News from Artist Gwenn Seemel

Gwenn Seemel, French and American artist, who is one of my favorite artists, and also a mentor and friend, has been working on a series of paintings on mental health, called Everything’s Fine (Because Everything’s Not). While painting the series, she opened her studio online on the platform. I got to watch her creative process for these paintings and also get some encouragement for my own mental health problems. Here is her introduction to the series and plans for how to make the paintings available as a boost to anyone who needs a mental health boost:

In 2022, while I struggling more than usual with depression, Gwenn and I were discussing self portraits. She asked if I’d ever had my portrait professionally painted. I’ve only had them done by kids and photographers. So she painted this from a photo I sent her, and it’s one of my treasures. I feared that displaying portraits of myself might seem vain, but what I discovered from this jewel was how uplifting it is to see myself smiling, to be represented by swirls of color and expressive lines. No matter how glum I am, when I see it, I smile at myself. If that’s vanity, then it’s delicious and healthy vanity. (Gwenn by the way paints many portraits with smiles, which I think is rare in the portrait world, and one of the reasons I love her work.)

I suggest you spend some time on her blog and website if you’re not familiar with her work.


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Combating Unreasonable Goals

Every year, I think, I’m going to participate in Inktober, create an ink drawing daily, thinking I’ll get my mojo going, by creating a daily draw.   If you’ve read my blog, you know I have a daily draw category that I post for a few days, then it disappears.  My own mind gives out, and all my ideas disappear in a dusty poof scattered all over the studio floor.

Pencil ghost of a self portrait I may finish or not

I have this idea that I can do a complex daily draw as a warm up, then get all my other ideas done, too.  I have lots of ideas, but then I feel I should concentrate on one or two, get those done and focus, focus.  Get that one thing finished before starting another.  I could use Inktober’s daily deadline to illustrate one of  my stories.

I start, but then what I’m working on with such diligence escapes –like some slippery creature — it wriggles out of my hands and mind.

Unfinished elephant ears

In February 2016, before I left Portland, I fell into a deep depression.  After getting medical help, I really needed some sort of structure in my life so I started a daily draw,  Drawing Depression.  Then at the end of April, I moved to Memphis, my hometown.

Ever since I’ve tried to get that project restarted and finished.  I kept a notebook when I went through a mania to help restart the process, but I haven’t been able to.  I’ve also been ready to write and illustrate some of my family stories, some fiction, some of my stories from never driving, and all my adventures with public transportation.

I have bits and pieces of projects all over the studio.  And now I’ve started making fabric sculptures again.

the reader
The Reader by Joy Murray

When I was getting counseling in Portland, my counselor told me that it seemed like I kept putting myself into a box, that I tell myself I have to do things a certain way, and then I fail, and feel as if I’ve done nothing.  Which was odd to her, because from her view I got quite a lot done.  And a lot of what I create sells.  So maybe, just maybe, I don’t work in a linear fashion.  Maybe I need to work on things when I’m inspired to do so, then come back when I’m inspired again.  Because I always am, at some point.

But I want to be linear soooo much.  I want to carry out what I start, one, two, three.  Beginning, middle, end.

I look back at my life, I look around me now, nothing is linear.  Everything spirals.  But I work a little bit on a lot every day.

I wonder why I can’t do a daily draw anymore, but the fact is, I draw in a more elaborate way and I’ve started using different materials.

Praying Mantis on my dahlia, in ink, acrylic and some random marker idea that petered out in the upper right corner

At times my visual journal is only a scrapbook of places I’ve been — theater tickets and programs, art show postcards, summaries from doctor visits, photos of mushrooms that appear like magic in the night, odd bookmarks and doodles.  It’s not daily and it changes shape, but it grows with time.

A day at the library

Hey, look what appeared in the back yard

Experiment with pens and watercolor, painting and cross-hatching

I read and listen to Gwenn Seemel’s blog for inspiration (you should, too).  She works on many projects at once and it’s been greatly helpful to me to see that.   When I am tempted by something like Inktober or NaNoWriMo (write a novel draft in November — November when the holidays start and life/family gets weird? Seriously?  I tried that, too.  As well as one picture  book manuscript a week for a month.  I created nothing but stressed out scribblings), I try to remember both my counselor’s validation of my work style and a quote by Seemel:

“The work will be done when it needs to be done.”

She creates in a world where she avoids “clock time.”   Here’s a link to the blog and video she created about it:

Creative time from Gwenn Seemel on Vimeo.

“The good news of creative time.”  Ahhh.

My creative time is not like anyone else’s.  And neither is yours.  Perhaps you thrive on these challenges and they improve your art.  I know my Drawing Depression project was enormously helpful in its time, but its time ended when it needed to end.  I know there is still a seed of a larger work in there, but I can’t do it  until it’s time to do it — when my mind, my heart, and my life all aligned to make it happen.

I have a daily practice.  If I don’t do something creative everyday, I get very cranky and anxious.  I draw, I knit, I add to a painting.  I write down an idea.  Something.

Scrappy scarf

But I can’t make myself create to someone else’s schedule or to my own inner voice that keeps harping on about how I should be getting my work done.

In re-starting my fabric work, I’ve made sure to tell my clients that it will take a long time for me to complete the work.  I hand-stitch them, I create them with love and imagination.  I create them, within reason, outside of clock time.  Otherwise, they’d all look the same and would lose their art and magic.


Plus, I have interruptions and a long term disability to manage.  I intended to write this Wednesday, but the man who is installing my grab-bars needed to come over and work, I had an unexpected visit from a friend, and a slightly sick cat who vomited in my studio.  My creative energy was zapped by life.  But I managed to finish dying a scarf and got in a few rows of knitting.

While I did other things, I rethought a painting I’ve been working on for a few months, planned colors for new work, wondered how to lay out an illustrated story.  The next day, I needed to make some progress on a commission.

So, no Inktober for me.  No pressure like that anymore — though I still obviously feel it’s siren song.  Every day, instead, I just need to tell myself to belief that my own way of doing things will continue to what’s right.  And MY work will get done when it needs to be done.

IMG_4423 (2)
She Never Knew What to Make of her own Unraveling by Joy Murray


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