Blog / 2023 / Mistake #1: Putting Off Making Changes

March 13, 2023

As of May 16th I’ll have officially been an artist for twenty years! To celebrate my artiversary in the past, I’ve written a book about art marketing, published a video about all the ways I make money, shared diary entries from the beginning of my career, and run a blog series about how to love your art among other things.

For my twentieth artiversary, I want to focus on the stuff I haven’t talked about on my blog before. I’m going to be sharing about some of my mistakes.

They won’t be the worst hiccups I’ve encountered in my career, because I haven’t been shy about writing about the most upsetting things I’ve dealt with over the years—including censorship and being bullied by art institutions.

Instead, the mistakes I’m sharing to celebrate my twenty years as a full-time artist are the little things that ultimately make keeping on keeping on as an artist so difficult. Because if I had to name one main reason why I’m still an artist after all this time, it’s that I refused to let these snags stop me.

Kicking off the Flawful Festivities to fete my two decades of professional art-making, today I want to talk about our keen and calamitous resistance to change.

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Not to be overly dramatic, but it took a global pandemic to make this portrait happen. Just three years ago—before the Earth became Planet Pandemia—I never would have painted Quincy unless I could meet her.

For the first seventeen years of my career, I almost categorically refused to paint portraits from photos that were provided to me by clients, insisting on interviewing and photographing the subjects myself. Early on in my career, I made exceptions by taking on a few post-mortem portrait commissions, mostly to see how I’d handle painting someone without getting a chance to really know them. I’ve also done a handful of celebrity portraits, including this one of a hero of mine, but I was never completely satisfied with any of those pieces.

The problem is that my artistic method isn’t the painterly equivalent of a digital filter applied to a photo. It’s a complex process of building up rich layers of paint and feeling, and, without meeting people, it’s very difficult for me to really pull together an artwork.

But then COVID hit, and, since I couldn’t afford to stop making custom portrait work, I changed my policy and committed to figuring it out. Three years into this new way of working, I’m making paintings like this delightful portrait of Quincy, whom I’ve never met.

child portrait painted by Lambertville artist Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on panel
10 x 10 inches

I’m not saying this is always the case with our aversion for change, but I think a lot of my resistance to doing something new stems from a kind of laziness.

It’s like when I finally went vegan. I’d dragged my feet about it for so long, mostly because I didn’t want to have to learn new recipes. But, after an adjustment period of a few months during which I had to pay more attention when grocery shopping or preparing food, veganism felt as natural as my vegetarianism had before. All I needed was to develop new habits.

In the case of my portrait process, it took a complete upending of life as we knew it for me to find the courage and energy to make a change that, had I made it earlier, would have given me significantly more income. My bank account is still giving me the stink eye over all the portrait commissions I’ve turned down over the years because clients wanted a painting to be a surprise for the subject.

beautiful child portrait painted by New Jersey artist Gwenn Seemel
detail of Quincy

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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