Back to the drawing board with Beach Girl’s Face

Last week I struggled with the face of my “beach girl” in a fun watercolor painting where she was floating in a pool. I “erased” her face several times and destroyed the paper. It was extremely frustrating.

Looking back I realized that just diving in to paint her face was a bit of a mistake. I haven’t quite figured out how to paint her face. A while back I arrived at a cute pencil drawing of her face, but how does that apply to watercolor? I’ve decided I don’t want her to have just a couple of lines and dots – for eyes. I want to add a little more detail. But I’m not sure how.

It was naive of me to think I could just wing it. If I had started with her face, in the floating painting, I would have thrown away several versions. Instead I painted everything around her face and thought I’d figure it out. (That is the Aries in me!) I now realize figuring it out is going to take time, work, patience and lots of practice.

I’ve been working on this all week. First I did pencil sketches using photos of my daughter (the inspiration behind beach girl). It is amazing how hard it is to capture the essence of a person. Is it the shape of her eyes? her chin? Then I spent time mixing colors, to figure out the right skin tone. I mixed Permanent Rose and Cadmium Yellow pale. Then I added Yellow Ochre. I’m still playing around with how much of each. And I’m still struggling with what color to mix for the shadows on her face. Add payne’s grey? or the compliment?

I painted the shape of her head in the skin tone. Then I experimented with adding the detail – the hard part! I hated all of them. But, I learned from them – the pencil is too sharp and fine, too much detail in this one, etc.

Today, I decided to try again. Before I started I looked at sample watercolor illustrations. Then, I tried again. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I am further along then last week!

Beach girl – drawing her face 100x


I decided to draw 100 faces, to find the right face for my beach girl character. I couldn’t believe how quickly I fell in love with a face! It was the 9th one I drew. I did a few more after that, but I think she is the one!


I started out with 24 circles on the page – assuming I do several pages to reach 100. I only made it to 17!


I tried her face from different angles, using what I learned from Shoo Rayner – Drawing School (video “Draw characters from different angles“). I need to work on the different angles more.


I also put her face on her body. I’m excited. I feel like I’m getting somewhere.


11 Art Supplies I can't paint without 6 Tips on Developing your own Illustration Style


My Claddagh Fairy illustration made into a doll!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I am so happy today (in honor of St. Patrick’s Day) to bring you the doll version of my Claddagh Fairy. All thanks to my niece, Ryan, my illustration has come to life – in doll form! Thank you Ryan!

claddagh fairy doll 2 back irish fairy doll flying irish fairy doll

See more illustrations from the Claddagh Fairy and my journey to develop a children’s book illustration style.


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.

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.

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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