Blog / 2018 / Gwenn Seemel Facts

December 15, 2018

One of the delightful consequences of being happy when people copy my art is that my name is often suggested to students looking for a contemporary artist to study. And that means that a lot of traffic comes to my site from people searching “Gwenn Seemel facts.” This post is meant to make those searches easier.

Gwenn Seemel self-portrait
Gwenn Seemel
detail of Dandelion
(See the full artwork here.)

Early life and education

I was born in 1981 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where my father was working as an engineer and my mother was momming full time. I grew up in California and New Jersey, and then I lived in Oregon for 22 years, through high school, college, and the first part of my career.

I have two brothers, Kristan and Nick, and my parents are Richard and Annie. My father hails from Wisconsin, and my mother is originally from France. I grew up visiting my grandparents in Brittany many summers. This intermittent total immersion combined with a stint at the French-American school in San Francisco are why I am fluent in French.

At Jesuit High School in Portland, I took theater classes to fulfill my art requirements. Mostly I was trying to be like Kristan (who continued on in theater and is now a director in New York) but I also appreciated the social nature of theater. That said, I knew that visual art was more my thing. I was lucky that my parents were able to send me to evening classes at the Pacific Northwest College of Art—lucky especially in that I did not get along with my high school’s art teacher.

At Willamette University a few years later, I got my BA in studio art, art history, and French, which gave me a chance to fill in my patchy knowledge of the French classics. In 2002, I spent a semester abroad in Paris at the mime school Magenia. That experience shaped me more as an artist than any other class I took in college.

Personal life

I live in Surf City, New Jersey, with my sweetheart David, who is also an artist and whom I met when I was working on this series. David and I are happily childfree.

I have endometriosis, a disease which affects the reproductive organs of millions of women and which has no cure. My illness caused me to come out as a feminist a few years ago, and it has helped me to be a better and more empathetic person all around. Still, I am grateful that my endometriosis has been less painful recently.

I am queer and an environmentalist. A few of my favorite things are going for walks, dancing by myself, and reading novels and memoirs—I ❤ the public library! I obsessively photograph tiny worlds with my macro lens, and I am keenly irreligious but spiritually curious. I am a vegetarian, and I prefer a home-cooked meal to eating out any day.

I don’t drink alcohol or do any drugs, and I never have. I believe that the legalization of controlled substances would benefit society. It would hamper organized crime by destroying its main source of income, and it would foster a culture in which we make a real effort to understand addiction instead of simply judging addicts.


I paint in acrylics, usually on canvas or panel, and I use brushes, not paint pens.

My style of painting doesn’t have a name, though it has been called “the Gwenn Seemel” by more than one art lover. It even has a photo filter named after it!

I developed my way of mark-making over the course of many years as a result of a variety of influences—everything from volunteering at a retirement home and taking a printmaking class to trying new brushes and injuring my hand. This video sums up the evolution of my style.

Gwenn Seemel in her studio
photo by David Vanadia

My paintings tend to take between two and eight months to complete, and I usually work on five to ten paintings at the same time.

When I make a portrait, I paint from photos I take myself of the subject during the course of an interview. Sometimes I paint portraits of individuals for fun or for money, and sometimes I paint people as part of a group of portraits that addresses a particular theme. Working on art in series is crucial, both artistically and in a business sense.

My series have included portraits of true Americans and paintings of people fitting in and standing out as well as a collaboration with another artist. I also created a collection of animal paintings that illustrate a book about the queerness of biology. I like making books, and I have published six so far, many of which you can download for free.

If you’re interested in how I make my living as an artist, there’s this post. And if you’re open to hearing more about why copyright isn’t good for creatives, check out my TEDxGeneva talk.

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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