Eileen McKenna Art & Design

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


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Painting within a theme for 31 days

Painting the beach my 31 day projectThis month I worked almost daily painting the beach. It’s a place that is very close to my heart. I grew up just a few blocks away from it. My mom referred to it as our backyard. I played there, I worked there, and eventually brought my own kids there.

That's me on the left, age 3 or 4

That’s me on the left, age 3 or 4.

I learned a lot this month. I’ve tried different techniques to capture the foam of the ocean – leave the white of the paper, use a white gel pen, use lots of white gouache. I’ve used different blues in my ocean mixture. I painted landscapes, as well as people close up. But, I feel it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more for me to learn and explore within this theme. So, not surprisingly, I’m continuing with my beach painting project. It probably would have been better to declare this a 100 day project from the start. Although that would have been a bit intimidating.

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Having the time to experiment

Adding details with a white gel pen
Almost a month focusing on one theme has given me time to try new techniques and tools, including:

  • Using a white gel pen to add the foam of the ocean
  • Mixing different color combinations for the ocean and sand
  • Adding white gouache to my skin tone mixture for a creamier look
  • Using painter’s tape to achieve a straight horizon line

Straight horizon with painter's tape

Some of these ideas I get from others like the painter’s tape tip and the white gel pen. It has become part of my style to add details with a black gel pen. But when I paint an ocean landscape the black ink seems to dark. It just doesn’t work. A few months ago I saw a post – I wish I could track down this source! – of an artist using a white gel pen when painting the ocean. Wow, that might be the answer to my dilemma! I didn’t hesitate and ordered the pen. It sat relatively unused until today.

I find the foam a bit of challenge and the gel pen is a unique way of handling it. I was hesitant to use it, preferring to leave areas white for the foam. But this particular painting wasn’t going so well and I thought, “What do I have to lose?”

I really like how I could scribble away and create the look of the foam. One book I read recommends using masking fluid to keep the foam areas white. Personally I’m not that much of a planner or that meticulous. I like to wing it a bit. That’s probably why I love painting in watercolor so much. It’s not so permanent. You can add in one area, and take away in another, and continue to work at a painting – that may not be going well – and possibly turn it into something beautiful.

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Starting Can be the Hardest Part

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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.


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Practice practice practice

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My kids are asking why I am painting the same wave over and over. I’m practicing I tell them. My younger son also asked why I was painting the beach and not a snowy scene like what’s outside our window. I’m more into my beach painting project than a week ago. I’m not bored in the least and I feel like I’m learning so much by focusing on the same theme. Of course I don’t want it to be the same painting every time – and it hasn’t been. I did spend time today looking through our old photos for some subjects to paint – at the beach of course. 😉


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Week 1 of painting the beach

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I’m really enjoying focusing on painting the beach this month. I kicked it off with a walk on the beach – of course taking lots of photos. I’ve taken the pressure off myself to finish a painting every day and post it. Instead I’m enjoying the process of mixing paints to find the right colors for the ocean and the sand, of starting one painting, and adding details to another, of trying different techniques to capture the depth and movement of the water, and of looking through our old photos to use as reference.

My goal is to sit every day for about an hour and paint or draw the beach. I wrote out a list of prompts, but am only using them as a guide on days I don’t know what to focus on. So far, 6+ days in (I started early), it is very relaxing, but I do worry that without the motivation/accountability to post a final piece, I’ll revert to old habits and not finish anything.

For now I’m going to continue as is. I may not have 6 completed paintings, but I’ve definitely learned a thing or two this week. I can re-evaluate how things are going next week.


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A visit to the beach

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We visited the beach on New Year’s Day. It was the perfect way to kick off my January “painting the beach” project. This is the beach I grew up just a few blocks from. Having the beach as our “backyard” was a special thing that instilled in me a love for the beach and the ocean. It’s no wonder it’s often the subject of my paintings.

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It was a sunny but chilly day.