps a lot. I sometimes work with my reference photo and paper upside down – to check that things look right. Don’t expect immediate results. Don’t give up because it isn’t looking like you envision. I used to be a “quitter,” but I learned that it takes time, and the results often surprise me if I stick with it, and work through “mistakes.” In the end, any “weak” areas – are just things to work on for the next time. It’s a learning process. Good Luck!

My recommendations:

Colored PencilsPrismacolor Colored Pencils
Strathmore Bristol Vellum Pad – Smooth thicker, bright white paper – great for a colored pencil project.

Watercolor Tube Sets – I love Windsor & Newton paints and started with their affordable Cotman “student grade”
Canson Multimedia Sketchbook – I love this versatile, bright white, thicker sketchbook paper
Fluid Watercolor Paper – great for a watercolor painting. Tape down the sides to a larger piece of cardboard with painter’s tape to prevent buckling!

Colored Pastels are another option. I never really got the hang of them, but my daughter loves them. She uses the Prismacolor sticks.

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

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

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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Practice makes Progress

Acrylic seascape by Eileen McKenna | painting waves
Above my most recent acrylic seascape.

When I was younger and had less confidence in my artistic abilities I was hung up on talent. Nowadays I think of talent as just a starting point. It is almost irrelevant because if you work at drawing or painting, or whatever medium suits you, you will get better. I saw this in myself and in others (both online and in person). As I continue to paint my seascapes in acrylic paint (vs. my usual watercolor) I see how I have progressed. When I notice areas in a painting that need work, I try to improved them, or I think of ways to enhance these areas in the next painting. 

My first acrylic seascapes:
Transitioning from watercolor to acrylic
Click here to view my collection of watercolor and acrylic seascapes.


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Acrylic Seascape Details

Acrylic seascape by Eileen McKenna
Brought this one back to life today. Here’s how it looked this morning. 👇

Adding details, using a reference photo made a difference. Originally I was going for a simpler look, but it was falling flat. I really like using acrylic gel medium to thin out the paint and overlay colors, like for the clouds. I also used an art sponge, to make the shadows in the crashing wave more natural looking.

Art sponge makes more natural looking shadows when painting waves

I’m happy with today’s progress. 🙂

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.

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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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
  • It is better to work when the paint on the canvas is wet and you have plenty of your colors mixed and ready
  • Add highlights by adding white paint (or lighter paint) to your brush and blending it with the wet paint on the canvas
  • To thin the paint and overlay colors use  acrylic gel medium.
  • 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.
  • Using a sheet from a palette pad – taped to your palette – makes clean up easier!
  • It is not as easy with acrylics to make a quick fix or change
  • 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.

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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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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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.

3. 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

4. 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.

5. 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).

6. 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.

7. 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

8. 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.

9+. 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!