Eileen McKenna Art & Design

Watercolor Art | Creative Inspiration to help you be creative on a regular basis


Don’t Stifle Your Own Creativity

Watercolor robin in my sketchbook
Yesterday morning the first thing that caught my eye was a robin on my patio. I was inspired to paint him, but hesitated for a moment. I’ve been painting the beach and beach related things since January. A robin doesn’t fit into my theme. Then I had a break through thought – I’m letting my theme and focus stifle my creativity.

For weeks I’ve been trying to get back into painting. I knew that – for me – working daily in my sketchbook helps bring out other creativity. What I love about my sketchbook is the lack of pressure – draw anything, mess up, add watercolor – it’s all good! But, I had been putting pressure on myself by limiting myself to beach things. Pressure to stay within the theme, pressure to post daily on Instagram.

I’ve recognized my mistake and am changing my attitude. I painted the robin. And tomorrow who knows?

Hey, have you signed up for my email newsletter yet? The next issue comes out soon! It’s called My Creative Collection and is all about the things that inspire me and hopefully will inspire you! You can sign up here. For more information on the newsletter read this post.

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Daily Creative Habits – Take 2

Daily creative habits, sketchbook work, Day 1
Day 1 again. With vacation and other busyness behind me, I’m trying to get back into the creative mode! Back to turning creativity into a habit (again). I played around on my iPad this morning. Later I pulled out my sketchbook.

Drawing on the iPad in Adobe Sketch

I wrote a new checklist to keep me on track.

Creative Checklist:

I know from experience that the daily work, propels me to keep up with the other stuff. How do you stay on track?

Did you see my new “Swimming Laps” pattern?
Swimming Laps fabric print. Swim team, swimmers https://www.spoonflower.com/fabric/6301733-swiming-laps-by-eileenmckenna

I am a huge fan of the Canson sketchbook, because of the bright white, thick pages that don’t buckle when I use watercolor.
Favorite sketchbook

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Back to Daily Creative Habits

Back to daily creative habits. Shells in the sketchbook.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve done minimal drawing and painting. Periods like this seem to be a pattern for me. I think about doing creative work all the time, but I put everything before it – even binge watching shows on Netflix. It’s not creative block. I have tons of ideas. I just can’t seem to make myself pick up the sketchbook or sit down with my paints. And as the days go by it gets harder, and harder.

Experience has shown me that these periods can be avoided if I maintain the habit of drawing daily in my sketchbook. So today as I finally grabbed my sketchbook – I made the commitment to draw in it everyday. Other than making the time, I don’t put pressure on myself to make the results great. I know if I do the work, and play around, good things will come. I already feel happier after drawing these shells that I collected recently.

I first learned about the power of habits when I read Gretchen Rubin’s book, “Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits – to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life.” Back then I had also fallen out of the habit of being creative. I learned from the book that it was harder for me to be creative because I had to make the conscious decision to do it. It was an internal willpower battle every time and was no longer something I did without thinking.

Creative Habits and Gretchen Rubin's book "Better than Before"

Rubin perfectly states it here,
“When we change our habits, we change our lives. We can use decision making to choose the habits we want to form, we can use willpower to get the habit started; then – and this is the best part – we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. We take our hands off the wheel of decision, our foot off the gas of willpower, and rely on the cruise control of habits.”

Read Better than Before.

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The first newsletter issue is out!

My Creative Collection issue 1The first issue of my newsletter “My Creative Collection” went out today. Sign up here to get your copy! Above is a little peek at the intro. As you can see I have inspiring plans this month – that I’ll be sharing in a future issue.

😀 Eileen

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Starting Can be the Hardest Part

I can write all about the benefits of creating every day, but there are some days where I’m busy, or sick, or just don’t feel like it.

So what to do then? If I really don’t have a second, or I am sick like last week, I put in extra time the next day. Usually I’ll squeeze in some time in the morning to “count” for the day before. When I just don’t feel like it, I try to push through and tell myself…

…just do a little. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. I don’t have to follow the same process like the previous days. Maybe instead of painting, I’ll just do a pencil sketch, or an ink sketch, or just add details to a painting I haven’t finish.

Anything is progress. Starting can be the hardest part and once I tackle that – my mindset often changes and I make a lot more progress than I thought I would.

Today was one of those days. When I finally had spare time to paint, I didn’t want to, but the last two days were busy and I hadn’t done much, so I forced myself to get to work. I looked through my reference photos and decided to sketch the lifeguard chair. I figured sketching it would be progress. I liked my sketch and decided to add watercolor. My attitude totally changed and I was so glad I pushed myself to start.


Creative Habits


Early last year, I was struggling to get back into a creative routine. I spent a lot of time thinking I should draw or paint, but for some reason I couldn’t motivate myself to pull out my art supplies and get going. I knew starting was the hardest part, but still I couldn’t do it. By chance I started reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, “Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits – to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life.” Within a few pages, I had the answer to my problem. I had fallen out of the habit of being creative. It was harder for me to do it, because I had to make the conscious decision to do it. It was an internal willpower battle every time and was no longer a habit – something I did without thinking.

Rubin perfectly states it here,

“When we change our habits, we change our lives. We can use decision making to choose the habits we want to form, we can use willpower to get the habit started; then – and this is the best part – we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. We take our hands off the wheel of decision, our foot off the gas of willpower, and rely on the cruise control of habits.”

This was an “aha” moment for me. I immediately took action, following Rubin’s advice to try to make creativity a habit again. I highly recommend you read this book!

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The power of creative prompts


Happy New Year! I took the last few days “off” from my daily drawing and painting, but I’m gearing up to spend every day in January painting the beach.

I did spend a day or two getting a head start on this project. But there were more days where I thought about getting started but – without actually approaching the paints and paper – I didn’t know where to begin and quickly lost all motivation. Last month Marion who joined me in the Christmas countdown wrote – about following my prompts -that she liked not having to think about what to draw.

This really stuck with me and as I looked over the last two months, first following World Watercolor Group’s food prompts and then my own Christmas prompts, I realized how right Marion was. It makes it so much easier to not have to think about what to paint. Instead I would immediately jump to how I would interpret that prompt. Often I’d check the prompt the night before and have a plan when I started in the morning.

This week I struggled with motivating myself because even though I knew I wanted to paint the beach, I wasn’t sure how to get started. The “beach” is too broad. To overcome this stumbling block I wrote myself a prompt list for every day in January.

Focusing on painting the beach is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. For some reason I haven’t been able to do it beyond a painting here or there. When I saw how much I accomplished in November and December by following one theme each month I knew committing myself this month was part of the solution. That and telling YOU. Just like 3 years ago when I started this blog and told you I’m going to be creative on a regular basis. You hold me accountable and help me reach my goals. So thank you. 😊

What are your creative plans for the new year?


I’ll admit it…There aren’t any daily creative habits going on here :(

I admire those that have committed to a daily creative practice and keep to it. People like Crystal Moody and Charlie O’Shields and so many others. But I can’t do it. I’ve done it for short spurts – 14 days for Valentine’s Day or 17 days for St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve done numerous consecutive days in my sketchbook but inevitably I break the chain.

I’d like to say, “I don’t have the time,” but that isn’t entirely true. I do have other things going on that take a lot of my time – my family, which includes my 3 kids, and my design and marketing business. But I also find time to binge watch Netflix shows, so time isn’t the whole problem.

I get very focus on whatever project I’m working on. It may be painting, or my sketchbook, or it may be a new website I’m developing, or getting the kids ready for the start of the school year. I’ll have blinders on and that project will be what I do when I have a minute to spare. Sure I’m still multi-tasking all the other stuff, but it can be hard to mentally squeeze something else in. Lately my creative practice feels scattered, like it hasn’t been the focus in a while.

It’s not that I’m not a disciplined person. I run 3 days a week. Eat fairly healthy. I am very disciplined about my work. I work from home for myself. So I guess I need to be.

I know from Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better than Before” that it’s easier when something is a habit. We do it without thinking. There is no internal willpower struggle to do it. I put on my running clothes and sneakers when it’s time to run. I may not be happy about it all the time, but I get out there and do it.

I was briefly in the habit of sketching with my coffee while I waited for the kids to get dressed for school. I’d sit down with my coffee, grab the sketchbook without thinking, and start doodling any everyday object I could find. It was great, and it would get me thinking of things I’d like to paint. This 5 minute habit encouraged more creativity. But inevitably one day I wouldn’t feel like it and the doodling would become only occasionally.

Being creative makes me happy, but right now I feel like I’m only doing the bare minimum. I know a daily habit is very effective for many people. I also know it’s not my personality. Some days I want to dive into creativity and other days I want to, or have to, dive into something else. For me it doesn’t have to be daily, but I need some kind of structure and routine to make sure the creativity happens.

I read in Rubin’s book about bundling habits. Adding something to an already established habit. That’s what I’m going to try now. On the days I go running, I’m going to create. As I get ready for my run, I’m going to set up my supplies. I’ll get the process started and when I come back from my run, I’ll “dig in” and get creative.

How do you make sure your creativity happens?



Lessons Learned on my Creative Journey

In the beginning, I paused every few months and wrote about what I’d learned so far about creating art, and about myself. Just 1 post shy of 300 posts I decided to reflect again. Here is what I’ve learned on my creative journey:

  1. There are ups and downs in a creative practice. Stick with it through the down times, an up time is coming, and you never know how high you’ll climb.
  2. Practice does make (almost) perfect.
  3. Accountability motivates you to get stuff done.
  4. You can retrain yourself to embrace better work habits.
  5. There is character and style to the “imperfect.”
  6. Share what you create, don’t create to share.
  7. Those beautiful Instagram posts only tell a sliver of a story. Don’t fall into comparing yourself.
  8. Interviews with other creatives tell much more of the story, and can be very real, and very inspiring. I love listening to podcasts.
  9. It takes time and work to develop your style.
  10. Capture the moments when you feel inspired – snap a photo or jot down a note, for later.
  11. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike or a plan to form, sit down and start creating, and things will start to unfold.

My other “lessons learned” posts:

What have you learned on your journey?


An Interview with Crystal Moody of a Year of Creative Habits

At the same time that I made my creative resolution, December of 2013, Crystal Moody challenged herself to build her own creative habits by doing one little, creative thing each day. In 2014 she made a drawing every day, often photographing it with her breakfast. In 2015, she painted each day, and her journey continues in 2016. (www.crystalmoody.com)

Crystal Moody’s 2014’s year of creative habits….drawing a day:

Crystal Moody’s 2015’s year of creative habits…painting each day:

Crystal Moody’s 2016’s year of creative habits…:

What has impressed me, from the beginning, about Crystal, is her dedication to create something every single day! As I struggle with the ups and downs of my creative resolution, she seems unwavering in her commitment. I reached out to Crystal recently and here is what she shared with me:

Eileen. When I started (my creative resolution) I had no idea what I wanted to accomplish, aside from being creative on a regular basis. Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted to do?

Crystal. No, me either. It was really important to me to not miss a day that first year and that was my main goal. Other than that, I just went with the flow.

Eileen. I thought I might end up refinishing furniture and instead I ended up working in watercolor and ink. What was the biggest surprise for you?

Crystal. I thought I was going to change habits every single month. I was thinking – drawing, collage, watercolor, etc. I thought I’d be trying lots of things and that I’d find THE one. Instead, after a month of drawing, I knew I wanted to stick with it for the whole year and that surprised me. (I didn’t really like drawing that much!)

Eileen. I’ve gotten a lot of joy and fulfillment out of being creative and continuing to work on my skills, but sometimes it is hard to stay with it. Some weeks I’m not very inspired. How do you keep to your daily creative habits?

Crystal. The online commitment really helps me. I pretend that a lot of people are watching me and I don’t want to let them down. I’m often not that inspired but I just do something, something to keep the momentum going until I do feel inspired again.

Eileen. I had a year where my goal was to try many different things. I admire how each year you focus on a specific project. How do you go about selecting what you’ll work on? Is it hard to select the project, since you’re making a year-long commitment to it?

Crystal. Well like I said I didn’t have this plan in the beginning. I just knew that after a month of drawing, I hadn’t really improved as much as I wanted. I realized that growth takes a whole lot longer than that. It was kind of natural to go from drawing to painting. I knew the second year I wanted to have more finished work. (The first year was mostly just sketchbook drawings.) The painting a day in 2015 was a really difficult task but it wasn’t a hard choice. It felt like a natural progression from the year before. Also in 2015, I decided to do a weekly painting project called Fursday where I painted a rescue dog. As I was coming up with ideas for 2015, my husband and I came up with the idea to paint rescue dogs but I just didn’t think I could do that every single day for a whole year. So that’s when I turned it into a weekly thing and let the other days of the week be open to whatever I wanted to paint.

This year the choice was more difficult. I knew couldn’t continue doing a whole painting in a day. I think if I’d stuck with the loose, abstract style that I began with, I could’ve continued painting this year. But instead my style changed and paintings took longer and longer and pretty soon I was spending hours each day on it. This year I knew I had to cut back but I also wanted to do another weekly project which I agonized over for weeks. I initially chose to collage for the year and to do it in a sketchbook to keep it simple. It didn’t take me long to realize collage wasn’t my thing and now I’m back to drawing and painting. Instead of finishing a painting, this year I have a set amount of time that I make myself stick with. I also began a weekly project called Monday Mournings which was intended to be a mixed media project—collage and paint mostly—but has become just a painting. I guess overall the decision is not that big of a deal because I allow myself to change. As long as I’m creating, it’s ok.

Eileen. At what point did your challenge grow to include encouraging others to start a year of creative habits?

Crystal. I don’t know! That’s been a surprising part of it too. I always encouraged people to join me. I knew if others came along for the ride, it would help all of us but I never really thought of myself as an encourager or a leader. I think through the blogging and writing my newsletter, I found my voice. Maybe the teacher in me came out. 🙂

Eileen. Your blog has evolved into a business with you selling your artwork, and teaching online classes, was that your intention from the beginning?

Crystal. I did hope to sell my work eventually but I never imagined I’d be teaching classes. I’m not sure why…I used to be an art teacher and then a math teacher. I didn’t really enjoy teaching art before but that was mostly because I didn’t enjoy grading it. Luckily with online courses you aren’t expected to give out grades, just feedback and encouragement.

Eileen. I love your weekly newsletter. It’s full of valuable links, and your personal reflections often resonate with me. {Sign up for Crystal’s newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/bak_6n } Did you originally intend on creating a newsletter? What inspired you to add this to your challenge?

Crystal. Thanks Eileen! This is funny because someone recently asked me about how I started my newsletter and I said that I started a few months in. Then I looked at my archives and I was wrong. I guess that’s just how I remember it . I started my newsletter right at the very beginning. I had 6 subscribers and that included me, my husband, and my mom. I’m not sure what inspired me because I don’t even remember doing it! I’ve probably blocked it from memory because those first few months were so terrible. I didn’t know what to write about it. It takes time to find your voice, your style, and your way. I’m still finding it!

Eileen. What are your future plans? Many of the blogger/newsletter creators I follow have a podcast. Do you have any plans to start a podcast of your own? 🙂

Crystal. No way! I’ve been on a few podcasts and I can’t even listen to myself! It’s so awkward for me. It’s just not my thing. I’m excited to develop some more classes. I’m interested in teaching classes about process and not media. I’m starting to work larger and share my work in more gallery spaces. That’s been a learning process for me and I’m still deciding if that’s what I really want. I’ve been having a great time with my weekly projects (the Fursday one and my current one Monday Mournings) and I’m looking for ways to turn those into something other than a blog series. I don’t have anything specific planned for 2017, I really like being able to stay open to opportunities and try new things.

Eileen. Thank you so much Crystal for sharing and answering my questions! I find it so inspiring and motivating to hear about other people’s creative journeys.
Follow Crystal’s blog at: http://crystalmoody.com/yoch/
and sign up for her newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/bak_6n