Interview by Madeleine Dore
Art by Carmel Seymour
A few years ago, I caught a plane to Reykjavík, Iceland, and was welcomed into the home of Carmel Seymour. It was the first glimpse I had of what the daily life of an artist encompassed – the beauty, the freedom, the perpetual unknown.
From her background as a patternmaker and designer, to falling in love after an artist residency in the Icelandic countryside, the Melburnian artist relocated to the tiny coastal capital and now calls the city of just 220,000 her home.
Living a life many would call a dream, her elegant watercolours and delicate pencil sketches reflect a similar sense of wonder and resemble a mystical dreamland.
Inspired by flora and fauna, history, science, and the paranormal, Carmel creates fantastical worlds out of the ordinary, filled with hidden secrets that allow the viewer to construct their own storybook of sorts.
Carmel’s work reminds us all not just of our memories, but our feelings of memories. The day I left Iceland, Carmel set the timer on her camera and four of us gathered in the hallway and held a group hug. In such moments, it doesn’t always sink in that you’re right in the middle of something beautiful. Too often it’s fleeting, too often we forget the tiny moments, rendering them as insignificant. Three weeks spent in wintery Iceland can so easily become a blur. But in this case, the hug isn’t a dusty memory; it’s encapsulated in one of the most magical works I’ve seen, evoking a sense of nostalgia and belonging for all.
I'm more and more in awe of Carmel Seymour. From the importance of following adventure, to overcoming the common artist dilemma of comparing yourself to others, here Carmel kindly extends the very glimpse of her daily life I once had the pleasure of witnessing first hand, and her candure continues to inspire.
On the relationship between being an artist and procrastination...
I battle with the procrastination demon daily, especially when I am starting a new work. I am sure it is related to fear, there is a huge gap between a loose sketch with endless potential and locking it permanently on the paper.
The best way through these mental roadblocks is to give myself a set time to work like ‘for the next two hours you must finish these sketches or draw the outlines for this painting’ and what usually happens is that I forget the timer and start enjoying the process.
I work pretty slowly, each painting feels a bit like an emotional battle, I am jealous sometimes of artists who can pump out a lot of work but I just don’t work that way.
Being an artist is so tough some days. It is so complicated to have your daily output tied so closely to your self worth, public image and your most intimate thoughts and dreams.
On how learning to stop comparing yourself...
One thing I am glad I have gained after many years of painting is stop comparing myself to other artists. It is really liberating to realise that my art practice is my practice. It doesn’t have to follow the same pattern as anyone else's career.
I think living away from Melbourne for five years has really helped with that perspective. It allows me a more honest reflection on what I really want to do instead of what I should be doing or where I should be showing and so on.
On the one skill or talent she wishes she had...
I would love to be a better business and marketing person. I am hopeless at self-promotion and anything to do with money or pricing. I go through phases of being reasonably organised and then fall back into a new series of work, creating in the chaos, maybe it’s a necessity too.
On a day in the life of an artist living in Iceland...
Well at the moment it is dark, dark, dark in Reykjavik. So the most important part of my morning is half an hour in front of my daylight lamp with a coffee and the newspaper. It wakes me up and makes me feel warm inside.
In the studio I drink endless cups of tea and snack on popcorn, the floor is covered in it. I try to meditate daily and keep a cosy blanket to sit on for a little chillout during the day. Then if I am coming up with new ideas I listen to music but if I am painting something I have already sketched out I listen to podcasts. Alec Baldwin is keeping me company these days.
On dreams of moving to the countryside...
My biggest dream at the moment is to move to the countryside. A few years ago the idea popped up after some excellent holidays in regional Victoria. After living in Reykjavik which has only 220,000 people I have lost my city girl pace. I’m dreaming of trees and birds and friendly neighbours and a beautiful studio with great light. We are making plans to make it happen but moving to the other side of the world is not an easy thing. I can’t wait.
On pursuing adventure and an artist's life...
Following adventure and believing that nothing is impossible have lead me to some really amazing experiences and places. Although the insecurity of an artist’s income is scary sometimes the autonomy of working for no one but yourself is quite a special thing. I love being the master of my own routine.
"I admire hardworking people in any discipline it’s a thrill to see someone passionate about what they do. But my favourite quality as I get older is kindness." – Carmel Seymour