French-American artist Gwenn Seemel infuses her art with passion, color and confidence. Her freelance career started thirteen years ago but her artistic journey started long before.
Read on to find out how Gwenn’s deep space voyages with her brother, a trip to Geneva for a TedX talk, her dedication to her art and inspiring other artists.
"The only tool that I cannot do without is me: my view of the world and my voice as an artist."
What is your weapon of choice?
My brain. Don’t get me wrong: I acknowledge that the quality of an artist’s tools can impact the quality of the work they’re able to make. But I can’t choose just one brush or one marker! The only tool that I cannot do without is me: my view of the world and my voice as an artist.
Please describe your work in 7 words or less
Pretty and dangerous.
How long have you been an artist?
I’ve made my living entirely from my art for thirteen years. After finishing college, my first business decision was to move back in with my parents, where I didn’t have to worry about paying rent. Later, as I became established, I realized that the year spent in the relative shelter of my parents’ home made all the difference for me professionally. I am forever grateful for the time they gave me to find my feet.
Do you have a specific memory where drawing became an integral part of your life?
We were on a spaceship. My brother, who was nine at the time, was the captain. This would have been clear to anyone looking at us, since the couch cushion that was serving as his console was at the front left of the pull-out bed, in the driver seat location for Americans. Normally, he might have had trouble claiming control of the ship, since his six-year-old sister liked piloting the pull-out as well. On this day though, I had smuggled paper and markers onto the ship. I was too busy documenting our travels to worry about who was flying.
As we left the asteroid belt and entered into safer space where my brother could relax a bit, he leaned over to look at what I was drawing. And then he said three words that have stayed with me for the last thirty years: “that’s pretty good.” Coming from my biggest critic, the words were indescribably sweet.
What’s the one thing you’re most proud of in your artwork?
My art shifts paradigms. It’s a weird thing to say maybe, but I think it’s important. We all use paradigms in our day-to-day as a way of simplifying the world and making things more do-able. But those same paradigms can become a kind of prison, narrowing down the possibilities until we can hardly manage to dream. With my art, I want to help myself and others to recognize the paradigms we live with. Whether or not the work changes me or my audience, I want it to at least provide a peek into a new or different way of seeing things.
What artwork are you excited to work on next?
It’s called Cover | Flaunt, and it’s a series of portraits of people doing just that. Each of the subjects has something about their identities that marginalizes them—they’re fat or brown, gay or Muslim, that sort of thing. I’m painting two portraits of each of them, one revealing how they minimize those parts of themselves that aren’t mainstream and one celebrating how they display their differences.
What has been the most challenging experience you’ve had during your artist journey?
I have endometriosis, a disease which causes pain and sometimes infertility in millions of women and which has no cure. After my diagnosis in 2009, everything changed for me. Physically, I was dealing with new limitations. Emotionally, I was adjusting to feeling like my body had betrayed me. Spiritually, I was digesting the fact that three organizations I’d never heard of before getting sick—the Haven Foundation, the Artists’ Fellowship Inc., and Change Inc.—were rescuing me from ruin by paying my enormous medical bills. Artistically, I was ready to start moving away from portraits for the first time ever.
I ended up creating a series of paintings and a book showcasing animals whose behavior doesn’t follow traditional notions of gender and sex. We’re talking gay gorillas, transgendered fish, sparrows that come in at least four genders, and snakes that redefine sexy, among many other fascinating species. The work revels in the true diversity that exists in nature. It was a way of deconstructing the idea that every creature’s life should follow the formula: girl + boy = babies + bliss.
"With my art, I want to help myself and others to recognize the paradigms we live with."
Which is your favorite work uploaded to Redbubble and why?
It’s a drawing of a uterus. The artwork itself is cute enough, but that’s not why I love it. It’s the fact that I sell at least one sticker of this sweet little organ every other day or so that tickles me. I think it says good things for the world that people like lady bits enough to buy uterus stickers.
What’s been the biggest technical skill that you’ve nailed?
For the first eight years of my career, I rarely made a painting that didn’t represent a person I had met and photographed myself. Portraiture is a rigorous genre requiring both technical skills and psychological ones. It shaped me as an artist, making me very aware of my audience but also certain of my skill and of my voice.
What’s your top tip for selling artwork on Redbubble?
Keep at it. This tip is good for selling on Redbubble and in other venues as well. The only difference between the people we know of as artists today and those who’ve been forgotten is that the artists never gave up. They kept making art and kept promoting it.
And that last bit is important. Marketing used to intimidate me. It felt like a chore and like something separate from my art making. Eventually, I learned to strip away all the negative associations and reduce marketing to its basic form: a person having a conversation about something they love with the people they love.
With this in mind, I began talking about my work with everyone I encountered. As I listened to myself describe what I do, I learned about what I was doing. With each conversation, I got better at talking about my art, both in casual settings and in more traditional marketing forums, like on my blog or when pursuing press for a project.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given as an artist?
I was two years into my career when I met my partner. One night, we were talking about our goals, and I said that all I wanted was to be able to support myself with my art. He pointed out that I’d already met that goal and that I was continuing to meet it. He showed me that it was okay to think bigger and that I needed to if I wanted to continue evolving as an artist.
These days my goal is to be invited to share my art and my philosophies with larger and larger audiences and to be paid well for doing so. Like any artist, I do a lot of applying to opportunities, but I feel most successful when an opportunity comes to me.