Blog / 2023 / Slow Is Smooth and Smooth Is Fast

February 13, 2023

[video transcript]

You can see more of the making of Everything’s Fine in real time every Monday and Wednesday through the end of the month on Twitch! I’m doing live broadcasts as I work in my studio.

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inside of a brain under stress, with the hippocampus (seahorses) and the amygdala (almond and almond flower) represented since they’re the parts of a brain that make a person feel not quite safe, surrealist art by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Threat Level Cupcake
acrylic on panel
12 x 6 inches

Sometimes it takes me a day or two to make a painting and sometimes in takes me years. On average, a painting takes between five and fifty hours, and usually I do those hours over the course of several months, but sometimes the effort drags on, like with this image.

It started off larger and in full color back in the fall of 2021, when I first began work on the series that it’s a part of: Everything’s Fine, a series that’s all about how everything’s not fine, specifically in terms of mental health.

This image was meant to represent my brain. The almond and the almond flower stand in for the amygdalae, since these almond-sized bits of brain are named for the latin word for “almond.” The amygdalae play a key role in processing our emotional responses, including fear and anxiety. The seahorses symbolize the hippocampi, since that’s latin for “seahorses.” The hippocampi are the parts of our brain that encode the emotional context for our memories, adding a layer of meaning to what we’ve experienced.

The painting is titled Threat Level Cupcake, which is what I call my inappropriately intense and negative responses to little upsets in my life, and that’s where the danger-striped speech bubble with the cupcake comes in.

But in early 2022, the first version of the painting had stalled, along with the series as a whole. I moved my home and studio, and I got distracted by other work. When I finally returned to the piece, it was clear to me that Threat Level Cupcake needed to be reworked.

In the interim, I’d done a lot of reading and thinking about our brains and the role they do and don’t play in our problems. I’d come to think that maybe this representation of a brain deserved less prominence: it didn’t need to be such a big painting. I liked the idea of making the palette more focused—both because I was obviously having trouble making all the colors work together in the old version and because concentrating on the grey matter of our brains made sense.

Sometimes a painting takes a long time, but as my friend who does search and rescue told me: slow is smooth and smooth is fast. When she says it, she means that it’s vital to act deliberately in an emergency situation so that you don’t end up creating more of an emergency with sloppiness and errors. But the same is true in art.

Well, maybe not the smooth part! I wouldn’t characterize restarting an image as smooth—not really. But working slow gets me where I need to be in a way that trying to work fast never has.

This video is made with love and microdonations from my community!

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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