I love the ocean, but I’m also fascinated with the sky. The colors at sunrise and sunset are unbelievable. Every morning when I enter the high school parking lot I’m greeted by a wide open view of the sun rising over the trees. It’s a great way to start the day.

When I look up at the sky, or down from an airplane window, I’m amazed at how the clouds remind me of the ocean. Sometimes there is so much movement and power, other times it’s calm. 

If you are struggle with the question of what to paint – just look up!

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Setting yourself up for Creative Success

I’m excited for Inktober, excited to get back to daily creativity. I’ve adjusted to my new work schedule and am ready to fit drawing and painting in. This is how I’m setting myself up for a successful October and how you can too!

Inktober check off calendar – Eileen McKenna

Organize your supplies. I’ve selected the tools I’ll be using for daily ink drawings – a sketchbook that isn’t great with watercolor but the smooth white pages are perfect for ink. I have enough pages left for all of October plus a few warmup pages. I even dated all the pages to make sure. And I have my favorite ink pen ready – a Uniball signo.

Find something or someone to hold you accountable. I printed a small calendar for daily checking off. I plan on posting my daily work on Instagram. When we feel we have to check in with someone or something (like social media) it helps keep us on track.

Schedule creative time. Pick the time of day you plan on creating. For me it’s early morning before work. It’s a nice relaxing way to start the day. If something gets in the way, I can always catchup later in the day.

“Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life"
Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life”

Make a plan. The more detailed your plan the better. I recommend in my book Creative Exploration that you start simple – pencil and paper. Each week after that you can try out different mediums. I’m participating in Inktober so I’ll be using an ink pen. When the mood strikes I’ll add watercolor. The benefit of some kind of plan is to prevent you from either not sitting down to create because you don’t know what to do or from sitting down and not having any direction. In Creative Exploration I recommend keeping a running list of subject ideas to refer to when you need it.

Find a creative space. Having a designated creative space makes a big difference. Years ago I took over our dining table and leave my supplies out. It makes sitting down to create so easy. No setup needed. Sometimes when I want to get back in the zone, I spend time organizing my supplies and space. By the time I’m done, I’m so ready to get to work!

Be kind to yourself. No one is perfect. Missing a day here or there isn’t the end of the world. Forgive yourself and pick up your pen or paints the next day. Don’t let one day turn into a week.

weekly creativity:

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October is Inktober

Let’s Get Excited for Inktober by Eileen McKenna

When I think of October I think of Fall colors and black ink lines. October is InkTober! For several years I’ve participated in Inktober, a daily challenge to create in ink. In the early years of my participation, I was a purest, only drawing in ink. But it’s hard for me to stay away from my watercolors for a whole month! In more recent years I’ve blended the two – creating fall themed illustrations with ink outlines using my favorite ink pen.

Inktober illustration by Eileen McKenna

There are optional Inktober prompts – which I don’t follow. Prompts are great, but I prefer to paint what inspires me. There are tons of creative challenges online. It doesn’t matter which one you follow or if you follow all the “rules.” The point of these challenges is to inspire and motivate us to create more regularly.

I’m adjusting to my new work schedule and am ready to fit in daily creativity – so Inktober comes at the perfect time for me. What about you? Are you ready for Inktober?!

Learn more:

Learn more about Inktober
find out where I met the creator of Inktober,
and read my Inktober supply checklist:

Don’t miss out:

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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

September Routines and Creative Goals

My friend asked me the other day how it was going with creating every day in August. I looked at her blankly until she explained that I had written in my newsletter that I was going to create every day in August. Red faced I admitted that not only had I failed in that goal, I had also forgotten about it.

September Routines and Creative Goals

what I’ve learned while pursuing a “creative life”

  • Goals motivate us
  • Keep your goals realistic
  • Be kind to yourself when you don’t meet your goals

When we falter in our regular creative practices, we need to brush ourselves off, adjust our focus and expectations, and try again. September is the perfect time for this!

I’ve always loved September- it has the fresh start feeling of the new year. Life gets back to more of a routine, especially if you have kids. I always use September as a chance to reassess my goals, projects and routines.

This year I’m starting a brand new job so everything will change in terms of my schedule. Up until now my schedule has been very flexible. I mostly work from home and teach at a kids art studio several afternoons a week. With my new schedule I will really have to prioritize to get stuff done.

One painting or illustration a week

I’ve decided that painting every single day isn’t going to be realistic for me. My September goal is to create one painting or illustration a week. When possible I will sit and paint. I truly believe even 10-15 minutes of painting makes such a difference!

As usual, I’ll paint what is inspiring me. Maybe I’ll paint within a theme each week. I’m sure the upcoming fall season will play a role. At some point I’ll dive into all the photos I took this summer. These projects will take a few days to complete, so while I won’t be painting every day, I’ll be painting a few days a week.

Any illustration work will not count towards my weekly painting project. I have to have some rules for myself.

Sharing with you

I also want to keep up with my blog and newsletter. I’ve been sharing my creative journey on this blog for almost eight years! I love thinking and writing about creativity and painting and collecting interesting links. If you aren’t signed up for my newsletter – sign up here:

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When I first made “My Creative Resolution” – the blog was what held me accountable each week. I had to create and post finished pieces – otherwise I would be revealing myself as someone who lost motivation and didn’t finish things. That was in fact what I was, but the blog helped me change that.

If you are looking to introduce regular creativity into your life check out my book Creative Exploration. I turned my journey into a process for others to follow. Creativity has brought so much joy and opportunity into my life!

Learn more here!

Summer Reflections

Summer started early for us. Without sporting events to attend, we were on the beach in June as soon as the weather allowed.

In July, I was busy teaching – acrylic painting classes, watercolor workshops and mixed media camp weeks. I love teaching the kids at the art studio, helping build their creative confidence. I also taught an adult watercolor workshop at my local library. It is so satisfying teaching adult beginners, many who think they aren’t creative. It’s my goal to convince them otherwise. I was so happy to hear the women say how relaxing painting was.

During most of August I was traveling – helping two of my kids move into new housing (in two different states). Just like college visits, this one on one time is priceless!

Last week we went to a family reunion on Harrisburg Lake in upstate NY. As a born and bred beach girl, spending time on a lake is such a novelty! I loved this peaceful lake – no motor boats, just canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards. Harrisburg Lake is such a beautiful spot. Lots of inspiration for painting!

Like a squirrel storing nuts for winter, I take tons of photos over the summer to paint from. Speaking of squirrels – have you met Sidney? Sidney is the squirrel I’ve been painting recently for author Lolisa Monroe – learn more here.

I love the beach and am usually a little sad for the sun to set on summer…

but Fall is a great season too! The crisp weather, Fall holidays and activities, new routines…

Looking for a head start on Fall? Browse 14 Creative Fall Projects here.

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

Read Next

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.

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!