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Just 10 Minutes

Back to painting in watercolor

Sometimes life gets in the way of creativity and we are running around doing other things. Between teaching art and finalizing my new Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide, I haven’t had time to paint. Well maybe I’ve had time, but not the motivation. Every time I walk past my paints – set up at the family room table – and see the blank sketchbook page I think, “I have to paint today,” and then I keep walking.

Today is the day. Just 10 minutes is enough to get me back into painting. Now I’m excited. I have plenty of reference photos on my phone – things that have been inspiring me, including surf from the recent tropical storm. I’m halfway to my paints already.

Ready to get started in watercolor? Check out “Beginner Watercolor Exploration.”

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

Start your watercolor journey today! Learn more here.

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide pdf download | how to guide beginner watercolor


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For the Love of Watercolor

For the love of watercolor   | watercolor for beginners how to guide

Over a decade ago as a young mom, I took a drawing class followed by a watercolor class. A few years later, I got serious about creating everyday and started my blog. I set out to explore every medium in search of my thing. The early days of my blog involved pencil sketches and working with acrylics. Then one day I decided to add color to my sketchbook and pulled out my watercolors. BAM! It hit me – I loved watercolor! I never put them away again.

Over the last few years I have developed watercolor painting projects and other learning resources in PDF and video form. Today I’m super excited to announce my new guide called “Beginner Watercolor Exploration.”

Ready to get started in watercolor? Check out “Beginner Watercolor Exploration.”

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

Start your watercolor journey today! Learn more here.

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide pdf download | how to guide beginner watercolor

What’s in the downloadable pdf guide: 5 chapters, 5 painting projects, 50 pages.

The exercises and painting projects walk you through and build upon the fundamentals of watercolor. 

The 5 painting projects include:

  1. Starfish Painting
  2. Birch Tree Forest Painting
  3. Ice Cream Cones Painting
  4. Strawberry Shortcake Cupcake Illustration
  5. Seascape Painting

Start your watercolor journey today! Learn more here.


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Monet inspired watercolors

Monet inspired watercolor by Eileen McKenna

Last week I wrote about how I needed a “project” to inspire and motivate me. I was sitting down to paint less and less. I thought a two week project would be good – not too long, but long enough that there might be some progress in this pandemic situation. Last week’s post includes the steps to pick a project – read it here.

When I developed my 4 week “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” program I dedicated one week to painting like the masters. Each week of the program is a different theme – Parisian Food, the Architecture, the Masters, the Palace of Versailles. During the masters week, we paint like Monet. I loved this project! I found painting with Monet’s color palette to be so interesting. And so when I picked my new project, I chose to paint like Monet.

Originally my plan was to paint anything, and work in Monet’s palette. That has morphed into painting his paintings. Today I painted the Waterlilies and the Japanese Bridge. It was so fun!

This kind of project makes me feel like I’m working on a school project – researching, learning. I love that my work over the next 2 weeks won’t be random, but will have a theme to tie it together.

If you are looking for a project, the “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” program is a great deep dive into Paris. I learned so much about Paris and I share it all. I grew so much as an artist during the program! Real growth happens when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Learn more here.


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How to Pick a Creative Project

I’ve been thinking I need a creative project to help motivate me during self quarantine, especially since things don’t seem to be opening up any time soon. If this is going to continue – for 2 weeks, a month, more? – it would be nice to have something to do, practice a skill, and work towards a goal or final product.

How to Pick a Creative Project

It’s a challenge to pick a project. I definitely have ideas, but it’s like standing at a fork in the road and not knowing which direction to take. Here’s how to pick a creative project:

Step 1. Write down all the ideas that have been floating around your head.

Step 2. Evaluate the ideas. Which items are things you really want to work on? Which project would yield results you’d be especially excited about? Which project could you see yourself being excited about every day?

Here’s my list so far:

  • Drawing Lesson – Continue developing my online drawing lesson.
  • iPad drawing – practice
  • Color Wheel Book – Continue working on – illustrate
  • Clay – Learn polymer clay and create sea creatures (as an example for in person art camp project).
  • Watercolor – work on a specific subject or in specific colors
  • Video – Create another video promo.
  • Sew masks
  • Other idea

My list is often filled with things I think I should do or would like the final results of, but not things I feel like working on EVERY DAY.

Having trouble picking one idea? Sometimes we don’t know until we try. Spend a day sampling the project ideas you are most interested in. Spend 15-20 minutes on each project. Which one sparks the most interest and excitement?

Step 3. Pick a project. Make a decision and stick with it.

Step 4. Plan your creative time. Pick the time (and place) that you will work on this project. It’s easier to remember and make it happen if it’s every day at the same time. Things don’t happen if you don’t plan for them to happen.

Step 5. Follow through! Every project has peaks and valleys. Push through the hard days, do the work and the results will follow. Even 15 minutes a day adds up and is progress!

Want to be creative but don’t know where to start? Start your creative journey with my book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life.

Learn more by clicking here.

Creative Exploration | How to be creative How to start an art practice
Start your creative journey today!

 

Plan your creative time  | regular creative practice | how to be creative | creative exploration

Plan your Creative Time | Creative Exploration – How to be creative | How to start an art practice


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Watercolor Basics for Beginners

If you are new to watercolor – welcome! Watercolor is one of the most fun mediums. When painting with watercolor, aside from paint, water is the key ingredient. Water on the paper, how much water is mixed with the paint, and how much water is on your brush.

Water on the paper. If your paper is wet, the paint you add will spread quickly and even bleed into areas you didn’t touch with your brush.

Tip: Wetting your paper before adding paint, is a fun technique which leads to interesting backgrounds with colors blending into one another. Avoid too much water that leads to puddles on your paper. When puddles occur soak up the excess water and paint with a dry brush or paper towel.

Water mixed with paint. The more water you mix with your paint, the less saturated the color will be and the more transparent it will be on the paper.

Tip: Always test your brush on scrap paper before touching your painting so you aren’t surprised by the results.

Water on your brush. A brush dripping with water and paint will spread easily even on dry paper. A dry brush will not spread smoothly, but will go on more irregularly – missing some areas of paper.

Tip: To dry your brush blot it on a paper towel and soak up the extra water.

Experiment! Try out the different ways water changes how paint interacts with paper. You may feel you have no control with watercolor, but the more you know and can anticipate how the paint will react to situations, the more control you have.

Looking for resources for beginners? Check out my Etsy shop here.

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


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Watercolor Wisdom

I started 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.)

 

Ready to get started in watercolor? The “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” is for you!

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

Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide pdf download | how to guide beginner watercolor

 

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 -