A Creative New Year


I’m always relieved when the busyness of the holidays is over. After Thanksgiving “the holidays” – a small thing on my to do list – grows with each passing day until it’s the main thing I’m working on. I become consumed with shopping, taking inventory of deliveries, decorating, wrapping, planning, baking, more shopping…

And then it’s over. The week that follows is usually a fairly quiet week of not much more that reading, tv watching, and eating leftover candy. I happily devour the creative magazines that filled my stocking. Magazines like flow and Mollie Makes. I read about other creatives and plan and dream about the New Year.

It was during this time, seven years ago, that I committed to regular creativity and started this blog – My Creative Resolution. Seven years ago! My kids don’t remember a time when a section of the table wasn’t filled with art supplies. They assume I’ve always drawn and painted. 

Starting a blog added a level of accountability that prevented me from putting my creative goals aside. Before the blog, there were several Christmases where I received a new sketchbook, vowed to work in it every day, but ultimately forgot about it. Creativity has brought so much joy to my life, and many unexpected opportunities! It is impossible to plan everything. You have to start your own journey to find out what twists and turns await you!

Not sure where to start?

I’ve created a process for you to follow, that walks you through trying things, while developing a regular practice of creativity. Fifteen minutes a day can be sufficient!

We start with the basics – no fancy supplies needed – and slowly work up to trying other mediums. Your interests are taken into account. After all, your exploratory journey should be based on you!

Ready to get started?
Download the “Creative Exploration” ebook or order a paperback copy on Amazon today. Click here for more information.

Your creative journey awaits!

Creative Exploration | How to be creative How to start an art practice

Start now by clicking here!


Follow through on creative ideas with this simple tool!

One of the biggest problems we have as creatives is too many ideas. Have you ever been working on a project and you get an idea and “squirrel!” – You set off in a new direction? If the same thing happens again while you‘re working on the “new” idea, you’ll never finish anything!

One of the most helpful tools I use to keep me focused is a notebook. My notebook and morning routine have enabled me to keep my New Year’s Resolution (My Creative Resolution) for almost 8 years! Every morning I write in my notebook and check in with my creative projects.

Aside from daily writing, a critical part is checking back on previous entries. Doing this reminds me of past ideas and projects. It allows me to re-focus back on things I may have forgotten about. When I’m revisiting past entries I also can decide which ideas not to pursue, because it’s hard to get things done if we spread ourselves too thin. Looking back allows me to feel satisfaction when I’ve finished a project.

Sometimes I have an idea that in the moment I’m very excited about, but as time passes I lose confidence in it. But when an idea keeps popping up – I know it’s time to follow through.

This is how I was able to finish the book based on My Creative Resolution – “Creative Exploration.” The idea for the book kept coming back to me. I would work on it for a while and then move on to other things. When the book idea came back around for the second or third year in a row, I figured it was time. I immediately hired my own proofreader. I knew having a due date and someone else would hold me accountable to finish a draft.

If you are having trouble following through on your ideas, I encourage you to get your own notebook. Start writing down your goals and ideas. Check in with your notebook (and projects) daily. It makes a world of difference! Want to be creative but don’t know where to start? Try “Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life.”

Creative Ideas to make Thanksgiving more fun this year!

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


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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Have you visited my online shop? Prints of my seascapes are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes including the new “mini” canvas 11″ x 14″ at shop.eileenmckenna.com. Take a peek!

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