For weeks I’ve wanted to try sewing a mask, but I don’t really know how to sew. From time to time I try, but then so much time passes I forget everything. It’s like starting over every time. I dusted off the machine and prayed it would work and that I wouldn’t have to do anything complicated with the bobbin. No such luck, the stitches were all wonky. When I looked closely at the bobbin, it didn’t appear to be threaded correctly. With the machine’s instruction manual at my side, I was able to rethread the bobbin. Finally, I was sewing! I’ll admit all my movements are awkward. I said to my husband, if sewing was cooking, I’d say, “I can’t even boil water.” Trying to pin the fabric was a struggle. Why did my mother make me take physics instead of Home Ec? I’ll tease her about that forever.
Finally, I made a mask! It was pretty decent! The second one wasn’t so great. The next night I tried again and the two I made came out okay. The following night was even better. I’m seeing improvement every day! That’s what happens when we keep practicing right? I’ve been experimenting to see which tutorial video mask I like the best. These are the 3 I’ve tried. #1 fits around the nose. #2 and #3 have folds and expand over your face. They all have aspects I like. Does anyone have a mask tutorial they recommend?
The unexpected bonus is that I can finally make something with the fabrics I designed! I have a pile of fabric samples. Recently I designed a new one with watercolor smiles on it. It’s what I miss about going to the supermarket – you can’t see anyone’s smile. You can check out my fabric designs on Spoonflower here or visit Spoonflower and design your own! Not sure how to create a repeating pattern from your artwork? Read this post.
I miss teaching the kids at the art studio! We are all stuck home trying to stay motivated and creative. The positive in all of this is I’ve had time to develop a new watercolor lesson specifically for beginners with kids, and the young at heart, in mind – Watercolor Ice Cream Cones!
In this video painting lesson I’ve broken down the steps for painting ice cream cones. I introduce each step and then explain it. Kids can follow along, listening and watching, and then pause the lesson to complete that step. At any point they can go back to watch a step again.
At any level, the results of this painting project are beautiful! It’s fun to complete the lesson more than once because with different color choices the final watercolor ice cream cones paintings will be quite different!
Throughout the lesson participants will learn the difference between wet and dry painting, as well as several watercolor fun techniques!
The lesson is an afternoon of painting fun and learning watercolor! The running time of the video is 20 minutes, but there are three places where the paint needs to dry before moving on. (Twice for 15 minutes. Once for about an hour.)
After you purchase the video lesson, download the pdf file made available to you. It contains the link and password to access the lesson, and the list of supplies. Help the kids gather the supplies, access the video and they will be on their way to a fun time painting!
I would love to see their final paintings! Tag me on Instagram @eileenmckenna.
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.
For a while now I’ve been frustrated with my watercolor skies. If I don’t paint them lightly, they end up looking weird. It’s hard to describe but the paint looks funny – like a pattern of little blooms. Instead of smooth, they have a texture. I’ve wanted to seek help on this issue, but I was having a hard time articulating my problem.
A search on Pinterest for “watercolor skies” led me to Susan Chiang’s blog where I saw the phrase “granulating pigments.”
This is my issue!
Susan says, “When picking your blues, take note of granulating pigments. This will vary based on the color and manufacturer so the best way is to test it out yourself on a piece of paper.”
Now I know it’s a characteristic of the paint that is working against me and the look I want to achieve. Progress!
These days I can’t blame lack of time for a lack of painting. Being stuck at home, I’ve got nothing but time. What I am struggling with is what to paint. Sometimes it seems easier to go on my iPad than to figure out an idea.
Coincidentally my son asked me the other day, “Do you always know what you’re going to paint?” As I indicated, the answer is no, and it can be a real roadblock. When you are out and about, experiencing life, you are soaking up inspiration. Nowadays, not so much.
Here are some ways to find creative inspiration during self quarantine:
Go outside (in whatever way is safe for your situation). Walk around your neighborhood, or your yard, or sit by a window. The birds, trees, flowers, clouds, all provide inspiration. Absorb it, and take photos.
Look through your phone. What inspiration did you capture on your phone that you never drew or painted? Now you have time. I’ve made albums on my phone to separate inspiration photos.
Technique. Perhaps there is a technique you admire others doing. Try it! Find reference photo appropriate to that technique and practice. I admire paintings with sun dappled water, so I found a photo and tried it.
Catalogs. I keep catalogs to use as reference. Athletic attire ones have great figures to practice from, and sometimes great scenery. Recently I painted a skier and mountains from an ad in a magazine. I also painted a woman doing a headstand. I love the Burpee plant and seed catalog, such beautiful flowers and vegetables to paint!
Look around your home. Walk slowly around your home and see if there are any interesting subjects or arrangements to paint. Try to look at your space with fresh eyes. Or paint or draw an ordinary scene like the couch with a lamp, but add interesting wallpaper to it. Reimagine your space.
Set up a still life. Create an interesting composition with things in your home. The refrigerator is a great source of interesting looking things. Cut some fruit in half.
Portraits. In self quarantine with loved ones? Make them the subject of your next project.
Color. Try a project where it’s less about what you are painting and more about the color palette you are using. You could even recreate a painting you’ve done before but with a different color palette. In my “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” program we explore painting using Monet’s winter palette. It is such an interesting exercise!
In a recent post, Watercolor Wisdom, I mentioned showing my watercolor teacher my first watercolor painting and her saying, “No, no, no, you’re drawing.” At the time, 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. She was telling me to allow watercolor to do its thing. To give up some control, and work wet! To not use watercolor like it’s a paint by numbers project.
You can create interesting backgrounds in watercolor by allowing the colors to bleed into one another. It’s easy and fun!
1. Tape down your paper. If you are going to work wet, you have to tape down your paper to prevent wrinkling and buckling. I use painter’s tape and attach watercolor paper to a piece of cardboard. I use the back of old drawing pads.
2. Lightly outline your shape. Draw any shape – a starfish, a flower…
4. Apply the first color. When you touch your brush (dripping with paint) to the wet background the color will bleed onto the paper. Brush the color around a little but leave some white areas.
5. Apply a second color randomly by touching your brush to the paper. Don’t forget the remaining white areas of the background.
6. Continue adding colors randomly with this touching brush to wet background technique. Don’t over blend the colors by brushing too much.
7. Add secondary colors (smaller amounts of color) by flicking or tapping your brush as it’s held over your painting. I use my other hand to block my shape (keep paint off it).
8. Remove puddles. If there is an area where the paint is puddling, use a dry brush to absorb some of the excess.
9. Let the background dry. Don’t start painting your subject until your background is completely dry. If you don’t wait when you touch the edge of the wet background the paint will be sucked into your subject, flooding it with colors you may not want.
10. Erase paint if needed. If paint accidentally got on your subject you can remove it by using a damp brush and then blotting the brush onto a paper towel to suck up the color.
In the second year of my blog and my creative resolution, I was so inspired! I wanted to try everything. So many of the things I saw online interested me – designing repeating patterns, block printing, etc. That second year, I set out to try it all. As I struggled with cutting my first linoleum blocks, I realized how much time it would take to master block printing. To get “good” at any of the things on my list would require time and focus.
At that time I was making progress with watercolor and loving it. I was enjoying the feeling of moving beyond the struggling beginner stage. I also realized that if I continued to try everything, I was diluting my focus and time, and wouldn’t progress as much with watercolor. I made the decision to trim my list and keep watercolor at the top.
With the Coronavirus and self quarantine I, like many of you, find myself with lots of free time. Work has dried up, and leaving the house is extremely limited. I now have nothing but time. It’s not easy during these scary and uncertain times to put time into creating. Every morning I write a list of the “productive” things I want to accomplish. It motivates me. With each item I tackle – a chore, exercise, painting, writing a blog post, going outside, I’m motivated to do more things. The sense of accomplishment helps keep me positive.
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.)
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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.
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.
“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. 🙂
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.