Creativity is for Everyone!


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.

easy watercolor online lesson for beginners fun project Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners


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Confidence in painting

Confidence in painting
The other morning I sat down to paint in an effort to turn my bad mood around. As I was painting, and not feeling great about myself, I was thinking how much confidence plays a part in painting. When you are feeling good, you are hopeful about the outcome of a painting as you work. But when you are feeling low, it’s easy for negative thoughts to sabotage your work. At these times it’s even hard to motivate to sit down and paint in the first place.

Thankfully, painting did help turn my mindset around and most of the things bothering me either worked themselves out, or proved to not be as bad as I let them seem.

A few days later I was reading Chip Gaines’s book “Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.” Chip, along with his wife Joanna, starred in HGTV’s Fixer Upper. Chip’s book is about their story, and is also very motivational. Because of my recent thoughts on confidence and painting, this quote really spoke to me:

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff

I’m glad that I sat down the other morning to paint despite my mood. I know that if you really want something, you have to work at it no matter what, and I’m trying to put that into practice. Check out Chip’s book here.

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Add a notebook to your painting setup

Eileen McKenna watercolor artist
I find it useful to have a small notebook opened next to my palette. This way if I have a thought for a blog post, want to remember which blue I’m using, or whatever, I can just scribble a note to myself. I also write down the date and time of the photo I’m painting from. This way it’s easier to find on my iPad when I sit down again to paint. This saves me a lot of time.

Curious what my favorite art supplies are? Read

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Artist, Designer, Painter, Illustrator?

I was listening to a podcast* today about titles – crafter, maker, artist – and it really got me thinking. I’m always struggling for the perfect way to define what I do, especially when writing a short profile on one of my social media accounts.

For years I went by Graphic Designer. It was a title I was comfortable with. Even when I became an Art Director, which I felt was more of a job title. A Graphic Designer was what I was. I was never comfortable with graphic artist. I guess I’ve always been reluctant to claim the name artist.

Artist definition (Merriam-Webster)

  • a person who creates art : a person who is skilled at drawing, painting, etc.
  • a skilled performer
  • a person who is very good at something

I think I fit the above criteria, but I still feel funny about it. I always think of an artist as someone, who sells their work (often in a gallery setting.)

Usually I go with Graphic Designer/Illustrator. But the graphic design part doesn’t begin to describe my business. When I looked back on my client work over 2015, I spent 40% on web design and development. Not only do I come up with the design of the site, I write the html code. 24% of my time was on print work, which falls under graphic design. 12% was on social media, 12% on logo design, and 8% on email campaigns. These percentages are the “final product” of what I create. But, it doesn’t take into account working with a client on marketing strategy, copywriting, project management, etc.

I feel more comfortable with Illustrator than Artist. But only a little. I’m not sure how many times I have to be hired for illustration, that I’ll finally feel okay calling myself an Illustrator. Often I’m hired for a bigger project, like a logo or website, and I’ll add my illustration into it -because I can. When I started out as a Graphic Designer 20+ years ago, I always used someone else’s illustrations or photos. Lately, my logos have more, and more illustration in them. Like this one:

The illustration/art might not be a large part of my business, but it’s still something I spend a lot of time on – as you know because you are reading this blog. I doodle, sketch, draw, paint, design patterns, try new mediums, and write about it all every week. I guess I should add blogger to my definition of me. And wife, mother of three, runner, beach girl. Hmm what else? 🙂

*Podcast was “Dear Handmade Life, episode 6: What’s in Your Name?”


New Year, New Banner

I thought it would be appropriate to design a banner that better represented what I do. So, why not a sketch of my painting setup? I’ve kept my bear in there, on the can holding the brushes. If you are wondering what’s with the bear – read my about page.

The New Year, has given me a recharge. I’m more committed to being creative than I was at the start (of 2014). I’m excited to pursue all the different things I’m interested in (painting, illustration, surface design, animation). I’m trying to doodle in my sketchbook every day. I ask myself for only 5 minutes. Even on the busiest days, I can spare that right? It’s relaxing, and it allows me time to come up with ideas. I usually do it early in the morning, while I wait for the kids to get ready. It puts me in a creative mindset for the day. And because of that, I usually end up creating later in the day.

Hope your New Year is off to a creative start too!



Results of my “Assembly Line Painting” experiment. {Please vote for your favorite!}

I finished the four paintings that I working on in “assembly line” fashion. Click here to read more about how I approached working on these paintings.

Results: The results of the experiment are best described by this analogy: It’s like raising kids. You raise them in the same way – same environment, same food, activities, etc. but they all require different special attention and they all turn out different. And with each kid, you are a bit wiser (and more tired) so you do things differently each time – but maybe not better.

This is the inspiration painting:

The four painting above are numbered. Some of them were “worked” on more. For # 1-3 I used white gouache. As I worked I wasn’t sure what methods would be most successful – more details? more shadows? more white? more variation in color?

I’d love to hear what you have to say! Leave a comment and answer my poll below.



Conclusion: (Don’t all experiments have a conclusion?) Working this way, really allowed me to explore this type of painting and subject matter in more and more depth. If I had only painted one beach landscape, I wouldn’t have had the chance to try different techniques.

TRY IT! and let me know your results (and thoughts). Link to this post or if you’re on Instagram use #assemblylinepainting. Can’t wait to see! 🙂


Artist’s Setup

Very quickly into my creative resolution, without really thinking about it, I started setting up my paints and supplies a certain way. A few brushes on a paper towel to the right (I’m right handed), water and cup of brushes above that. Paper or sketchbook in front of me. Above the paper is my watercolor palette. To the left of the palette is the mixing tray. If the table is smaller (like in the illustration) the mixing tray is to the left of the paper. Above the brushes and water is my bin of paint tubes, markers, watercolored pencils, scrap paper, etc. Pretty much anything else I may need. A coffee cup is usually placed near the water, which often leads to mix ups. Fortunately the mix up is I clean the brush in the coffee, not that I drink the dirty water.

Do you have a certain way you set up your painting supplies?


settingup mepainting


Putting yourself out there

I started this blog anonymously to feel free and uninhibited. Now I’m ready to share who I am. In the beginning, I told only 3 people and worried what they’d think. My biggest fear was criticism. I think growing up as the “teased” little sister fostered this fear in me. And it has prevented me from pursuing art. Those nagging thoughts – What if I’m not any good? What if someone makes fun of me?

The book, “An Enemy Called Average,” by John Mason really resonated with me. Mason says – if you are going to put yourself out there, expect criticism. I found that very freeing. In the 9 months since I started my creative resolution, I’ve shared the good, the bad, and the ugly. There were times I wondered, “Should I really share this? It’s terrible.” And I shared it, because I want to be honest about my process of learning and striving to be better. I’m not trying to be someone I’m not. I’m just being me. 🙂