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Warming up with watercolor

On the mornings I have free time to paint, I try to start my day painting with watercolor in my sketchbook. I think of it as a warm up. I have to admit I am falling back in love with watercolor. I love the different options you have, depending on how wet your brush, and the paint are. Every time I do a quick watercolor “sketch” I find myself wanting to work on it more (and cursing the crappy sketchbook paper). But, I’ve spent the last two months exploring acrylic painting and I don’t want to give up on it. I do look forward to the day that I dedicate my time to watercolor. I’ll be warmed up and ready! And I promise to use the right paper.



Developing a Children’s Book Illustration Style (Part III)

I finally developed an illustration style for my Claddagh fairy! Now what? Time to illustrate the whole book. Wow, intimidating. As a graphic designer I had the knowledge (and the software) to design the layout of the book, so that helped. I started with thumbnail sketches (a storyboard) of where the copy would fall and what the illustrations should be.


Even though I had my fairy design, how exactly was I illustrating the book? Watercolor? Acrylic? And I was very worried about getting the fairy right from all angles and keeping her consistent. I read online, about Illustrator, Will Hillenbrand, who draws on vellum (paper) and paints the paper (from the back side). Thank you Will for sharing your technique! I thought that sounded interesting especially because I thought if I drew on the computer, I’d have more luck keeping my fairy consistent.

If you decide to try this technique – printing the illustrations and then painting the back of the vellum – make sure you buy vellum that is compatible with your printer type: vellum for inkjet or vellum for laser.

11 Art Supplies I can't paint without

My Illustration Process:

  • Loose, quick sketch with pencil and paper
  • Scan sketch (to use as guide) and “draw” outlines in Adobe Illustrator using the pen tool
  • Print the drawings on vellum (vellum for inkjet or vellum for laser)
  • Paint the back side of the vellum using Liquitex acrylic paints
  • Scan the drawings and retouch if necessary
  • Using layout program (Adobe Indesign), import artwork and add text
  • Print final book spreads

Vellum with illustration from the computer and back side of vellum painted:


Using more finalized illustrations, I super sized my thumbnails and arranged them on a giant bulletin board to map out the book. At that point, the type and illustrations were different pieces of paper, so I could move things around. Several times I created an illustration only to move copy around and change what the illustration should be.

It was a very fun project illustrating “The Claddagh Fairy.” But it was a lot of work. So far, no one wants to publish it though! lol! In my mind getting it published was out of my control, but sticking with it and illustrating the whole book, was in my control. It felt like a huge accomplishment! It was a great learning process and I don’t regret spending time on it, even if it never gets published. One of these days I’d like to illustrate another children’s book. Although this time, I’d like to do more of the illustrations with pen and brush instead of the computer.

Here are a couple of my favorite Claddagh Fairy spreads:




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Copyright Eileen McKenna 2017. Unauthorized use of this blog’s content, text and artwork is prohibited. Re-blogging and/or sharing links is allowed provided that is credited and a direct link to the original content is included. Thank you.


Developing a Children’s Book Illustration Style (Part II)

In my quest to develop a children’s book illustration style, I continued to look at the work of other illustrators and practice drawing. Each exercise made a difference in the evolution of my character and the birth of a drawing style. My character, is an Irish Fairy, called the Claddagh Fairy. I invented her when I wrote my children’s book, “The Claddagh Fairy.” She spreads the message of the Irish Claddagh – friendship, loyalty and love!

Phase 1


Phase 2


Phase 3


Phase Four – I have a look for my fairy! Now the question was – how was I going to illustrate an entire book?! How was I going to make the Claddagh Fairy from different angles, but still look the same?! Read Part III to find out.

Claddagh Fairy

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11 Art Supplies I can't paint without

The Claddagh Fairy is copyrighted. Unauthorized use of this blog’s content, text and artwork is prohibited. Re-blogging and/or sharing links is allowed provided that is credited and a direct link to the original content is included. Thank you.

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Defining paint color with help of the eyedropper tool (in Photoshop)

It has been three weeks since I last worked on my jellyfish painting. Isn’t it ironic that when I last worked on it, I wrote about it under the title, “Procrastination and Painting.” Seems like I’ve been procrastinating getting back to this painting! I know the reason why. I hit a stumbling block.

I was struggling with the color of the jellyfish. What I ended up with was a very orange color. No matter how many times I mixed it, I couldn’t get it to look like the photo. When I left off, I planned to use the eyedropper tool in Adobe Photoshop, to help pinpoint the colors in the photo. It certainly seemed like a good plan. Let’s see if it actually works!


When I opened the photo in Photoshop and starting clicking around on the jellyfish photo, I was surprised to see the colors that came up – maroon, brown, tan, gold. I already felt that it was helping me “see” colors in the jellyfish that I wasn’t seeing. Since I use thalo blue, cadmium yellow and cadmium red to mix my colors, I decided the RGB (red, green, blue) breakdown of the colors was the most useful. I tried to mix and measure following this breakdown.



My first try wasn’t great. I mixed a color which seem to match, but when I painted on top of my existing color, it didn’t look great. I guess the fact that I was painting on top of color, was an issue. The orange beneath my new color, was having an effect on the new color. I didn’t give up!


I kept mixing colors until I got something, that when I put it on top, it looked right. I feel like I’m starting to get there, but have my work cut out for me. I’m so inexperienced I pick hard things and don’t realized they are hard until I’m in the middle of it.


The thing that I love about this photo is that it glows. The colors in my painting are dull and I’m not sure I can fix it – if I’m mixing the colors. Tomorrow I have off and I plan on attacking this painting to see what I can do!



Developing a Children’s Book Illustration Style (Part I)

A few years ago I wrote a children’s book and wanted to illustrate it. I was pretty good at drawing things realistically. But how do you draw in a children’s book style? How do you develop your own style? I searched for books on the topic and found “Illustrating Children’s Books: Creating Pictures for Publication” by Martin Salisbury. This book gives a great overview of all aspects of children’s book design, including: a brief history, different media and techniques, character development, design and typography, and getting published, as well as several case studies. I enjoyed this book. It examines all the techniques needed to illustrate for children, but in the words of Salisbury it is not a “how to” book and doesn’t contain “easy steps to stylistic tricks or wizardry.” I now had a greater understanding of the field of children’s book illustration, but still felt lost as to where to start illustrating my own book. The only instructional books I found on drawing in a style were specific to Manga and comics. It seemed I would have to figure this out on my own.

11 Art Supplies I can't paint without

I spent time reading about other illustrators’ processes and looked through tons of children’s books to see what I liked, what the illustrations had in common and what might be “in line” with my current drawing style. I even emailed a few illustrators, and Illustrator Scott Magoon offered this advice,

“Thanks very much for your kind works about my illustrations in Mostly Monsterly. I’m flattered that you’re using it as a sample animation style! As for how I developed it, well, I’ve been drawing for many years and I guess it’s sort of just grown out of lots and lots and lots of drawings – and borrowing elements from illustrators I admire.

If you find that your drawings are too realistic for children’s books, it sounds like you may need to try to abstract your drawings more. Perhaps trying to keep your drawings very loose may help – don’t close all of your circles for instance – perhaps the perspective could be slightly skewed – or, if you use color, color outside the lines so to speak. Look at some books on cartooning or at cartoonists you admire and see how they simplify gestures, movement, facial expressions to very, very simple shapes, lines and compositions.”

I realized there was no quick answer. Developing a style was going to be a process. I needed to get to work. I picked a few children’s book illustrations that I loved and drew them. (These included Joe Berger, the illustrator of “Hattie the Bad” and Vicky A. Fieldhouse.) I thought of it as a way to study each illustrator’s technique and as a way to determine the common elements in children’s book illustration.

  • Exaggerate features – like big eyes or wacky teeth
  • Color palette – stick to 3 colors
  • Kids – small bodies, big heads
  • Use marker
  • Outline

I took a photo of my son and tried to draw it as a children’s book illustration. It still wasn’t cute enough. Then I tried to draw it again using the first drawing as reference, NOT the photo. Each time I drew it, it got more watered down, more loose and less realistic. It was a great exercise.


I’m happy to be on the path to developing my children’s book style. The steps I recommend to anyone else wanting to start are:

  1. Research. Get a synopsis of the industry in “Illustrating Children’s Books: Creating Pictures for Publication.” Then look for children’s book illustrations that you like. Search online for information about the illustrator’s process.
  2. Practice. Start drawing! Draw multiple versions. Each time try it a slightly different way. When you’ve filled the page – see which ones you like and ask yourself why.


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St. Patrick’s Day Mantle

St. Patrick's Day mantle

Ah it’s March. Spring will be here soon, and warm weather I hope! St. Patrick’s Day is also around the corner. I love decorating the mantle in my family room for the season/holiday. This year, I added to my mantle a couple of homemade projects. You may remember my Irish Blessing sign, created using a Citrasolv transfer technique. Recently, I created my first paper quilt, in a green “Irish” theme, which was a fun and easy project. I’m looking forward to creating a “beachy” themed one soon.

I also hung a couple of our family crests. I was inspired by “Game of Thrones.” In the books, each family has a banner representing their “house.” Symbols on the banners include a lion, wolf, fiery heart and even an onion. I found our crests online and wrote the family names on the back. I thought it would be fun for the kids to flip them over, to find out the names. Surprisingly the kids have never heard of the family names a few generations back.

In addition to these homemade elements, I grabbed every green candle I had! I also hung two leprechauns that I had with my Christmas ornaments. I hung a string of shamrocks with the family crests. I added my son’s school project – a rainbow over a pot of gold. I love including the kid’s projects with my decorations. I thought the Celtic cross and the Belleek vase were nice “authentic” additions. I used fake greenery, since I wasn’t able to find any shamrocks!

Cead míle fáilte!
(hundred thousand welcomes)
link to Irish phrases 


Ice Cube Watercolor Palette

Ice Cube Tray Palette 2Yesterday, as I set up for my “winter” watercolor I had the best idea. Now, you may not know this but, I recently scrubbed my watercolor palette and set up my paints in the order of the color wheel. Most of the colors were straight from the tube, but I mixed a couple of them. (My palette has sponges that keep the paint from drying out.)

With this setup, I’m ready to paint. I can sit down and paint in my sketchbook without pulling out the tubes and squeezing out paint. The only hiccup is when I need to mix a custom color. I don’t want to dirty my palette! I was able to get away with mixing on a piece of tinfoil, but now I was anticipating mixing several colors. I didn’t want pieces of tinfoil all over the place.

I remembered an ice cube tray, long abandoned, in the back of the corner cabinet, where no one can reach. When I pulled it out, I was excited to see it had 3 rows!

As I rinsed it out, I decided to keep water in the top row. I mixed paint in one of the bottom row cubes. I took some of that paint and put it in the cube above it, and added a little water. Then I cleaned my brush in the top cube – the water cube. I now had, a row of cubes, all the same color, in varying degrees of wetness! Awesome!

I set up rows for the other colors I needed and started painting. It was great. I had 3 options to choose from for each color. It worked like a charm. I’ll use my ice cube palette from now on!


The paths our art projects take us on

Yesterday, as I thought about the “abstract” painting I just finished, I thought that it would be cool to paint something similar, but use the colors of sunrise/sunset – pink, orange, purple. I would love to blend them together in the background, the way they blend in the sky. I couldn’t wait to take pictures at sunrise, to use for reference. And, I was excited to paint another tree, to use the techniques I just developed.


It’s funny, how a project can start us on a path. A path similar to the branches of a tree. The path may be fairly straight – projects similar to one another. Or the path may be twisty – each project taking a unique turn. The path can be long – each project sparking the idea for the next one. Or the path may be short – as we experiment with something that doesn’t work out or fails to inspire us any longer.

We follow a path until it ends. Until we have reached the end of that train of thought. At that point, we forge a new path, based on something different that inspires us. But each path we take, is related to the others, just like the branches of a tree.



Painting an abstract is harder than it looks!



My abstract painting sat unfinished for longer than I care to admit. I thought it would be so easy, but after I painted the background colors, I was stumped. I even tried to get my faithful readers to vote on how I should finish it. Needless to say, they were as uninterested as I was!

Finally, I’m ready to bite the bullet, and just finish! I have to admit I have been itching to buy new canvases to start a couple of new projects. But, I am forcing myself to finish a couple of the outstanding paintings: the abstract, the jellyfish, and (I can’t forget) the bike! Okay, so I may not finish all of them!

I did a couple of sketches (freehand and on the computer) to determine a direction for the abstract painting. I am most interested in #1, the bird on the branches. I’m going to search online for a stock photo, to use as reference for my tree.

4sketches canvas

I found an image I liked and started painting. The branches were a lot more detailed, than in my sketches. Every time I work on a drawing or painting of a tree, I notice I tend to make the branches going in a similar direction. To compensate for this, I’m turning the canvas, every so often. I like how it is coming out so far, but I think it needs more branches! Leave it to me to turn an “abstract” into a detailed painting of a tree. I just can’t help myself!

I finally got the hang of painting branches. I applied the blunt part of my square brush onto the canvas. I got a much more realistic limb, than when I was doing strokes with the brush.

step1 step2 step3

I’m almost there. I just need to fix a couple of the branches that look weird because they get thicker, further up the tree, which is probably physically impossible! I could add branches forever…time to stop!


The final step is adding the bird. I’m nervous about where to place him! In the end, I don’t think this painting qualifies as an abstract! But, I’m happy with how it turned out. (And that it is done.)