GUEST ARTIST: “What a Wonderful (Watercolor) World” by John Keeling

World Watercolor Month - Watercolor painting by John Keeling - #WorldWatercolorGroup #doodlewash

Hello, my name is John Keeling and I’m based in Kansas City, Missouri. I’ve liked to draw and paint since I was a small child growing up in Salina, Kansas. At the University of Kansas, I majored in Visual Communications – combined track of Graphic Design and Illustration. Despite this, I never thought of myself as being good enough to be an illustrator.

I took all my electives in the Journalism School at KU so I could be sure to get a job upon graduation! Still, I continued as a “weekend painter,” mostly in watercolor, while enjoying a career with Hallmark Cards as an Art Director and Creative Director. Since leaving Hallmark, I’ve been focused on painting for the past three years.


World Watercolor Month - Watercolor painting by John Keeling - #WorldWatercolorGroup #doodlewashLike Monet was quoted as saying, “I perhaps owe my becoming a painter to flowers.” I grew zinnias in my childhood garden each summer and still do to this day. The garden provides endless inspiration and enables painting from life which we all need to do as much as possible. Learning to see is so important. Poppies are a favorite of mine to paint and have been popular with many of my customers as well.

Our three beagles also provide an abundance of painting inspiration. I enjoy trying to capture “that look” in a beloved pet’s eyes and have built a successful custom pet portrait business. It is a privilege to be invited in to people’s lives and deliver a painting that they love and will cherish.

World Watercolor Month - Watercolor painting by John Keeling - #WorldWatercolorGroup #doodlewash

Portraits are definitely one of the greatest challenges and I’m interested in exploring portraiture more these days. I did my first self-portrait since college two years ago, and now I use it as my “logo” for my “brand,” John Keeling Paintings. I recently painted a portrait of my mother, Audrey, who just turned 90 on July 13.

Materials and Process

Before painting, I usually create a sketch with a small nib Micron pen. I like the brown and sepia pens best, as they are less harsh than black and seem to integrate with the watercolor more. Some of the ink line remains visible in the final painting, while some of it is lost.

World Watercolor Month - Watercolor painting by John Keeling - #WorldWatercolorGroup #doodlewash

My “go-to” brush is the Scharff sable, size #7 or #8. I often use a larger brush for laying down washes and to keep from getting too detailed too soon. I once heard it said and have found it to be true, that the longer you can keep a watercolor loose, the better the finished painting will be. I do occasionally use a rigger for adding details such as delicate foliage and blades of grass.

World Watercolor Month - Artist John Keeling In Studio - #WorldWatercolorGroup #doodlewash

I love watercolor paper, but NOT to paint on! I tend to use a fair amount of water and I end up constantly frustrated with the buckling of the paper. Instead, I choose Strathmore Multimedia board. It has a smoother finish and lets me control the paint a bit more. Not that one can ever truly control watercolor…

Current work

Custom watercolor pet portraits are my primary income generator. I work from photos, as I still haven’t found a dog willing to sit long enough! I prefer to meet the pet and take photos myself if feasible. However, sometimes the pet lives across the country or is no longer living. About 25% of commissioned portraits are for pets that have passed. I consider it a privilege to be able to provide a lasting keepsake for the pet owner.

World Watercolor Month - Watercolor painting by John Keeling - #WorldWatercolorGroup #doodlewashI you’re in Kansas City, Missouri, I have prints available for sale at west elm on the Country Club Plaza, as part of their KC Local product line. They are great to work with and let local artists and artisans do “pop-up shops” in their showroom on weekends. This relationship has influenced my work, as I’m kept aware of trends and color palettes in home décor.

The Plaza itself provides inspiration throughout the year. I am currently working on a “Four Seasons” series of the Plaza, having just completed “Plaza Fall.” I began the series in 2016 with “Plaza Spring” and followed up with “Plaza Holiday” in time for the Plaza lighting ceremony last fall. Prints are available at west elm and on my website at

Hallmark Cards will be launching a gift line for dog owners called “Best of Show” this September, featuring my watercolor paintings of top dog breeds. The product formats include mugs, magnets and small framed prints. In addition, my painting, “Plaza Lights” will be on a Hallmark boxed card for the upcoming holiday season!

World Watercolor Month - Watercolor painting by John Keeling - #WorldWatercolorGroup #doodlewash

My artwork can be found on everyday and seasonal greeting cards from Gina B Designs. I’m excited to have my first calendar coming for 2018 with Gina B. It will be a CD-sized desk calendar with simple watercolor images, including birds, flowers, watermelon and more!

Looking ahead, I plan to start giving watercolor lessons and doing workshops from my home studio and garden, starting in the fall.

John Keeling

Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists
  1. Mel Scott 6 years ago

    I love the self portrait of the guest artist today…and the one he did of his mother is a very strong tribute to all women…..a great article and very informative and the paintings are fabulous…..

    • John Keeling 6 years ago

      Mel, I love that you called my mother’s portrait “a very strong tribute to all women.” While I wanted to capture a likeness of her today, I also wanted to convey the woman I’ve loved as my mom my entire life. So, I brightened the eyes a bit and let the watercolor suggest many shades of hair color with the passing of time.

  2. Nicole Douthit 6 years ago

    Beautiful!!! The self portrait and mom paintings are OUTSTANDING and the dog paintings are full of expression and life…so nice to “meet” a “local” artist 🙂

  3. June Hadaway 6 years ago

    All of the paintings are spectacular. I will definitely look for the boxed Christmas Cards. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Shannon 6 years ago

    Oh this is a wonderful feature! Very personal and inspiring. I look forward to more of his art work. Thanks for the intro.

  5. Sandee Setliff 6 years ago

    Enjoyed the post and I’m off to get some sepia pens as I have been using the black and like you said, it’s a little harsh!

  6. Jessica Seacrest 6 years ago

    A beautiful post John! I enjoy your palette and style very much. You work space is divine!

  7. Laura 6 years ago

    Love the lost and found edges of your work. Everything flows so smoothly and beautifully. I hope you consider teaching on line in the future. Thank you for the introduction, Charlie!

    • John Keeling 6 years ago

      Thanks for the suggestion of teaching on-line, Laura. I need to explore that potential opportunity. Do you have any favorite examples you could share?

  8. Lois Westerfield 6 years ago

    Love the looseness in your work. Truly beautiful. Am jealous of your studio space!
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Michelle Irizarry 6 years ago

    Stunning delicate work!

  10. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 6 years ago

    John, I love the way your paintings emerge from the loose watercolor paints in the background, as if they are gathering themselves for presentation but have no intention of hurrying. They emerge informally honest and are truly beautiful.

  11. Lydia 6 years ago

    John – your work is amazing – and your studio is GORGEOUS! Has the same airy feel of your work. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Tamiko McCurry 6 years ago

    your work is beautiful.. and the studio.. can I live there? awesome!

  13. nana2jackson 6 years ago

    Lucky you that you’ve been able to master the looseness and freedom in your art. I wish I could give up painting so tight and develop your style. I’ll keep trying. Your studio is a dream world and I also love the painting of your sweet mother.

  14. Alexa Hudson 6 years ago

    Very inspiring blog 🙂 beautiful breathtaking art! Thanks for sharing. About online classes, may I suggest Skillshare. It’s a great online platform for art teachers.

  15. Paula Spagnuolo 6 years ago

    Spectacular work John. Truly an inspiration!

  16. Elizabeth Metz 5 years ago

    I haven’t been in a Hallmark store in forever — but I’m totally going to pop into our local one and look for Best of Show! (I hope I’m not too late!)

    Really love your loose, expressive style. So inspirational!

  17. Delores Azary 5 years ago

    I love your paintings and it was fun to see you in your studio. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Paula 2 years ago

    Love your work! I am new to watercolor and was very intrigued that you don’t use watercolor paper but multimedia paper instead. Can’t wait to try! I would also love to see some painting tutorials! Please notify me should you put any online.

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