Blog / 2023 / Keeping an Eye on My Art Line

February 26, 2023

Lines are a big part of my art. There are the more traditional outlines and structural lines that any artist might use to delineate their subjects and give them form. But in addition to these more obvious uses of line, I’ve got energy lines, softening lines, layering lines, and design lines.

commissioned painting of a smiling white woman with her grinning daughter
Gwenn Seemel
Shelda and Ruby
acrylic on canvas
18 x 24 inches

Each of my artworks contains all the different kinds of line that I use, but this portrait of Shelda and her daughter Ruby has some good examples of outlines and structural lines.

painting of a teenage girl by Gwenn Seemel
detail image of Shelda and Ruby

In this detail of Ruby’s face, there’s an outline on the left side of her nose—our left—where I’ve separated her nose from the part of her cheek that’s behind it. This outline is actually multiple lines that I’ve added over the course of painting the portrait. It’s periwinkle at the top where the nose goes into the brow, then a light brown on the bridge, going into an olive color, and there’s a dark blue delineating the tip.

On the other side of the nose is an L painted in tan. Ruby doesn’t actually have a L on her face, but this structural line helps make clear the shape of her nose without referring to a particular part of her anatomy.

commissioned portrait of kind woman
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas
36 x 24 inches

Energy lines are probably my favorite part of my style. They’re the sort of lines we’re most used to seeing in graphic novels: they’re our shorthand for implying movement in a still image.

Lola’s portrait uses a lot of smaller energy lines that give her smile a more natural feel, because they suggest that the expression is still happening, instead of focusing on how it’s been frozen. I’m talking about things like the four vertical white lines to the right of her mouth that seem to pull the corner of her lips up.

There are also bigger energy lines that radiate out from her head like the broad dark brushstrokes that appear over her left shoulder. These lines don’t have a specific direction. They’re not necessarily pushing Lola forward or implying that she’s coming towards the viewer. Instead, the energy they provide is more about my movement as a painter. The brushstrokes are bold, and they lend that energy to the image.

portrait of a black man
Gwenn Seemel
Lee Pelton
acrylic on canvas
38 x 30 inches

Early on in my career, my lines were mostly about a kind of pixelation, or what I call softening lines—like in this portrait of Lee that I made just before graduating from university. I had a smaller range of brush sizes and shapes that I was working with and I tended to keep my lines more horizontal and vertical, which gives the mark-making in the painting its uniform look.

three generations of women, artwork by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Mona, Mary, and Alexandra
acrylic on wood
20 x 20 inches

As my style evolved, the softening became less repetitive. In this portrait of a grandmother, mother, and daughter, the brushstrokes aren’t as horizontal and vertical as they are in Lee’s portrait.

laughing baby, painting by Gwenn Seemel
detail image of Mona, Mary, and Alexandra

But, as you can see in this detail, my lines are still doing a lot of softening. For example, under the baby’s right eye, the horizontal line in aqua is interrupted by seven short marks in light orange. If you watch the video of the making of this image, you can see that the aqua line appears early in the process and the seven orange marks are added only at the very end, when I noticed that the aqua needed to be toned down.

a rainbow double portrait of a blond woman with short hair and a brown-haired man with glasses and a beard
Gwenn Seemel
Char and Michael
acrylic on canvas
18 x 14 inches

Another kind of pixelation effect in my paintings comes from layering lines. These are the sorts of marks that you can see clearly in Michael’s upper arm. In the lightest part of his bicep, there are orange lines running parallel to the hem of his sleeve and descending his arm. These brushstrokes allow some of the lighter base color to shine through, while also dimming it to better match Michael’s skin tone.

woman breastfeeding her baby, acrylic and colored pencil art
Gwenn Seemel
Mother and Child
acrylic, colored pencil, and marker on paper
9 x 9 inches

And finally, there are the design lines. This double portrait is an excellent example of bold marks being used to give an image impact, because, IRL, there were no circle patterns radiating around this mother and child. I included them because the glow felt right for this mother-child moment.

Kimberly, portrait by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on panel
14 x 11 inches

Usually though, my design lines are a little more subtle, like in this portrait of Kimberly, where the background marks teeter between design and energy.

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

In fact, that same tension exists in all my work. Every single one of my brushstrokes is at once a design line and an energy line. They’re marks to show structure and also to soften—often at the same time.

smiling white man, painted in acrylic on paper by Gwenn Seemel with dynamic brushstrokes
Gwenn Seemel
detail of Phil
acrylic on paper
7 x 5 inches (full image)
(Part of the Friend Request series.)

This portrait of Phil has every kind of mark, but the lines I love most in it are what’s underneath the painting. Specifically, I’m talking about the lines you could draw on a map to show the walks Phil and I have taken together. Or the laugh lines in my own face when Phil makes me giggle with his fantastical humor.

These are the sorts of lines I’m trying to document in every portrait I paint: the lines that connect each of us little dots to each other.

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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