Let’s Paint Fall

Last weekend, after a beautiful beach day, I was sitting in my yard when a yellow leaf floated past me and landed in the grass. I yelled to my son, “It’s fall!” Despite the beautiful, summery weather, fall is indeed on its way.

I remember the first fall after making “my creative resolution.” It was a time when I had long lists of ideas for projects. I was noticing everything around me, soaking up the inspiration. When the leaves started to change and fall from the trees, I was stunned by the explosion of color. Was it always like this? How come I never noticed it before?

Being open to inspiration is a big part of the creative process. Knowing what to paint when you sit down comes from soaking up inspiration in the time before painting. I welcome the change of seasons. I welcome the fresh inspiration.

paint a single leaf

Paint a single leaf and challenge yourself to make it as realistic as possible. It’s all about noticing the details and painting more and more layers, with thinner and thinner brushes as you go.

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paint a pile of leaves

Paint a pile of leaves and challenge yourself to use as many colors as possible.

Capturing fall works perfectly with watercolor. Think of all of the colors on one leaf, or in one tree. Allow your watercolors to bleed and blend – like they love to do. Be inspired by the season! 

Fall landscape printable tutorial

Embrace the vibrant colors of fall with this step by step tutorial. Trace the barn and create the farm house with a few pieces of tape – no drawing required!

Fall Pumpkin Farm Painting Tutorial
Download from my Etsy shop!

for more beginner watercolor painting ideas:

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

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.

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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

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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.

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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”



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 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

Summer Craft for Adults – Beach Diorama

Beach diorama craft with DIY steps https://mycreativeresolution.com/2017/05/17/beach-diorama/
Beach Diorama DIY Summer Craft

Summer is upon us! Let’s celebrate with a beachy craft. First enjoy collecting shells, driftwood, sand and inspiration on your next trip to the beach. Then let’s put it all together in this cute mini diorama!

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Round lid with edges. I’m using the cardboard packaging from Brie cheese.
  • Pencil, scissors and a hole puncher.
  • Watercolor paper and brush
  • Watercolor paint – a blue green, turquoise, and brown. You can mix blue and yellow to create the blue green.
  • Shells, rocks, sticks, wood (any beach treasures you’d like) and sand.
  • Ribbon, fabric, or paper to line the inner and outer rims.
  • Twine or ribbon (or in my case the handle from a shopping bag)
  • Glue gun, craft glue, and double sided tape.


1. Trace a circle on your watercolor paper using the lid as your guide.

2. Paint a simple seascape overlapping your circle shape.

Seascape painting tips:

  • Determine the position of the horizon and mark lightly with pencil.
  • Starting at the pencil line, paint with the blue green color. (Leave some areas white for breaking waves.) Lighten the blue green by mixing it with water as you move lower, leaving the bottom 1/3 of the circle blank.
  • If desired – add darker strokes to the ocean for waves.
  • Paint the bottom of the circle a very light brown (brown mixed with water), leaving a thin gap between the ocean water and the sand.
  • Using a light blue or turquoise, paint a fade from the top of the circle to the horizon line by adding more water to your blue as you paint.
Beach diorama craft with DIY steps https://mycreativeresolution.com/2017/05/17/beach-diorama/

3. After the painting dries, cut inside the circle. Adjust until the paper fits inside the lid.

4. Tape the painting inside of the lid using double sided tape.

5. Hold up your diorama and with the horizon straight determine what the top is. Poke a hole through the top of the lid or use the hole puncher. (If you are using a plastic lid skip this step. Instead use the glue gun to glue string to the back of your lid.)

6. Glue ribbon around the inner and outer rims, putting seams at the bottom. (You can also paint your lid – I recommend acrylic paint for this.)

7. Thread twine through the hole and knot.

Beach diorama craft with DIY steps https://mycreativeresolution.com/2017/05/17/beach-diorama/

8. Use a glue gun to add all of your beach treasures. Use tacky glue to add sand. Once dry shake off excess sand.

9. Glue a shell to the knot of your ribbon.

10. Hang and admire.

I’d love to see! Tag me on Instagram @EileenMcKenna!

seascape painting tutorials

For in depth seascape painting tutorials visit:

seascape painting video lesson
Seascape Painting Video Lesson
Printable Watercolor Seascape Tutorial
Printable Seascape Painting Tutorial

Learn watercolor with this beginner guide!

For a comprehensive guide to watercolor:

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide
Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

Watercolor Journals

I am having so much fun filling my watercolor journal by painting every day – or almost everyday – no one is perfect right? My pages are of the moments of joy I experience each day. I call my watercolor journal project “Finding Joy” and it’s been a great source of positivity in my life these last two months. And it’s great to paint almost every day.

Thinking of doing your own watercolor journaling? Here are my reviews on several watercolor journals.

Strathmore Mixed Media Art journal

The journal I’ve worked in for the past two months is a Strathmore Mixed Media Art Journal. I loved working in this book!

  • The size: 5.5″ x 8″. I liked the small size of this book
  • The paper: 90 lb. mixed media paper. The paper can withstand some “working” at it – meaning you can apply the paint, lift the paint, add more paint without the paper starting to crumble.
  • The binding: The book doesn’t lay flat but I used binder clips to keep the pages secure while I was painting.
  • Cover: The cover is a bit flimsy and rubbery.
  • Pages: 64 pages. The pages are white which is good as I’m not a fan of off white paper.

Overall I really liked working in this book. If I wasn’t gifted a different journal I probably would have ordered another one of these.

Hand•book journal co. watercolor square

For Mother’s Day my daughter gave me a hand•book journal co. Watercolor Square journal.

  • The size: 8.25″ x 8.25″ square. I always liked working with square paper!
  • The paper: 95 lb. watercolor paper.
  • The binding: The book lays completely flat.
  • Cover: Linen hardcover.
  • Pages: 60 pages. The pages are white which is good as I’m not a fan of off white paper.
  • Extras: A ribbon bookmark and clear pocket on back inside cover.

So far so good! I just started working in this journal. The cover is beautiful, the pages are spacious. The book feels special. Laying flat is a nice bonus.

CANSON Artist Series Montval Watercolor Pad

The Canson Montval Watercolor Pad is my go to travel watercolor book. The paper is nice and thick and I take it every time I go away.

  • The size: 6″ x 9″
  • The paper: 95 lb. watercolor paper
  • The binding: The book is spiral bound and lays completely flat.
  • Cover: Linen hardcover.
  • Pages: 60 pages. The pages are white which is good as I’m not a fan of off white paper.

To me, the spiral binding makes it feel less like a journal and more like a “sketchbook.” The size makes it great for traveling.

moleskine watercolour notebook

I bought this Moleskine Watercolour Notebook to share with a friend. I painted in it and then mailed it to her.

  • The size: 5″ x 8.25″
  • The paper: 135 lb. watercolor paper
  • The binding: The book does not lay flat.
  • Cover: Hardcover
  • Pages: 72 pages.
  • Extras: Expandable inner pocket.

I’m looking forward to getting it back so I can paint in it again!

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looking for a comprehensive introduction to watercolor? This guide is for you!

This Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide is the perfect introduction to watercolor. Each fundamental is explained and then you practice it with exercises and painting projects.

The 5 tutorials build upon one another as you progress through the guide. You go from beginner brushstrokes to a watercolor seascape!

  • Learn the fundamentals.
  • Practice with exercises & projects.
  • Discover a love of watercolor!

Start your watercolor journey today – visit https://eileenmckenna.com/guide/

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide
Available on Amazon or as a pdf download.

This posts 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!