Watercolor Painting Tips

Watercolor Dog Portraits by Eileen McKenna
Watercolor Dog Portraits by Eileen McKenna

Recently I wrote about how you should take some time to observe a reference photo before painting. I have to constantly remind myself of my own advice because I want to jump in and start painting. I want to get to the fun part!

1. observe your subject

After painting a few dog portraits, the part 2 to this advice occurred to me:

2. Do a “study”

What is a “study”? Essentially a study is a practice painting, drawing, or sketch. You have most likely seen studies done by the Masters before they painted their final masterpieces.

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The masters did studies

Georges Seurat, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” 1884-1886
(Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago Public Domain)

George Seurat spent two years on site sketching, before painting A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte. He created approximately 60 sketches. “This approach enabled Seurat to capture the color, light, and movement of the scene before him.”

The benefit of doing a study

Sketching or painting helps you see the subject more closely. As I painted the dog portraits I noticed more about the dogs as I painted. When I paint or draw my eyes travel back and forth from my painting to the reference photo and back again.

This is something I try to instill in the kids at the art center where I teach:

Everything you need to know about the subject is in the photo. If you want to realistically draw or paint it, keep looking at the photo and your artwork.

Eileen McKenna

Another way of seeing

I find it useful to occasionally flip both the reference photo and my paper to see things differently. Looking at things this way is supposed to trigger the other side of your brain. This theory was written about in the popular book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

I notice that when I look at things upside down it is easier to see the individual elements of something. For example a face upside down allows me to focus on the elements more than the whole face.

painting Stella

Stella Dog portrait by Eileen McKenna
Stella by Eileen McKenna

When I painted Stella, I looked through many photos and selected a few photos to practice with. I wanted to “see” what characteristics were unique to her. As I painted I felt I was getting to know her. These practice paintings helped me get a more realistic final painting.

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Read “PAINTING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS”

READ “PAINTING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS”

Ready to get started in watercolor?

Try my “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” where I walk you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and projects. Learn by doing. Discover a love of watercolor today –> Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

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!

Watercolor Tip

Stop and “look at” the roses

Several years ago I dedicated myself to painting seascapes. I painted one after another. I studied my photos as I painted and as time went on I noticed more things about the ocean and waves. These little details are what made my paintings better. 

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By nature I am an impatient person. I’ve heard it said that the Aries motto is “Ready, Fire, Aim.” It is certainly true about me. When I’m painting, I rarely draw anything beforehand. I immediately want to get to the fun part of splashing paint onto the page. But I am often reminded that if I took some time to look at and study my reference photo I would get better results.

I took a close up of a Gerbera Daisy, so I could see the details. A great start! But I dove in too quickly and ended up struggling. My painting had twice as many petals as it should have and looked off. I’m sharing the lesson I learned with you:

Take time to look at and study your reference before painting.

For weekly watercolor tips & Tricks sign up for my newsletter:

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Read “PAINTING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS”

READ “PAINTING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS”

Ready to get started in watercolor?

Try my “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” where I walk you through the fundamentals of watercolor with exercises and projects. Learn by doing. Discover a love of watercolor today –> Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide

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!

St. Patrick’s Day Painting Project

This Fields of Green Watercolor Painting Project will get you in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day and take you on a “visit” to Ireland!

Fields of Green Ireland Painting Tutorial

Beginner Watercolor Painting Idea for St. Patrick’s Day

Ireland is said to have “40 Shades of Green” and in this beginner watercolor project we’ll use as many shades as possible! Beginner friendly! Step by step tutorial with photos walks you through painting this Irish landscape.

In this tutorial you’ll learn:

  • Masking with tape
  • Painting fades
  • Painting layers
  • Painting dry on dry
  • Using gouache – more opaque than watercolor
Painting an Irish Landscape in Watercolor

In addition to learning all these techniques – you’ll have a beautiful final painting when you are done!

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Watercolor paper. I use 9” x 12” Arches 140 lb. cold pressed paper. Trim to 9” x 11” to create a painting that works well in a 8” x 10” mat.
  • Painter’s tape – 1” wide
  • Watercolor paint. Colors: shades of green and/or blue and yellow for mixing greens (a touch of red can be added too), blues for sky (turquoise or other blue) and ocean (prussian or ultramarine blue), black, and orange (can mix with yellow and red) AND… 
  • Gouache – White Gouache (Gouache can go over watercolor. It is less translucent.)
  • Paint brushes – 1 large round brush – #6, one thin round brush – #1
  • Container of water
  • Paper Towel
  • Palette for mixing paint with water and mixing colors. Use a plastic lid or the top of a plastic egg carton.
  • Pencil, eraser (kneaded is best), ruler and scissors
  • Scrap of paper. Always test color mixes before touching your painting with your brush.

For a list of brands I use visit: https://mycreativeresolution.com/supplies/

Download the Tutorial

For more Seasonal Art Project Ideas:

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More St. Patrick’s Day Art Projects

how to draw a leprechaun printable tutorial
Printable Ireland St. Patrick's Day Coloring Pages make a Coloring Book Kids Class Activity Digital Download is a great way to teach kids about Ireland. Color and fold to create a book! Perfect for St. Patrick's Day.

For more creative St. Patrick’s Day Ideas:

Read Teaching Children about Ireland.

St. Patrick's Day Art Project

Watercolor Zoom Lessons coming in 2021!

I have exciting plans for 2021 and I want you to be a part of them! Last New Year’s we had the privilege of visiting Paris. It was amazing. After the trip I revisited my photos and memories by painting them. Instead of doing it alone, I developed the “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” program so participants could virtually “visit” Paris and improve upon their watercolor skills. This year – I’m so excited – I’m expanding on the “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” program by also offering online zoom lessons.* We can meet and paint together! It is going to be so fun. Zoom lessons will start mid January. Please note – the zoom lessons will be an additional fee.  

You can start the “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” program at any time. If you are interested in the upcoming small group zoom lessons please email me and let me know. There is no commitment at this point – I just want to make sure you receive all the details!

*The zoom lessons will be an additional cost to the current “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” program. The zoom lessons are not included in the cost of the “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” program.

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Ready to get started in watercolor? The “Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide” is for you!

  • Learn the fundamentals.
  • Practice with exercises & projects.
  • Discover a love of watercolor!

Learn more here!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide pdf download | how to guide beginner watercolor

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Hoping for a creative new year but don’t know where to start? Try my 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!

Creative Exploration book -

How to Paint a Fall Leaf in Watercolor

This week, find a leaf that inspires you and paint it. I’ve uploaded a video of my process for painting a leaf:

  • With pencil I outline the basic shape.
  • I use just three colors – cadmium yellow, cadmium red, and ultramarine blue and mix colors as I go. From those three colors I create all the fall colors I need – purples, maroons, browns.
  • I work wet encouraging the colors to bleed into one another.

It’s fun and relaxing. Check out the video below and watch my painting process. Then find your leaf and start painting. I’d love to see – tag me on Instagram @eileenmckenna.

Please like the video and subscribe!

Want a comprehensive guide to getting started in watercolor? Check out “Beginner Watercolor Exploration.” Learn the fundamentals. Practice with exercises and projects. Discover a love of watercolor!

Start your watercolor journey today! Learn more here.

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide pdf download | how to guide beginner watercolor

Painting Leaves in Watercolor

Fall Leaves in Watercolor by Eileen McKenna

Recently I painted a pile of leaves in watercolor. It was an easy relaxing process:

  • Collect a few leaves
  • Trace the leaves
  • Mix fall colors from yellow, red and blue
  • Work wet and encourage the colors to bleed and blend.

Believe it or not, I’m often more interested in how it feels to sit and paint than what the final results are. Sure, there is satisfaction in how a painting comes out and sometimes frustration when I can’t achieve my vision. But the process of sitting and painting is…the best.

I shared a video on how I created the watercolor pile of leaves painting. Grab your paints and give it a try!

Please like the video and subscribe!

Want a comprehensive guide to getting started in watercolor? Check out “Beginner Watercolor Exploration.” Learn the fundamentals. Practice with exercises and projects. Discover a love of watercolor!

Start your watercolor journey today! Learn more here.

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide pdf download | how to guide beginner watercolor

14 Creative Fall Project Ideas

The air feels cooler, I’ve made my first batch of pumpkin bread, and I’m collecting and brainstorming ideas for fun fall projects!

14 Creative Fall Project Ideas:

Nature –  I love projects that involve found elements and paint. Check these out: painting acorns, drawing on leaves (I love the ones with the white pen), decorating a white pumpkin. Now, I’m in competition with the squirrels to collect acorns!

Potpourri – I want to make this homemade fall scented potpourri recipe.

Paper – I’ve just launched a new paper quilt printable kit for fall! It’s a fun and easy project for all ages.

Fiber – This fall leaves fiber art by Franswazz is so cool.

Embroidery – These fall embroidery kits look fun.

Recycle – This paper bag tree is so interesting. I’d like to use it in a fall terrarium.

Wood burning – I love this wood burned acorn by Italian Artist Liliia of SorrisoDesign. “The design is hand drawn, then carefully and lovingly burned into the solid wood bead with pyrography technique.”

Polymer Clay – Finally! I had a chance to play with my stash of polymer clay, blending colors, creating fall leaves and other fun projects while watching clay videos on YouTube. This is the starter kit I purchased:

Dough Ornaments – I’d like to make a fall version of these cornstarch ornaments.

Watercolor – Paint a realistic looking fall leaf or paint a pumpkin farm. Creating the changing leaves is the best part! Or maybe it’s painting the pumpkin patch?

We all need time to explore – to try a new medium, play around with it, just for the fun of it.

**Try one of my new fall projects by visiting my Etsy shop here.**

Fall Painting Idea Watercolor Fall Farm with Pumpkins Tutorial

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!

14 Creative Fall Project Ideas

Painting Fall

Fun step by step watercolor painting project for fall

Since the start of my blog “My Creative Resolution” and my regular creative practice, I’ve been hugely inspired by the seasons. Creativity literally opened my eyes to the changing landscape. That first fall, I was in awe of the fall foliage. It was like I’d never seen it before! 

With fall in mind, I just developed a new step by step painting project – Watercolor Fall Farm. Watercolor colors blend and bleed into one another making it the perfect medium to capture the changing leaves.

This fun project includes:

  • masking with tape
  • painting fades
  • creating clouds simply
  • wet on wet painting
  • dry on dry
  • mixing all your colors from just three!

Add in pumpkins, a barn, a farmhouse, and oh my!
Download the tutorial pdf in my Etsy shop and start painting fall!

paint fall in Watercolor Tutorial downloadable pdf paint fall in Watercolor Tutorial downloadable pdf

Want a comprehensive guide to getting started in watercolor? Check out “Beginner Watercolor Exploration.” Learn the fundamentals. Practice with exercises and projects. Discover a love of watercolor!

Start your watercolor journey today! Learn more here.

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide pdf download | how to guide beginner watercolor

Fall Painting Idea Watercolor Fall Farm with Pumpkins Tutorial

Watercolor Basics ~ other important things you need!

Watercolor basics - other important things you need

In my previous Watercolor Basics posts I covered paper, brushes and paint but there are a few other items that are also important to have on hand.

Water – With watercolor paint, you need water to dilute your paint and to clean your brushes. I like to have two containers of water on hand so I have a backup when the first container gets dirty. Jars, cups, mugs, all work well. I prefer the container be white or clear so I know what color the water is.

Paper towel – the simplest ingredient but so important. I constantly dab my brushes on my paper towel to absorb excess water.

Scrap of paper for testing what’s on your brush before you touch your paper.

Tape, cardboard, ruler and pencil – Before I start painting I always tape my paper (with painter’s tape) to a larger piece of cardboard (the back of an old pad). This prevents the paper from buckling when it gets wet. Another thing I often do is tape the horizon line. I measure and mark both sides of the paper and then apply tape from one side to the other.

Egg cartons – I have paints in my palette. I have a mixing tray that contains commonly mixed colors and then I have tons of egg cartons! I use the top of the plastic egg carton as another mixing tray.

Mug – to hold all my brushes, pencils, etc.

Ipad – for viewing reference photos.

Phone and earbuds – for taking photos and listening to my favorite podcasts while I paint.

Did you read these Watercolor Basics posts?

Watercolor Basics – Paint
Watercolor Basics – Brushes
Watercolor Basics – Paper

Ready to get started in watercolor? Check out “Beginner Watercolor Exploration.”

  • Learn the fundamentals.
  • Practice with exercises and projects.
  • Discover a love of watercolor!

Start your watercolor journey today! Learn more here.

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide pdf download | how to guide beginner watercolor

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!