Eileen McKenna Art & Design

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


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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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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.

______________________

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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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


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Soaking up Inspiration

Soaking up inspiration for the next seascape painting
It’s hard to know what I enjoy more, a visit to the beach or time spent painting. Recently I did both in the same day. Obviously it was a good day.
Beach day by Eileen McKenna
Beach day by Eileen McKenna shadow in the foam
The beach visit was an early morning one with my husband and coffee. Love those.

The painting session – which took place at home later on – was with acrylics on canvas, instead of my usual watercolor. I’ve been itching to get back to acrylics. I worked on a canvas I had already started, and was able to finish it, which felt great.
Acrylic seascape painting by Eileen McKenna

I’m looking forward to another day like this one!

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.


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Creative Excitement

Creative excitement the start of a new watercolor painting | watercolor for beginners
This is the best feeling. It’s creative excitement. I’ve spent a little bit of time organizing my supplies, and now I’m sitting in front of a new creative project – a watercolor painting. I’ve done some prep work – I have my reference photo picked out, I’ve taped down my watercolor paper, I’ve measured and taped the horizon line, and I have a plan – I’m going to start with the figures.

There is so much hope and excitement at the beginning of a project. Sometimes a little nervousness too. I’m working larger than I normally do, and adding figures is fairly new too. I think it’s good to push ourselves, to expand our capabilities.

Later will come some struggle. It’s expected and if it was easy, it would be boring. I used to give up when a project got hard, but I’ve learned to push through – it’s extremely satisfying. I may not overcome the struggles perfectly but there’s always a lesson learned for next time.

New to watercolor? I have a pdf Quick Start Guide that will help get you started. Sign up for my newsletter and get the “What you need to know to get started with watercolor” pdf for FREE! Sign up here.
Beginner Watercolor Painting Instructional PDF "What you need to know to get started with Watercolor" Beginner Printable Introduction

These fun and easy pdf tutorials, where you learn watercolor and create a beautiful painting at the same time are available for download in my Etsy shop.
Easy Starfish Watercolor Painting for Beginners | Learn Watercolor Techniques  Easy Forest Watercolor Painting for Beginners | Learn watercolor techniques! #winter #forest #watercolor #beginners How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | tutorial | step by step instructions | painting tips

 


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Adding Watercolor Figures

Watercolor sketch boy filling bucket by the oceanOcean lifeguards going for a dip Watercolor SketchGrandpa and little girl holding hands by the ocean watercolor painting
It’s World Watercolor Month and I’ve been working outside of my comfort zone by adding people to my watercolor sketches. I’ve been experimenting with first sketching in pencil, and also with going straight to paint – painting the shape of the body and then adding the clothes. It’s great practice for me, trying to capture the figures, and working on the highlights and shadows on different skin tones.
Watercolor sketch figures by the shore by Eileen McKennaWatercolor sketch figures walking along the shore by Eileen McKennaWatercolor sketch figure walking along the shore by Eileen McKenna

New to watercolor? I have a pdf Quick Start Guide that will help get you started. Sign up for my newsletter and get the ““What you need to know to get started with watercolor” pdf for FREE! Sign up here.
Beginner Watercolor Painting Instructional PDF "What you need to know to get started with Watercolor" Beginner Printable Introduction

These fun and easy pdf tutorials, where you learn watercolor and create a beautiful painting at the same time are available for download in my Etsy shop.
Easy Starfish Watercolor Painting for Beginners | Learn Watercolor Techniques  Easy Forest Watercolor Painting for Beginners | Learn watercolor techniques! #winter #forest #watercolor #beginners How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | tutorial | step by step instructions | painting tips

 


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I’m behind but it’s okay #the100dayproject

work in progress Jones Beach State park map
I’m on day 67 of #the100dayproject, while most people are on day 75. Thankfully every email they send says, “Wherever you are is a great place to be. Truly. You’re on your own path and your own timeline.” This is great, because otherwise being “behind” might cause me to give up. I’m more than halfway there, I can’t give up!

Even if the 100 days doesn’t end the way I wanted or expected, the process and the self discovery is definitely worth it. I’ve always enjoyed working within a theme and working on illustrations for beach locations is right up my alley. But, what isn’t up my alley, is painting buildings – all those straight lines! The other aspect of my map making project that I struggle with is the computer time. I love painting in my sketchbook, but once I’m on the computer, placing the illustrations on my map background, then it feels like work.

I thought I’d have more completed maps by now. Instead, I have too many illustrations that I have a hard time fitting on a map. 😂

I have a lot of respect for those that create custom illustrated maps as their business. For now I’m still too intimidated to add custom maps to my Etsy shop. Truth be told, I’m probably more intimidated by the “commission” idea than the illustrated map idea. Maybe the next 33 days (or more) will boost my confidence.

Click here to visit my Etsy shop where I sell digital prints, clipart, invitations, painting tutorials, and even personalized family trees!
Illustrated Fire Island map | Day 25 #the100dayproject
Beginner Watercolor Painting Instructional PDF "What you need to know to get started with Watercolor" Beginner Printable Introduction creative newsletter featuring artists crafts tutorials books shows and more | creative inspiration
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Breathing new life into my 100 day project

Jones Beach State Park pencil
With a few days til the halfway mark, I had lost interest in my #the100dayproject theme – map making. I considered totally changing my theme but then I thought that wouldn’t be a 100 day project it would be two 50 day projects.

I love the daily illustrating part of my map making project. The computer part of putting it all together isn’t as much fun, probably because it feels like work.

I have a draft of my Charleston map, which I’d like to add a few elements to. I still have to finish my Point Lookout map (on the computer). My first map of Fire Island is completed. So how to breathe some excitement back into my project?

With a new map and a location I know well!

Today we went for a walk at Jones Beach State Park – the location of my new map. I took a bunch of photos, wrote a list of elements to illustrate, and I’m excited to start painting tomorrow!

creative newsletter featuring artists crafts tutorials books shows and more | creative inspiration
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Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” where I feature artists and makers, and link to inspiring art, design, and craft, inspiring places, interesting books, movies, and more. It’s a collection of all the things inspiring me delivered to your inbox every two weeks. Click here to sign up.


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Illustrated Map Making

Illustrated map making #the100dayproject Charleston

I’m over a third of the way through my #the100dayproject – illustrated map making. If you are thinking about making a map, here are some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Decide ahead of time the theme or point of view of the map. For example, is it a map of food destinations, tourist spots, local spots, or a personal map?
  • Research the area to make sure you know what the important places are.
  • Write a list of the places that will be illustrated.
  • How many elements are necessary? I’m still trying to determine how many elements make a good map – make it full but not too cluttered?
  • Decide on the style, color palette, etc. I paint in watercolor and often add details in ink. The elements should all be in a similar style.
  • Develop a process. I hand paint the background and all the elements separately and put them together in Photoshop. Text is added on the computer. I create the illustrations at about 3-4” and reduce them. Painting them at this small size allows me to skip details that will be lost when reducing, but also fit some details – that if I worked at 1” I wouldn’t be able to paint or see!
  • Create a schedule. Currently I’m creating one map element per day. Deadlines are my own, but if a map was a commission, it would be helpful to have a schedule. X number of elements created in X number of days plus the time to put it all together on the computer. Allowing buffer time for client input is always a good idea.
  • Composition. Often liberties have to be taken to fit the map. The map doesn’t have to be exact proportions.
  • Create a library of common elements. As I create more maps, I create elements that can be reused – trees, lifeguard chair, beach umbrella. I’m organizing my files to make it easy to find stuff.

So far I’ve worked on maps of:

  • Fire Island, NY – completed
  • Point Lookout, NY – elements completed, all in Photoshop, finalizing needs to be done
  • Nashville, TN – access if more elements need to be created
  • Charleston, SC – currently illustrating the map elements and creating a list

Other map ideas:

  • Long Beach, NY (my hometown)
  • Long Island, NY. Long Island is a large area, trying to think of what the focus of the map would be
  • Maps inspired by trips we’ve taken – Maine or Acadia National Park, National Parks in Utah

How much I’ll accomplish by day 100, I don’t know. I do know that I’ve wanted to create maps for years, but never got past trying for 15 minutes. #the100dayproject gives me the motivation to keep going, work through the process, learn, explore. Starting was easy. Continuing isn’t, but I’m determined to see it through. That can be said for not just the bigger project but finalizing each map. Pushing myself produces results.

My Fire Island map is available for download in my Etsy shop. Click here to visit my Etsy shop where I sell digital clipart, invitations, prints, painting tutorials, and even personalized family trees!
Illustrated Fire Island map | Day 25 #the100dayproject

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

My Creative Collection a creative newsletter
Want a dose of creative inspiration?
Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” where I feature artists and makers, and link to inspiring art, design, and craft, inspiring places, interesting books, movies, and more. It’s a collection of all the things inspiring me delivered to your inbox every two weeks. Click here to sign up.


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Celebrating Day 25 of #the100dayproject with a Fire Island Map

Illustrated Fire Island map | Day 25 #the100dayproject
I’m proud to announce that my Fire Island map is now available for download in my Etsy shop. I’ve been spending the first 25 days working on elements of three maps, so to finalize one of the maps is very satisfying. Click here to visit my Etsy shop where I sell digital clipart, invitations, prints, and even personalized family trees!

I’m a quarter of the way through my #the100dayproject. 100 days seems less daunting, or does is it? I’m really good at starting projects. It’s my Aries nature. Sticking with them is the hard part. I learned early in my creative journey that it’s great to try new things, but you don’t progress in an area if your efforts are scattered. I have to work hard to stay focused. What does your astrological sign say about your creative habits?

Today I was reading an email from #the100dayproject and there was a worksheet that has a spot for how you’ll celebrate the 100th day of the challenge. Hmm, how will I celebrate? You know what would be awesome – to visit the Fire Island lighthouse! It’s such a fun day trip. The lighthouse is the only part of Fire Island that you can drive to. The walk to the lighthouse is a cool boardwalk through the dunes. Usually when we go we bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach after climbing to the top of the lighthouse. The perfect way to celebrate!

Fire Island lighthouse Fire Island lighthouse Fire Island beach Robert Moses state park Fire Island beach Robert Moses state park