Blog / 2014 / Failing to Paint Like Derain

May 21, 2014

I graduated from college with degrees in studio art and French, but also with a minor in art history. I loved plunging into old art and coming back up for air in our contemporary context with a renewed sense of what it means to be alive now. I loved it in college and I love it today.

Andre Derain Estaque 1905
André Derain Estaque 1905

In 2001, I was taking a class about 20th century art history, and it was in that class that I became enthralled by André Derain’s work—both his art and his papers.

Andre Derain Collioure 1905
André Derain Collioure 1905

Though most of Derain’s texts were not widely published at the time, through my university’s interlibrary loan system, I did manage to get a hold of them. I couldn’t tell you now what they said, but I do remember the feeling I had about them. Derain’s words were my bible.

Andre Derain Self-portrait 1905
André Derain Self-portrait 1905

So when it came time to pick a subject for my final project in that class, the choice was easy. And since the final project could be completed in the form of a paper about the artist or in the form of a painting done in his style, that meant I could even try to be like my hero.

Andre Derain self-portrait 1953
André Derain Self-portrait 1953

That said, just how to be like Derain was something of a puzzle. His style evolved quite a bit as he worked, both in the space of a single year and over his entire career.

Andre Derain self-portrait 1905
André Derain Self-portrait 1905

I ended up basing my piece primarily off of this earlier painting.


I worked looking in a mirror. (And I love that I took this photo of myself working on this piece!)


This is a process shot of the painting as I worked on it. I knew that the crosshatching wasn’t very Derain-like, but at least I was using bigger brushes. At the time, I had been nursing a very finicky way of painting with tiny tools—this piece is a good example of what I mean—so the larger brushes were an attempt to be more like Derain.

college self-portrait by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Self-portrait Inspired by André Derain
acrylic on canvas
48 x 34 inches

When I look at this painting now, I see the huge problems with it. I was better than this already: I knew how to paint a neck normally! Trying to copy another artist was tripping me up.

college self-portrait by Gwenn Seemel
detail of Self-portrait Inspired by André Derain

And, as I painted, I knew I was having problems—and not just anatomically either. I remember worrying that my work would never evolve. I was twenty and I’d already been crosshatching as I painted for four years straight. If I couldn’t break out of my mark-making for the purpose of an exercise, would I ever be capable of anything else?

painted portrait
Gwenn Seemel
Fragile (Before)
acrylic on panel
4 x 4 inches

As it turns out, I was stressing over nothing. As this self-portrait from 2012 proves, I have kept on crosshatching, but my style has evolved a lot due in large part to new brushes and new techniques that I’ve added to my toolbox. Maybe my work won’t ever change quite as quickly as that of someone like Derain, but that’s okay. I’m me, and it’s okay to be me.

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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