Eileen McKenna Art & Design

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


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Watercolor Wisdom

I starting painting in watercolor about twelve years ago when I enrolled in a class. A few years later – during the early days of my blog – I gave myself the freedom to explore everything and anything. I came back to watercolor to make working in my sketchbook more fun, and remembered how much I loved it. Watercolor has been a focus of mine ever since. Here are the most impactful things I’ve learned.

Embrace the magic. When I showed my teacher my first watercolor painting she said, “No, no, no, you’re drawing.” I was quite proud of my painting and didn’t understand what she meant. But as my familiarity with watercolor grew, I began to understand. Allow watercolor to do its thing. Colors bleed into one another creating interesting effects. It’s magical!

Go with the flow. Give up control. Some people say they don’t like watercolor. I think it’s because you don’t have as much control as with other mediums. Colors will bleed into one another whether you want them to or not. But over time you will better be able to predict what will happen – how the paint will react. You have more control then you think. Embracing the fluidity creates beautiful effects.

It’s not (quite) permanent. A damp brush can “erase” watercolor. This is more effective when the paint is still wet. A wet brush can also soften edges. You can “work” at a painting to turn it into your desired outcome.

Paper matters. Always use watercolor or  multimedia paper. Other papers are not made for watercolor and will wrinkle and tear, especially the more you “work” your painting. Tape your paper to cardboard if you are painting to the edges, to prevent buckling.

It’s all about the layers. Add more and more detail with each “layer” using a finer and drier brush as you go. Allow drying time between each layer. A watercolor painting is like a camera coming into focus. It’s starts out blurry – the first layer. With each layer the painting comes more and more into “focus.”

Use super thin brushes for fine lines. Years ago I began using a black gel pen for thin lines. I really liked this illustrative effect and used it for years, but unfortunately unlike watercolor every pen line is permanent. You can’t erase and adjust. Just this year, I saw on Instagram an artist using super thin brushes. I’ve been using them ever since.

A simple paper towel is one of your most important tools. How wet your brush is (with water and/or paint) is an important factor in how your brush stroke will react to the paint on your page. To control how wet your brush is, blot it on a paper towel to absorb excess water. I do this constantly as I paint.

Test what’s on your brush before painting. Use scrap paper to test color mixes and saturations. I test what is on my brush often to see how watery or dark a color is, before I touch my painting.

Mix your shadows instead of using black. Mix a color with its complement to desaturate it – make it less bright – or to create darker values. Complementary colors are those across the color wheel from each other. I keep a color wheel with my paints. There’s a printable color wheel in my Etsy shop – click here.

Preserve your brushes. Don’t leave your brushes sitting in water. Lay them flat to dry. Use an old beat up brush to mix colors or to mix water to dried up paint.

Repurpose. The top of a plastic egg carton makes a great mixing tray.

Try white gouache. White gouache (more opaque than watercolor) was a game changer for me. Instead of using frisket to keep areas white, I use white gouache at the end of a painting to “add the white back in.” (Frisket is like a glue that keeps paint off the areas you apply it to. You peel it up when you are finished painting.)

Beginner Watercolor Painting Instructional PDF "What you need to know to get started with Watercolor" Beginner Printable Introduction
Get the “What you need to know to get started with watercolor” pdf here.

ONLINE LEARNING

Immerse yourself in the worlds of watercolor and the city of Paris in this 4 week online program. Learn more here.Let's Paint Paris in Watercolor Email Series by Eileen McKenna
easy watercolor online lesson for beginners fun project Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners

Start your creative journey with:
Creative Exploration 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.

This post contains affiliate links to products and 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 Wisdom - 12 tips from 12 years of painting

Watercolor Wisdom – 12 tips from 12 years of painting


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A Project to Motivate and Inspire

Watercolor poppies

I need a project to motivate and inspire me. Something to break up the routine and dull-drums of the week. Without a project I’m bored.

For me, a project doesn’t need to come from someone else. I’m just as motivated by my own projects and challenges. A deadline certainly helps, even if it’s self imposed.

Right now I’m embracing the freedom to work on anything now that my “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” project has wrapped up. But I also need something to get me excited to create and to hold me accountable.

I took a trip down memory lane to review some of my bigger projects:

  • This Blog – when I started it and it was new, it was so motivating! I finished so many projects just because I wanted to post the final product. “Finishing” was a skill I had to learn.
  • Designing one fabric a month. In the early days of the blog I was so intrigued by surface design! I now have a collection of fabric designs on Spoonflower.
  • Month Long Challenges – I participated in several, back to back challeges – InkTober, a month of World Watercolor Group’s prompts (food), and my own Countdown to Christmas. These focused months led to me dedicating myself to…
  • Painting Watercolor Seascapes – Originally a month long project it lasted well beyond that (a year?, 2 years?), and is still a focus of mine. I’ve just launched an watercolor seascape painting online lesson to share all I’ve learned.
  • Acrylic Seascapes – I dedicated a month to exploring seascapes in acrylics. I learned so much and progressed so much. I’m dying to get back to acrylics!
  • The 100 Day Challenge – I participated in the 100 Day Challenge and focused on illustrated map making, something I was curious about for years. The project was great, but map making was a side interest that took over and 100 days was way too long. I didn’t make it to the end.
  • Finalizing my book on creativity. Since the early days of the blog I had ideas for a book. Finally I committed to finishing it and hired an editor as the accountability I needed to finish -> Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life.
  • “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” – After our trip to Paris, I was so excited to paint what inspired me. I decided to invite others along via a paid email series. The program included four weekly emails with watercolor tips, a Paris theme, specific prompts with details and links to learn more, reference photos, and videos of my process painting each prompts. Turning the idea to paint Paris into a shared experience pushed me and motivated me so much! I dove much deeper into the theme than I would have if I painted alone. But I almost bit off more than I could chew – painting and filming and editing five videos a week was a lot even without the technical issues I experienced. But, I learned so much.

A project is great because it gets you excited and forces you to focus, but it’s important to remember that saying yes to one thing is essentially saying no to other things. I want to be intentional about picking my next project. In the meantime, I’m painting poppies. 🙂

Start your creative journey with:
Creative Exploration 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.

ONLINE LEARNING
easy watercolor online lesson for beginners fun project Easy Watercolor Seascape online video lesson for beginners


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Is the key to watercolor – layers or patience or both?

Recently I was talking to a friend who paints in acrylics. When I said I painted in watercolor she said, “You must be very patient.” I was so surprised by her comment, because actually I’m not patient at all!

As I teach and share more and more of my watercolor process I continually come back to layers. Watercolor painting is all about building up the layers. Paint the first layer wet and loose. Let it dry. Work drier and with thinner brushes with each added layer. As you add the layers, it’s like focusing a lens on a subject. Your painting gets more and more “in focus” as you add layers/finer details.

I’ve been teaching a kids painting class, primarily acrylics. Occasionally we paint in watercolor. What I notice with the kids is they paint one layer and declare the painting done. They are reluctant to wait for it to dry and then add to it.

Maybe I’m more patient than I give myself credit for. I look at each painting like a challenge. The first layer is a blob – the ugly stage. Can I work at it and turn it into something?

Ready to explore creativity? Read 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 -


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It’s hard to commit to a daily painting challenge

Daily Painting Challenge | Regular Creativity Creative Practice
It’s hard to commit to a daily painting challenge but every time I do, and stick with it, I’m always happy with the results. The first few times I did my Christmas countdown (daily watercolor illustrations counting down to Christmas) I followed prompts. Last year and this year, I’ve allowed myself the freedom to paint whatever fits into the Christmas/winter/holiday theme. I love the flexibility to explore.

The first few days of a daily challenge can feel a little awkward, or stiff. But after that you open up to the inspiration around you. Flipping through a skiing catalog I saw a Telluride ad that I thought would be so cool to paint. It was totally outside of the normal thing I would do. I enjoyed the process and was pleased with the results. The thing I get most excited about are the ideas. Last year I painted a girl with a record player in front of a tinsel covered tree – me as a kid, playing a favorite gift.

Daily painting or drawing is hard, especially during the busy holiday season. But the break from the busyness and the interesting creative process of coming up with new ideas is so worth it!

Want to be creative on a regular basis and experience the joy that creativity brings? Explore mediums and subjects, in search of your thing? Learn about my new book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life by clicking here. Creativity is for EVERYONE! Talent is just a starting point.

Creative Exploration book -


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Draw Paint Craft 15 Minutes a Day

The path to regular creativity is to simply draw, paint, craft, or whatever interests you, for 15 minutes almost every day. If you schedule the time, and plan for it – even if you are busy – you should be able to manage 15 minutes of creative time most days.

These brief creative periods reinforce your creative priorities, and allow you to get in the creative mindset – which will lead to more creativity, and longer creative session when time allows.

Carving out 15 minutes of creative time says, “This is important to me.” And it is calming and meditative. As you work creative ideas and plans may form – write down your ideas!

Regular creativity opens you up to inspiration, even during other parts of your day.

Want to explore creativity? My new ebook takes you step by step through the process for introducing regular creativity into your life, finding inspiration, and exploring mediums.

Learn more about Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life by clicking here.

Creative Exploration book -

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!

Draw Paint Craft 15 Minutes a Day the path to regular creativity


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The First Few Creative Days of 2019

Coastal inspired art | watercolor seascape by Eileen McKenna
2019 is off to a good start! I’m making drawing and painting a priority and try to work in the mornings, even if it’s just for a little bit. It’s fun to sit down with no real thought as to where it will lead and let things unfold.

With painting holiday themed things throughout December, it’s been a while since I painted a seascape. Looking through my stack of unfinished projects, I found the start of a seascape and suddenly felt inspired to finish it. (Our annual New Year’s Day walk at the beach may have also inspired this. The waves were crazy!) Painting the foam was so much fun!

There are two time-lapse videos on Instagram if you want to see how I went from here:
Step one painting the ocean in watercolor

to here:  The secret is a lot of white gouache!
Painting the ocean in watercolor final

As I was looking through my supplies this week, my kneaded eraser was nowhere to be found, I had only one sheet of watercolor paper left, and my favorite sketchbook was running low! I didn’t paint today but I did head to Blick to stock up on these essentials. I usually paint using 9” x 12” or 12” x 12” watercolor paper, but felt inspired to also grab a larger pad of 12″ x 16″.

It’s funny – a few years ago my favorite size was 6” x 6” – so small! It was an accident that I went to the 12” x 12”. I ordered the wrong size, decided to give it a try, and have never looked back!


Prismacolor Kneaded Rubber ErasersCanson XL Mix Media PadsFluid Easy-Block Watercolor Paper Blocks

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.

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!

the secret to painting watercolor seascapes | how to paint waves


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Practice makes Progress

Acrylic seascape by Eileen McKenna | painting waves
Above my most recent acrylic seascape.

When I was younger and had less confidence in my artistic abilities I was hung up on talent. Nowadays I think of talent as just a starting point. It is almost irrelevant because if you work at drawing or painting, or whatever medium suits you, you will get better. I saw this in myself and in others (both online and in person). As I continue to paint my seascapes in acrylic paint (vs. my usual watercolor) I see how I have progressed. When I notice areas in a painting that need work, I try to improved them, or I think of ways to enhance these areas in the next painting. 

My first acrylic seascapes:
Transitioning from watercolor to acrylic
Click here to view my collection of watercolor and acrylic seascapes.


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Learning Acrylics

Acrylic seascape by Eileen McKenna

In May I switched from painting in watercolor to painting acrylic seascapes. I painted ten 12” x 12” canvases – intent on getting comfortable with the different medium. It was so frustrating in the beginning, but with each painting I learned something. I’ve pulled out the acrylics again – this time with bigger canvases, and I’m reminded of what I learned so far.

What I’ve learned about acrylics:

  • A coat of gesso makes the paint go on easier
  • When your brush starts to split – you need more water
  • When your brush is drippy – that’s too much water
  • Blend the colors next to each other for a more natural look
  • Blending works best when both colors are wet
  • It is better to work when the paint on the canvas is wet and you have plenty of your colors mixed and ready
  • Add highlights by adding white paint (or lighter paint) to your brush and blending it with the wet paint on the canvas
  • To thin the paint and overlay colors use  acrylic gel medium.
  • Use little canvases (or a canvas pad) to test color mixes
  • Painting in acrylic involves more set up and prep than watercolor. And more clean up.
  • Using a sheet from a palette pad – taped to your palette – makes clean up easier!
  • It is not as easy with acrylics to make a quick fix or change
  • Using painter’s tape for a straight horizon line presents some challenges. The paint can accumulate at the tape creating an edge.

Click here to view my collection of watercolor and acrylic seascapes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.

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!


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How to Paint the Ocean with Watercolor and Gouache

The beach has been the backdrop of my life. It’s where I was born and raised, played, worked as a lifeguard…and now enjoy summer days with my family. I spend a lot of time learning and practicing capturing the ocean in watercolor.

Download the full  “Waterscape Seascape Painting Tutorial,” in my Etsy shop.
Watercolor Seascape Tutorial Download

How to Paint the Ocean with Watercolor and Gouache:

1. Use a reference photo.

2. Tape your paper to a board.

3. Tape your horizon line.

4. Mix your colors.

5. Paint the first layer. From the distant ocean to the dry sand.

6. Darken the first layer as needed.

7. Paint the sky.

8. Paint the foam with white gouache.

9+. Add details.

Call it done!

The full tutorial is a 2 page pdf, provides details of each step, and  includes a reference photo, and photos at each stage.

Download the full  “Waterscape Seascape Painting Tutorial,” in my Etsy shop now.
Watercolor Seascape Tutorial Download

Would you like to be creative on a regular basis? Learn about my new book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life by clicking here.

Creative Exploration book -

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more about the newsletter here.
creative newsletter featuring artists crafts tutorials books shows and more | creative inspiration Beginner Watercolor Painting Instructional PDF "What you need to know to get started with Watercolor" Beginner Printable Introduction Easy Starfish Watercolor Painting for Beginners | Learn Watercolor Techniques

View my collection of seascapes here. Originals and prints are available!

How to paint the ocean in watercolor and gouache | tutorial | step by step instructions | painting tips

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!

 


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Several paintings at once takes the pressure off

Several paintings at once takes the pressure off
I always have a few paintings in progress at once. With watercolor it’s about having to wait for the layers to dry. With acrylics it’s convenient to have a few going on, when you have the paint mixed up and ready.

Having more than one, takes the pressure off one particular painting. During my drawing class days, I became so stressed about a drawing I was working on. I was afraid to add a single mark and ruin it. Thankfully I realized the unnecessary pressure I put on myself to make every drawing frame-able, and I relaxed way back!

Click here to view my collection of watercolor seascapes. Prints are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more here.