A self-portrait made not entirely by myself

8 years ago

Four years ago, I fell in love with my partner. David and I met in August 2005 under some rather peculiar circumstances, but it wasn't until a month later that I realized that this was the person who would change my life in so many wonderful and exciting ways.

Besides being a sounding board for my work, over the years, David has had a visual impact on my paintings--specifically my self-portraits. I paint from photos I take myself of my subjects, and I believe that using photography greatly improves the painted likeness. Usually, it allows for a dynamism and candor that is not possible when painting without optics of any kind, but, in the case of self-portraits, photography's usefulness is crippled since it's difficult to take a lively photo of oneself.

reference photo for a self-portrait

reference photo for My Own Worst Critic (below)

Before meeting David, my self-portrait source images often looked something like this.

Portland artist's self-portrait

Gwenn Seemel

My Own Worst Critic


acrylic on canvas

48 x 34 inches

The resulting portrait is very posed. It certainly lacks the sense of breath and movement that I was incorporating in other work from that time (like this one for example).

reference photo for a self-portrait

reference photo for Gwenn Monkey (below)

A year later, and I still hadn't met David.


Gwenn Seemel

Gwenn Monkey


acrylic on canvas

19 x 13 inches

While the rest of my work (including this one) was getting more interesting, my self-portraits continued to follow a formula. Either they were posed similar to My Own Worst Critic or they had the more frontal and even a little confrontational look, like Gwenn Monkey and this self-portrait.

Portland artist Gwenn Seemel's self-portrait

Gwenn Seemel



acrylic on canvas board

14 x 18 inches

These paintings are posturing and self-conscious versions of myself, and they remind me of this one from 1997 which I painted from life by looking in a mirror. Like this portrait of my sixteen year old self, My Own Worst Critic and Gwenn Monkey have that staid and stagnant look of a lot of paintings from life, like the subject was waiting for the portrait to be finished.

reference photo for a self-portrait

reference photo for Contributing Member Of Society (below)

By late 2004, I was eager to come up with something new, so I asked my mother to sit with me as I photographed myself. I was still triggering the shutter release, but at least I had someone to react to as I took pictures of myself.

Gwenn Seemel

Gwenn Seemel

Contributing Member Of Society


acrylic on canvas

24 x 18 inches

Though a lively improvement over earlier self-portraits, I wouldn't call this likeness candid in the same way as I feel like my portraits of other people are.

reference photo for a painted portrait

photo by David

Fast forward a few years. David took this photo of me at a wedding that we attended last June.

painting a portrait

I immediately liked something about the image.

painting a portrait

In it, I am making a face that I know I make, but that I would never be able to produce on command.

painting a portrait

It's just the sort of reference photo I like to work with.

painting a portrait

The expression is fresh...

painting a portrait

...but there's something about the picture that keeps it from being the final word.

painting a portrait

In this particular case, my left eye is looking a little lazy.

painting a portrait

That's the sort of detail that a photo can't ameliorate...

painting a portrait

...but that a painted portrait can smooth over.

painting a portrait

Here, I've lost my way in the portrait, and I'm using strong lines to recapture the structure.

painting a portrait


painting a portrait


Oregon artist Gwenn Seemel's self-portrait

Gwenn Seemel



acrylic on panel

7 x 5 inches

(detail below)

detail image of a portrait in acrylic on panel


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