What's your name and what do you do?
I'm Gwenn, and I'm an artist, a painter, and a portraitist.

Where did you learn to paint? Did you go to school and study painting?

I studied at a local art college in high school and went on to earn a BA in studio art and other things at a liberal arts college.

What would you say is your style? As in terms of how you paint?

My style of painting doesn't have a particular name, though it has been called "plaid" or even the "Gwenn Seemel" by more than one art lover. It's definitely painterly and unabashedly expressive. I don't care much about giving it a title or classifying it more than that, because it's simply a part of who I am.

Where did your influence in painting come from?

I developed my way of mark-making over the years as a result of a variety of influences--everything from taking a printmaking class before I really knew how to draw to injuring my thumb when I had a deadline for a whole series of paintings. The brushes and other tools I use also impact the look of my work quite a bit and an early encounter with Arnold Mesches' art didn't hurt either. This article on my blog get more into how my style evolved and it does so with a lot of visuals: http://www.gwennseemel.com/index.php/blog/comments/how_my_style_evolved/

What's your favorite type of medium you work with?

I like to say that acrylics raised me as an artist. The quick-drying aspect of this medium irritates many artists, but I depend on it. I love building up layers of brushstrokes and richness in my work, and acrylics allow me to do this in a reasonable time frame.

 Do you find that putting videos of your process and what you do more freeing of an experience? What do you gain for yourself when you do put videos online? Do people ever contact you with their opinions of the videos?

It's said that teaching is an excellent way to really learn a subject, and I've found that to be very true. Obviously, you need some experience and knowledge before you start teaching, but, at that point, explaining why you do what you do and why you think the way you think actually makes your own process clearer. In other words, the practice of making videos helps me to develop my artistic voice.

It also helps me to cultivate relationships with others, and, yes, those others are vocal. In fact, it's through the feedback from those who watch my videos that I often get material for more videos. In many ways, my artistic journey is a collaboration between me and my audience, and I think artists who aren't listening to their audience are missing out--in fact, I question whether or not they are really even artists.

Where do you find your inspiration ?
People. I am, after all, primarily a portraitist.

 Could you explain the process of publishing your own book of art? What drives you to put your art into a book?

The process is less overwhelming than you might think, but it would still make for a very long answer here. I recommend this article on my blog as the best answer to the first part of this question: http://www.gwennseemel.com/index.php/blog/comments/publish_a_book/

As for the second part, so much of art's ability to communicate well is in its context. Think about it: you see a work in a poorly lit restaurant and you don't look twice at it. The same work in a museum, beautifully lit and with the context of importance, suddenly seems interesting. This is just how we understand our world. We're always processing contextual cues whenever we interact with anything or anyone. Putting art in a book gives it whole context bound up in neat package.

 What made you start doing portraits of people?
When I was starting out, too much of contemporary art felt to me like it didn't connect with people. I wanted to make art that was vital. Even if it only connected with one person and their circle, a portrait would have a real effect on the lives of others, and I wanted my art to have that. From there, I've worked to give my portraits a wider appeal. A driving force behind my work has been: what can I do to make the image of one very specific person fascinating to people who don't know that individual?

 What's your favorite piece of artwork you have made?
The last one I finished. Always. I'm fickle that way! Also, if I don't feel that way about the last work I completed, I know it's not actually finished yet.

What's your opinion of copyright?

As I alluded to earlier, I believe that copyright threatens our ability to make art as well as our ability to make a living with our work.

After all, it's intellectual property law that made us think that artists make money by making things and selling those things or reproductions of those things. And that's not how it works. Never has been, never will be.

Artists make a living by making things, sharing those things with the world and connecting with others through those things, and then making money through those connections. Practically speaking, making money through those connections could be selling originals or prints, but it could also be through public or private patronage--grants and crowdsourced funding or commissions.

It's a matter of shifting the focus. Like any worthwhile human endeavor, art isn't primarily about making money, but copyright reduces it to just that. Intellectual property law interrupts the powerful and important relationships that artists can and should forge with their audience.


In other words, I got the gig because I'm passionate, I work hard to put my work out there, and I'm very very lucky. 

What was it like giving a TED talk? How did someone contact you about giving a presentation?

I can trace the TEDxGeneva invitation back to my tweeting. See? Social media is useful!

A few years ago, I started talking a lot about the problems that copyright creates for artists on my blog and on Twitter. Through the magic of hashtags, a French journalist and free culture advocate discovered my work and wrote about me a few times. Because of his interest, my art was featured at a celebration of the public domain in January in Toulouse, France, and it was there that a TEDxGeneva speaker came across it. When the TEDxGeneva organizer asked contacts to help him find an artist to speak about free culture, my name came up.

In other words, I got the gig because I'm passionate, I work hard to put my work out there, and I'm very very lucky. It's a largely unrecognized truth of the universe that, while luck is usually useless without passion and hard work, passion and hard work also won't ever amount to much without a good deal of luck too.

Gwenn Seemel   Amazigh Gothic (Algerian-American, Taous and Cherif Khazem)      2008   acrylic on panel   35 x 30 inches

Gwenn Seemel
Amazigh Gothic (Algerian-American, Taous and Cherif Khazem)  2008
acrylic on panel 35 x 30 inches

 Why did you decide to start making videos of your art and process?

In 2010, two things happened: my work was featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting and my grandmother passed away. These events may seem unrelated, but together they provided the catalyst for my weekly vlogs.

The television segment gave me confidence in my ability to come across well in video, while my grandmother's death inspired me to keep my connection to France alive. To explain: my Mamy's passing severed my last real familial tie in France--I am French-American and grew up part time in a tiny town in Brittany. I knew that without my grandmother drawing me back to France every so often, I might lose my French. The only solution seemed to incorporate French into my everyday life in the US and that meant incorporating it into my work. Since I've always been more comfortable speaking French than writing it, that meant making videos.

What does a creative life mean to you?
Doing what I want all day, every day.

Gwenn Seemel
Ellis Island Pilgrim (Bosnian-American, Dino Bajagilovic)  2008
acrylic on canvas 24 x 30 inches

How do artists protect themselves and their work online?

Every individual has a thing called social currency. Social currency is a person's reputation, the value that individual has within her community, whether it's online or off. If a person contributes in a meaningful way to the lives of people around her, that individual has a good deal of social currency.

If a company or some other evildoer appropriates an artist's work, it can only steal the work itself and not everything else that the artist and her individuality brings to the work. Things that have to do with the way the creative (and not the meanie) can interact with a customer. Things like:

- the personalized interactions that go with buying from an artist.

- the one-of-a-kind feeling that comes from purchasing a unique item.

- the certainty that the money spent is helping to support another person's life and passion.

- the satisfaction of adding to one's own social currency by buying independent.

- the promise of the future work that the artist's singular brain will create.

If you're worried about being ripped off online, don't hire a lawyer and rant about copyright. Instead, build real relationships with the people who like your work.

Becca Bernstein and Gwenn Seemel
2010 and 2009
acrylic on wood and canvas
36 x 60 inches (combined dimensions)

If you could travel back in time to somewhere? Where would it be?
To the caves at Lascaux as they were being painted. I love the mystery those images hold for us, but I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't take this time travel opportunity to try to unravel it a bit. In any case, I suspect that, like all good mysteries and all good art, the strangeness and beauty of these works would only be deepened and enriched if I understood the context a bit more!

 If you could meet anyone ever who would it be?
The first humans. The origins of culture fascinate me.

 If you have a favorite game to play what is it?
Boggle. No one plays with me anymore. Enough said.

 If the whole world was suddenly only two colors forever. What two colors would they be?

All colors are good I can't choose just two!