take inspiration from spark to final art project with these 8 steps

1. seek inspiration

The first step is to seek inspiration: Take a walk, flip through a magazine, visit the beach, a park, a museum, go away for a weekend or on a vacation. There are so many ways, big and small, to find inspiration.

Sometimes just the mindset of looking for inspiration, will helps us see it. Last year, I did a project called “Finding Joy,” where every day I looked for and painted a moment of joy. It was such a positive way to face the day.

2. Document

The easiest way to record something inspiring is to take a photo. Fill your phone with all the things that inspire you throughout the day. Some people carry around with a sketchbook and pencil – even a small set of paints, and for capturing special moments.

Here are some of my favorite travel supplies.

3. reflect

Many people seek inspiration, document it and then forget about it. It’s important to look back through your photos and reflect on them. What made that thing inspire you? Was it the way the sun reflected on the water or the way a painter’s brushstrokes looked? Write it down.

I take a lot of photos. It’s great when I’m ready to paint and can’t think of a subject. I scroll through my phone, remembering all the inspiring moments, and pick one to paint.

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4. play

Spend time playing in a sketchbook, exploring ideas that the inspiration generates. This could be using different mediums or doing thumbnail drawings or paintings to explore an idea.

Playing in my sketchbook is an important part of my creative practice. My favorite sketchbook – the Canson Multimedia – can handle a lot of different types of media – watercolor, acrylic, pastel, etc.

5. research

Depending on what the inspiration is, research can go into different directions. If the work of an artist inspires you, you could learn more about the artist and their technique.

I was inspired by a Monet painting of a snowy landscape, called The Magpie – the painting glowed. I did some research and found out the Monet had a “winter palette” of colors he used to paint winter scenes. I emulated his palette, using watercolors and did my own painting of The Magpie. It was so fun and I learned a lot!

6. Plan

Whether you write it down – like I do – or just verbalize it, it’s important to state what your goal is. It holds you accountable to follow through.

After an amazing trip to Paris with my family, I decided to spend time painting Paris. I opened it up for others to join me as I painted and created the course “Let’s Paint Paris.” The program is watercolor lessons that build upon one another, with videos where you watch my process as I paint all things Paris. It was so much fun, and allowed me to be even more inspired by the things that caught my eye in Paris.

7. Prep

Don’t forget to allow time to gather the supplies you’ll need for a project! Not having the right supplies can be a roadblock to following through on an idea. Plus it’s fun to shop!

I leave my watercolor supplies out on my table, so I’m always prepped for a watercolor project. It makes it easier to sit and paint.

8. create

The fun part is carrying out your idea. I’m always super excited to start. But, there was a time I would get very discouraged when I went from excited to frustrated – when a project got hard. I used to quit when I hit this part and ended up with a bunch of unfinished projects.

Eventually I learned that the hard part is part of the process. That realization made it so much easier to deal with and work through. The satisfaction of finishing a project, motivated me to tackle more projects.

I write all about working through the hard part and share many other tips on creativity in my book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life.

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Your Creative Journey is like Candyland 🍭🍬

Sunrise by Eileen McKenna - Acrylic on Canvas
Sunrise by Eileen McKenna – Acrylic on Canvas

I’ve always thought about creativity as a journey not a destination. I sometimes visualize it as the Candyland board game, where there are stopping points, like the Peppermint forest. The creative journey stopping points are subjects and mediums. Mine were things like seascapes, linocut carving, surface pattern design.

Remember in Candyland, those “shortcuts” where you jump ahead on the board? They remind me of times of growth when you notice a big change in skills or technique. I remember when I started using an ink pen on my watercolors and white gouache on my seascapes. It’s helpful to reflect and recognize the twists and turns and periods of growth in our journeys.

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We all start our creative journey with different skills and ideas at different stages of our lives but with similar thoughts. The thought may be the reemergence of a statement from our childhood, “I want to be an artist.” More likely, we tone down the dream in our minds. Mine started with, “I want to be able to draw something realistic.” A few years later after a few classes it was, “I want creativity to be a regular part of my life.” I wanted to explore all possibilities and find my “thing.”

After several years of sticking with my goal, and knowing what worked, I turned my journey into “Creative Exploration.” Follow the process in the book to add creativity to your life, and find the subjects and art mediums that excite YOU.

I was and am ecstatic that creativity is part of my daily life. I can’t believe over eight years ago I made such a big change. Who keeps a resolution for that long?!

It brings me so much joy. But I am not unique – Creativity is for everyone. “Talent” is just a starting point.

Start your creative journey today…

Learn more here!

Too Many creative Ideas

Infinite amount of Ideas?

Eileen McKenna Art Journal starfish

Most creative people have an abundance of ideas. At least that’s how it is for me. It’s the follow through that can be a challenge. Here are my tips for weeding through your list and getting stuff done:

Write it down

Keep a list of your ideas. It feels good to empty your head and write everything down. You’ll be less likely to forget an idea this way. I take it a step further and on a daily basis I write, in a notebook, the status on what ideas I’m working on.

Reflect on your list

Every so often, go back over your list or notebook pages, so you know where you stand on your ideas. You may decide an idea is no longer interesting. That is ok! You might be reminded of an idea that you forgot about. It’s important to prioritize your list because you cannot follow through on everything. Trying to follow through on every idea is like taking a step in many directions. You will never get anywhere. Need help prioritizing your list? Read this post.

Follow through and finish

With a prioritized list, you can select ideas to follow through on. Once you’ve started on an idea, don’t abandon it! Even if the project is coming out crappy, I strongly suggest you finish it. There is a sense of accomplishment from finishing. If the idea didn’t work out, you have learned something for the next time a similar idea comes along. Finishing is addicting and motivating for the next idea on your list! 

Don’t fear the hard part

I was a “serial quitter” until starting my blog held me accountable. The first thing I did was finish a bunch of abandon projects – it felt so good! I also learned that the hard part is part of the creative process. Working through it is immensely satisfying.

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Here’s what to do when it’s cold outside…

Read by the Fire🔥

It’s 14 degrees out, but feels like 5! Lately, I’m snuggling up and reading a lot, including “Family Business” about life and crime in NYC’s Chinatown from the perspective of Detective Linda Chin.

“The Hunting Party” a modern Agatha Christie tale, about Oxford friends that takes place in the wilderness of Scotland. “Everyone’s Invited. Everyone’s a suspect.”

My work in "365 Days of Art" - Eileen McKenna
My work in “365 Days of Art” – Eileen McKenna

“365 Days of Art” – I’m having a lot of fun with the daily art exercises in this book. Great way to get your creativity flowing! 

If you are struggling with what to focus on, I just recommended a favorite to my friend, and I’ll recommend it to you – “The Crossroads of Should and Must.” I loved this book!

Learn more about all these books (and more favorites) here.
Stay warm!
Eileen

Explore your Creativity – Click here!

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Creative Resolution

It’s hard to believe, it’s been eight years since I made a resolution that changed my life. On New Year’s Eve in 2013, I made a creative resolution to make creativity a part of my daily life. Prior to that I dabbled in a few drawing and painting classes, but I wanted more.

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Back then I didn’t know what mediums I would work in – I thought I might refinish furniture. I just knew I wanted to explore all possibilities and that was the exciting part! I learned a lot about myself, especially in the beginning. Prior to my creative resolution, I was a serial quitter. I quit projects when they got challenging. By pushing through, I learned that all projects have a tough part. Once I began finishing projects, I was motivated to finish new ones. Finishing became addicting!

My resolution had an immediate effect on me. Simply put, regular creativity made me happier. Over time, new opportunities presented themselves. Three and a half years ago I began teaching at a kids’ art studio. I also now teach adult workshops at my local library. I’ve illustrated a few children’s books. This September I left graphic design behind and became a museum educator. None of these things were on my radar or would have been possible had I not made my creative resolution.

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The main thing I learned is that “talent is just a starting point.” Don’t let a self perceived lack of “talent” hold you back from creating!

Need guidance on starting your own creative routine and exploring subjects and mediums? Check out my book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life.

It’s the perfect time of year for a creative resolution of your own!

Looking to explore your creativity…

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A few of my favorite things…

This year we are doing something new. Usually, we each pick a name out of a hat and buy a gift for that person. This year, my sister-in-law suggested we buy a “few of our favorite things.”

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

– from the Sound of Music

What a fun idea! Maybe the gifts we will become our new favorite things.

My favorite thing?

Painting in watercolor of course! I bought a starter watercolor tube set, watercolor paper, painter’s tape, white gouache and to offer some instruction my book: Beginner Watercolor Exploration. 

I can’t wait to see all the gifts and I hope the person who picks mine is excited to try watercolor!

What are your favorite things?

get started in watercolor ~

Learn the fundamentals while painting!

Beginner Watercolor Exploration Guide
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Look a little longer

I’ve been working at a museum since September. Last week, I learned that on average people view a work of art for only FIVE seconds! Can you believe that? Actually, who am I kidding? I’ve certainly zipped through a museum focused on what was for lunch.

In my role at the museum, I work with kids and we ask them to focus on the details, to look for a longer amount of time and to share what they see. It is really fun and fulfilling!

The other day, I glanced out the window at one of our Crepe Myrtles. The tree glows when the sunlight hits it. I thought about the five second statistic and how it’s not just about artwork, but things that inspire us. How long do we sit and observe something that strikes us? I know myself, I’m pretty impatient. If something inspires me, I’ll take a photo or rush to pull out my sketchbook. While drawing is a way to help you observe, I thought, “What if I just look at the tree for a few minutes?” What else will I notice?

As I sat there I was amazed at all the colors in one tree – green, orange, gold, red, purple. The leaves, hit by the sun, glowed – like they are on fire. When the sun went behind a cloud, the colors dimmed. As I looked at the closely entwined branches rising upward from the soil, I could imagine them taking on the shape of a woman. 

Next time something inspires me, instead of snapping a quick photo and walking away, I’m going to spend a few minutes really looking and noticing all the details.

How about you?

Looking to explore your creativity…

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Setting yourself up for Creative Success

I’m excited for Inktober, excited to get back to daily creativity. I’ve adjusted to my new work schedule and am ready to fit drawing and painting in. This is how I’m setting myself up for a successful October and how you can too!

Inktober check off calendar – Eileen McKenna

Organize your supplies. I’ve selected the tools I’ll be using for daily ink drawings – a sketchbook that isn’t great with watercolor but the smooth white pages are perfect for ink. I have enough pages left for all of October plus a few warmup pages. I even dated all the pages to make sure. And I have my favorite ink pen ready – a Uniball signo.

Find something or someone to hold you accountable. I printed a small calendar for daily checking off. I plan on posting my daily work on Instagram. When we feel we have to check in with someone or something (like social media) it helps keep us on track.

Schedule creative time. Pick the time of day you plan on creating. For me it’s early morning before work. It’s a nice relaxing way to start the day. If something gets in the way, I can always catchup later in the day.

“Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life"
Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life”

Make a plan. The more detailed your plan the better. I recommend in my book Creative Exploration that you start simple – pencil and paper. Each week after that you can try out different mediums. I’m participating in Inktober so I’ll be using an ink pen. When the mood strikes I’ll add watercolor. The benefit of some kind of plan is to prevent you from either not sitting down to create because you don’t know what to do or from sitting down and not having any direction. In Creative Exploration I recommend keeping a running list of subject ideas to refer to when you need it.

Find a creative space. Having a designated creative space makes a big difference. Years ago I took over our dining table and leave my supplies out. It makes sitting down to create so easy. No setup needed. Sometimes when I want to get back in the zone, I spend time organizing my supplies and space. By the time I’m done, I’m so ready to get to work!

Be kind to yourself. No one is perfect. Missing a day here or there isn’t the end of the world. Forgive yourself and pick up your pen or paints the next day. Don’t let one day turn into a week.

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Savoring Summer

Painting summer. Watercolor sketchbook.

I originally planned to write about looking towards fall, but after scrolling through my photos I was inspired to paint a seascape and sunset. Thankfully, even though we are away, I had my supplies with me and some time to sit and paint. I haven’t painted enough lately and it felt SO GOOD.

In NY the weather has been spectacular. Without the oppressive heat and humidity we’ve had some beautiful “top notch” beach days. And what’s more inspiring than standing in the surf watching the waves roll in?

Soon enough the blue, green and brown color palette will be replaced with red, orange and yellow. For now I’m holding on to summer a bit longer.

Summer inspiration – standing in the ocean watching the waves roll in.

Seascape Painting Lessons in pdf or video format

Watercolor seascape PDF tutorial
Watercolor seascape video lesson