Blog / 2024 / Mistake #17: Expecting My Creativity to Be Linear

March 1, 2024

Last spring, I celebrated my twentieth artiversary, and to mark the moment I’ve been blogging about everyday mistakes, things like feeling guilty about wanting to earn money with my art and being afraid of feedback.

Today is all about the idea that I have control over what goes on in my studio.

[video transcript]

For more about the dimmer switch idea of activism, check out the full talk that I did in Montreal in 2018—or the English version of it anyway.

The volcano painting is the last painting in Everything’s Fine, the series about mental health that I started in 2021 with live painting sessions on Twitch and that, more recently, was the subject of a successful Kickstarter. The coloring book version of the series will be coming out soon!

a volcano heart erupting with a switch turned to “on,” a representation of emotional dysregulation
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on panel
16 x 12 inches

The original volcano painting is for sale for $1300 plus shipping (and tax if you live in New Jersey)—contact me if you’re interested. There are prints and pretty things here in my print shop.


This is a mistake I make all the time: I start a painting with a fairly clear concept of where I mean to go with it, and then proceed to flail for months on end trying to make the image work.

In this case, in the beginning phase, I remember how carefully I was laying down layers. A painting of a volcano-heart eruption would need to be luminous and so I had to make sure I didn’t overwork the lava. But at some point, I had to admit that I didn’t love where the image was going. The idea was great: a representation of how my heart has big feelings—big anger—at times. But the image itself wasn’t working.

I tried sketching in some creatures, but that just looked dumb. And if you asked me now what I thought it meant, I couldn’t tell you.

Then I remembered a talk I gave in Montreal back before the pandemic. It was about copyright and how you don’t just go from being a copyright believer to a copyright questioner like a light switch goes from on to off. It’s more like a dimmer switch, where you adjust your feelings as you get more information. And it’s not just your dimmer switch that matters, in terms of shifting the culture around copyright: it’s a combination of everyone’s dimmer switches.

Anyway, I got to thinking about the light switch and how quickly my big emotions get lit up and I decided to add it to the composition, but I was still having trouble with it. So I decided to rework the image as a coloring book page—and I mean really rework. I sketched and sketched the lava explosion until the paper was worn down. Then I made the ink drawing from that sketch and cleaned it up digitally. I was going to need to do this anyway. The volcano-heart is part of my series about mental health that I’m turning into a coloring book.

But, what I was really after was a version of the image I could color in digitally. I wanted to try out different options before going back to the painting. When I did finally get painting again, I was working a lot more confidently, but the image was by no means “solved.”

Because that’s the thing about my creativity: it’s not linear.

In the rest of my life, there are moments when I can feel like I have control—or at least where I can anticipate an outcome. Like when I make my tofu tarragon vegan pot pie, and I know with some certainty that I am going to nail it. In my studio, the illusion of control fades and I’m forced to confront the randomness of our world.

It can be frustrating, but the unpredictability of creativity is also what’s so delightful about being an artist. The idea of making something that’s never been made before—something that wouldn’t exist except that keep asking my brain and my hands to be creative. There’s nothing like it.

acrylic painting of lava
detail of Off

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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