Blog / 2023 / Full Circle

December 13, 2023

Back in 2021, when I started my mental health series, my original idea was that posters of the images should be displayed in health centers, helping those who were already looking for guidance to access their feelings in a different way. But, as the project evolved, I dropped this plan in favor of getting the art in front of those who may not even realize that they’re struggling, including by running a successful Kickstarter to make a coloring book version of the series.

I’m not mad at myself for switching gears. The exhibits I’ve had of the original pieces—once in an art space and once in a public library—both sparked conversations about mental health in venues that don’t always get there, and that feels like a win for humanity.

Gwenn Seemel on the Princeton University campus
photo by Gwenn Seemel

Still, I’m pleased to tell you that a version of my original plan is happening now, on the Princeton University campus!

Gwenn Seemel with her art
photo by Phillip

The exhibit is only for students, because the health center is not a public space, but I love how the display combines my original idea for the project with its evolution. What I mean is that, along with the three paintings, there are copies of the coloring pages of the coyotes, the roses, and the robot available for students to take home with them.

[video transcript]

As you can see in this video, I’m hard at work now, sketching out the rest of the pages, including this one of a chickadee trying to tell us something about itself. The book is on track to be ready in spring 2024!

coloring book page showing a bird singing a strange version of itself
coloring book version of Myselves

Turning this painting of a bird singing a strange version of itself into this coloring book page was a whole thing.

First I had to figure out how to make this very horizontal composition fit into the vertical format of the book.

That meant resketching the bird and the branches in new positions as well as figuring out how to make the song-bubble portion of the composition work as a coloring book page. I did a lot of drawing, erasing, and redrawing. I even traced the first sketch I made so that I could rework it again, without the shadow of lines I had erased one too many times.

Eventually, I decided I was ready and traced that new sketch in pen on nice paper. I did a lot of work, really trying to make the image come together, but, in the end, I didn’t love how the branches looked. So I went back to the sketch, looking for a different shape. In the original painting, I had made the branches look a bit like a maze and a bit like a brain, and I wanted that same feel in the coloring book image.

The clear plastic sheet under my right hand in the video here is both a ruler and a smudge guard. It makes the process of drawing this image a little easier. I don’t use it often in my studio, because I don’t make super-clean drawings like this one except when I’m working on a coloring book, but it’s an excellent tool. I think it was originally one of those flexible cutting boards.

I added thickness to some of the lines and kept others light, giving the coloring book page a pleasing appearance even without any colors on it.

And that’s how I got from painting to page!


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