Blog / 2023 / Painting Myself into a Corner on Purpose

February 20, 2023

“Go-getter.” That’s what adults called me when I was a kid, because I didn’t need a lot of encouragement to get my homework done. At the time, it might have been true, but these days my drive is a little different.

I’m less a go-getter and more a paint-myself-into-a-corner-in-order-to-motivate-me-er.

Probably the biggest bit of intentional self-sabotage I’ve ever committed is deciding to make my living only through my art. I’m not independently wealthy, so that choice meant I’d have to figure out how to sell my art in a hurry if I wanted to survive.

Obviously, lighting that kind of fire under one’s own behind may not be right for everybody: there are certainly good reasons for having a day job. And when I was diagnosed with a chronic and very expensive illness in 2009, I thought I’d messed up badly by locking myself into the freelance life.

Twenty years into the decision, I’ve learned that the pressure of not giving myself another option drove me to make better decisions about my health. I ended up feeling very lucky that I could take time off whenever the pain required it and work extra long hours when my body permitted it—all with no boss to insist on a schedule. Plus, as an artist, I had emergency funding I could apply for to help with medical bills.

painting process by Gwenn Seemel, Lambertville art
painting process for Scot’s portrait

More recently, the corner I’ve painted myself into is quitting corporate social media. I attribute part of the success of my early career to adopting Facebook as a tool for sharing art before many were using it that way, so deleting it along with Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube was not an easy choice.

I made quitting social media work for me by painting people like Scot.

painting process by Gwenn Seemel, Lambertville art
painting process for Taco’s portrait

And pups like Taco.

Both Taco and her person, Scot, are part of Friend Request, a series of 44 portraits of the people and pets who made me feel most welcome when I moved to a new town last year. This project was a means of formally “friending” someone in an analog way and also an excellent marketing tactic, as it officially made me the anti-social-media artist in the press.

Lambertville art portraits by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Scot and Taco
acrylic on paper
7 x 5 inches and 6 x 4 inches

Quitting socials forced me to be better about getting outside of my own head (and my own studio). When I had accounts with all big companies, I got lazy about reaching out to others in a thoughtful way. Instead, social media was a bullhorn with which to share my work, even though, as time went on, that bullhorn was increasingly drowned out by the algorithms and my unwillingness to pay for premium placement in the feed.

What’s more, yelling at a crowd isn’t my style. I prefer having conversations—real ones, without the audience that every public exchange on social media has. When I took away my opportunity to talk to too many people at the same time, I found I had the brainspace for more meaningful dialogue.

Lambertville art about mental health by Gwenn Seemel
sample of art from Everything’s Fine

Right now, I’m actively painting myself into still another corner, and it has to do with Everything’s Fine, the series about mental health that I started at the end of 2021. I’m opening my studio via the internet twice a week. The idea is that, with these scheduled and “supervised” painting sessions, I won’t be able to talk myself out of finishing these paintings because they’re complicated compositions or because I’m scared of how this project is revealing so publicly my mental health struggles.

You’re welcome to join me in real time every Monday and Wednesday through the end of February on Twitch.

Mondays from 12p to 1p EST
Wednesdays from 7p to 8p EST

Visit me on Twitch!

Come just to watch or, if you sign up for a free Twitch account, you can write to me during the livestream!

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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