Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

How my style evolved

2014 . 03 . 26 - Comments / Commentaires (17)

- -—[version française]—- -

I’ve told bits and pieces of this story now and again on my site but, because it’s a question I get asked a lot, I’m bringing it all together here and filling in some details. Like any good origin story, it’s full of copying from things that came before, a good deal of luck, and even some danger.

a fake

Gwenn Seemel
My Starry Night
acrylic on panel
18 x 22 inches

First, there was the Van Gogh counterfeit that I made when I was fourteen years old. His distinct brushstrokes seem to have stuck in my mind and in my hand…

etching of an elderly woman

Gwenn Seemel
intaglio print on paper
6 x 5 inches

...and that was only reinforced by the intaglio printmaking classes I took a year later—and then subsequently re-took a number of times in order to learn about this medium more fully. In intaglio printmaking, crosshatching is the main way of creating a tonal area…


Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas board
14 x 18 inches

...so when I took a painting class as a sixteen year old, everything was coming out as distinct brushstrokes and crosshatching.

Pablo Picasso's Arlequin 1923 at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris

Pablo Picasso’s Arlequin 1923

A year or so later, I ran into this guy in Paris. 

detail image of Pablo Picasso's Arlequin 1923 at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris

detail image of Pablo Picasso’s Arlequin 1923

I was floored to find that my printmaking-to-painting translation was something that had been seen before. I think this was my first real encounter with the difficult question of originality. It’s the first one I remember anyway.

Patern Kervinio

Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas
33 x 28 inches

I continued with my distinct brushstrokes and crosshatching throughout my university years. I wasn’t interested in copying engraving exactly like Picasso did in his Arlequin, but I was still very rigid in my mark-making. I remember wanting to keep all my brushstrokes either horizontal or vertical.

Arnold Mesches' portrait of Anna Mesches

Arnold MeschesAnna Mesches 10 1980

Then, while still in school, I came across Arnold Mesches’ work and fell head-over-heels in love. He showed me how much more crosshatching could accomplish, if only I would loosen up a bit.

Andrea Wallace

Gwenn Seemel
Andrea Wallace
acrylic on canvas
48 x 34 inches

So I loosened up a bit!  This piece was for my thesis project in 2003.

Andy Bryant

Gwenn Seemel
Andy Bryant
acrylic on canvas
24 x 18 inches

Over the years, as I settled into a rhythm as a professional artist, I acquired different kinds of brushes.

Beth Kirk Smith

Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on twill
14 x 16 inches

The wider ones changed the look of my crosshatching, introducing blocky shapes into my paintings.

portrait of a teenager

Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas
36 x 24 inches

The next change came after I cut my right thumb open in the spring of 2008 just as I was getting Apple Pie together. To compensate for the injury, I ended up watering down paint and pushing it around the canvas, something that I’ve continued to do even though my thumb has long since healed. In this 2010 painting, the wateriness is especially obvious in the soft background shapes.

Bynoe's gecko

Gwenn Seemel
Self-replicating (Bynoe’s gecko)
acrylic on panel
10 x 10 inches

By 2011, I had made a few paintings on wood, but I was still a bit intimidated by the rigid support, so I was mostly painting on canvas or on other stretched materials. That said, I was getting tired of letting panel push me around, so I decided to paint all of Crime Against Nature on board. After making 56 paintings on wood, not only was I completely over my discomfort, but I’d learned a thing or two from this support.

peinture d'un gecko de Bynoe

detail image of Self-replicating (Bynoe’s gecko)

I came to really relish all my little marks and flourishes, because panel showed them off so much more crisply than canvas. I’m fairly certain that wood made me more of a doodler than I already was.

I feel like there are plenty more twists and turns in store for me and for my style, but this is a start and one that I’m proud of. Sometimes finding your way as an artist is a question of looking around at what others are doing and sometimes it’s a matter of being open to whatever life throws at you, but, mostly, the way to evolve is just to keep at it.

- -—UPDATE 2014 . 11 . 17—- -
I talk more about the evolution of my style in this video which describes what I learned from an artist who copied me.

- Natural style / Un style naturel
- On loving wrinkles / Aimer les rides
- Learning from the masters

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(17) Comments / Commentaires: How my style evolved

-- Libby Fife -- 2014 . 03 . 26 --


I do always love reading about how artists develop a style. Your story resonates with me because of the influence of that early intaglio class, the change up in supplies, and now, the mention of having seen similar work. I am curious though about the mark making-if it carries any sort of meaning for you. I know from reading your blog that you try to bring out what you think is the essence of your subject (my words) but does the mark making style have anything to do with that?

Thanks as always for a good blog post!

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 03 . 26 --

@Libby: I do like to think of the world in terms of energy—what gives me energy and what drains me.  I’m fascinated by how we’re all made up of little bits (atoms) but that we’re mostly empty space.  And I’m sort of obsessed with the idea that electrons that are a part of our body could be with us or they could be anywhere in the universe at any given time.  I think the marks have something to do with that too.  As well as the printmaking thing, I mean. smile

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-- Libby Fife -- 2014 . 03 . 26 --

Thanks Gwenn! It’s funny how you get on to an idea, how it takes hold of you a bit, and then shows up elsewhere. The marks and everything else that goes along with them could have lots of different meanings I guess. I am pretty literal at times so I see them as your “fingerprints” on the art:) But I like your idea too about energy. It’s wonderful that there is so much room for interpretation and consideration.

Thanks again,

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-- Madeline Bishop -- 2014 . 03 . 26 --

Thanks for this clear path through the development of your distinctive style.  After watching the new “Cosmos” episodes on TV,  I’ve been thinking of how your style illustrates the idea “all of us are stardust,”  and perhaps string theory and different layers of reality.  This is especially evident in the animal pictures in “Crime Against Nature.”  Love it!

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 03 . 26 --

@Madeline: A few years ago, I half-read a book about string theory or the thing that came after that or something.  It was shelved with the popular science books, but it was still a bit too heady for me.  That said, I remember thinking: this is what I do!  The funny this is that since I can’t really explain what I half-read, I still can’t really explain what I do!  Except, of course, if I tell the story through printmaking.

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-- RoopaDudley@gmail.com -- 2014 . 03 . 26 --


You certainly seem to have ‘hatched up a delicious artistic plot’! What an amazing story. I mean you have taken the technique of hatching & cross-hatching to a whole new level.

Your comment about us being ‘atoms’ resonates quite well with me. Just the other day I was reading about Epicurus and his Epicurean Philosophy. This Greek Philosopher spoke about us as humans being made up of atoms and void—I mean thousands of years ago! Something that we are now slowly discovering scientifically.

Thank you for sharing your artistic style evolution as well as revolution. I learned a lot about you as an artist and gained an insight about your art. The questions that have been plaguing my mind were all totally answered visually like magic. You see I was right to declare in my blog interview with you that your art is magical—you use your brush akin to a magic wand (hatching & cross-hatching style like Captain Nemo did with his sord). Abrakadebra and viola!

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 03 . 27 --

@Roopa: Thank you for all your kind words!  And, yes, it’s amazing what the ancients discovered and guessed.  When I think about death, mostly I’m sad that I won’t get to know what we figure out next.  Our searching is beautiful.

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-- Kate Powell -- 2014 . 04 . 01 --

What a great story.  Inspires me to look again at what drove me, because I get asked over and over “Why do you do the same image repeatedly?”  Monet, Billy Al, etall.  I love the graphic quality of this.  I am going to send some folks over to your site, and may choose this blog . . .  writing about favorite artists and their influence on us.
Cheers, Kate

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 04 . 01 --

@Kate: I think it’s so fun to delve into our inspirations and honor them.  It’s too bad when artists don’t like to admit that they’re influenced by others, and instead choose to pretend that they’re more original than originality itself!

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-- RoopaDudley@gmail.com -- 2014 . 04 . 02 --

Gwenn, I agree. Nothing is ‘Original’ under the sun. We all have evolved to be who and what we are today as an artist by learning from other artists before us. I am so grateful for so many artists that have influenced me and I continue to be inspired by both—the living and the dead artists. The idea is to get inspired by their work, ponder on the things that spoke to us and then take that and make it our own.

I am piecing together my evolution over the years. It is not an easy task and it will take time to produce something akin to your blog. However, I believe it is extremely important to do so and I commend you for introducing this idea of putting together a meaningful blog of our art history as an artist. You are such an inspiration.

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-- Jim Carpenter -- 2014 . 04 . 09 --

Gwen, what a wonderful reflection you have written here about the development of your style. It also serves to get the word out there that artists in all genres are constantly evolving, working their way through one question only to be led to another and another. And I love that you take a moment in it all to stand and reflect on it all. “How did I get here?” is as intriguing as “Where am I going?” What strikes me as most intriguing about your writing here is that your painting style - the brush strokes- seem to be expressing your growing understanding and interest in the cosmos. The whole “we are stardust, we are golden” theme I am picking up here in the comments is astonishingly coincidental because literally minutes before reading your blog post those very words were floating through my my head during my daily meditation.  Coincidence?

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 04 . 10 --

Synchronicity!  Thank you, Jim, for your kind words!

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-- Kate Powell -- 2014 . 04 . 17 --

I wrote on this topic and thought you might like to see it.  I think Monet and Billy Al inspired me the most.  Cheers, Kate

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 04 . 17 --

@Kate:  Where did you write about it?  Thanks!

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-- Kate Powell -- 2014 . 04 . 17 --

duh.  forgot the link!  on my blog. . .

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-- Lynette -- 2014 . 06 . 23 --

Synchronicity!  Ha, I found it, Gwenn. smile  Because I am myopic, I love looking at your paintings without my glasses, and the colors from your brushstrokes and crosshatching come together beautifully.  Love your “Starry Night.”  That is a painting everyone should have.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 06 . 25 --

@Lynette: smile

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