Blog / 2019 / A-B-C 1-2-3: The First Steps in My New Body of Work

October 21, 2019

Long Beach Island artist Gwenn Seemel in her studio
October 15

As with every series I create, I am trying to give my ABC book its own feel. Some of it will come from the compositional choices I make—like deciding that the series will be square for example—but a lot of it has to do with color.

okapi art work in progress
October 15

I will be starting each image this way, with a pencil grid and sketch followed by a drawing in blue paint.

okapi art work in progress
October 17

Next, I add titanium white and burnt umber to give the painting some mass and also to cover the grid lines.

okapi art work in progress
October 18

And then I decided to do something a little out of the ordinary for me: I am working up an underlayer in brown monochrome. This is a technique that many painters use, but one that I usually avoid because it feels too cautious and I worry that it will inhibit my creativity. Recently, though, I’ve been trying to be more deliberate at the beginnings of paintings, so this underpainting is a good way to slow myself down.

okapi art work in progress
October 19

Finally, I am adding what I believe will be this series’ unifying color: fluorescent pink! The pink won’t be nearly so prominent in the finished work—in fact, I may decide to cover it completely—but right now I have this idea that touches of it will remain throughout the 26 letters.

I have never used a fluorescent pigment before, but since 2007ish (when the television series Mad Men brought the 1960s and its palette back into focus) I have been seeing more and more of it in our fashion and art. A lot of the time, I don’t love the way it is used, so, a decade into our culture’s new love affair with fluorescent, I want to see if I can integrate this aggressively chemical kind of of color into my palette.

LBI New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel’s studio
October 19

And this embrace of fluorescence feels especially right for an alphabet book. After all, this whole project is essentially about the way in which we collaborate with everyone around us. I mean, what is language if not our greatest collaborative effort?

Along those lines, here are the books I’ve read since I last posted about the ABC project:

  • The Lost Gutenberg by Margaret Leslie Davis

    This book traces the history of another: the Gutenberg Bible known as Number 45, the only copy of the first printed book that has ever been owned by a woman. Through the lens of this one tome’s story, Davis gives readers a glimpse of book collecting through the ages and also reveals the way a woman’s contributions are never valued as much as a man’s.

  • The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

    This novel is strange and emotionally difficult, to the point where I sometimes wasn’t sure why I was still listening to it. But I never managed to abandon it either. I had to know how it ended and, three-quarters of the way through it, I came to see the book as a poetic piece of genius. It’s about 18th century London, mermaids, and how the act of oppressing women (or anyone) becomes the reason they are oppressed in a never-ending spiral of oppression. I think my favorite part of the book is that, despite everything I have just described, it left me feeling overwhelmingly optimistic!


June 24, 2020

Baby Sees ABCs is out and available here! You can see all the illustrations from the book in this online gallery.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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