... do we make art? Out of love? compulsion? habit? When one compulsion - the need to keep up a sturdy research profile for the forthcoming REF and impress your boss - is removed, the other imperatives rattle around a little before settling. Without realising, we can let our work be steered by external forces - the need to make a living, to comply with a client; even if we work only for ourselves around "a day job" it can still steer us away from creative experiment and towards the safety of a successful formula. So lots of experiments. A list of 4 projects - 2 waiting to be started and 2 that have been begun and swept aside in the excitement of the moment of starting work on a fifth. (and then a sixth) Not much discipline, but plenty of joy. I will finish them all. You probably don't need to read about them
Miki now in Xmas paper & a snowglobe
and then - christmas on the horizon. Everyone is asking me if I am doing another advent calendar. But it took so long last year...can I start another project? Yes apparently I can... with animation projects 7,8,9 and 10. An opportunity to have fun with pattern and stop worrying about realism. An opportunity to play with variations on a theme...using the research, drawings and ideas I'm already working on but without the pressure of a complex narrative. And these have the virtue of being short, so relatively quick, and a cast-iron date deadline, which none of the others have. And an audience. Actual feedback. closing the circle.
Happy Christmas/ Hannukah/ Solstice/ Festival of friends-and-family


So I finished another film ("Man")

... big news. Not really, but it has already created the need for another film. A follow-on, a deeper exploration of some of the ideas I floated past in this one:
1. the representation of gender and why do we put up with it.
2. the generation of ideas, how and where does it happen.
3. sorts of wooduct-ty marks and how to economically animate them
4. blah blah something to do with the presence of the artist within the work...the self-referential recursive fractal thingummy.
This happens when you have a tiny animation trying to contain several big ideas.
Your head gets full.
Sometimes of fish.


ideas...and how to catch them

(from a series "musing with mates").
What if ideas are just floating around in the air like Terry Pratchett suggests, waiting for a receptive mind to provide a conduit - an earth? When I was very young, I imagined babies as little souls, floating around over the earth waiting for parents to call them down and come and be born. That they watched, hopeful, in the skies when potential parents began to speak about starting a family, nudging one another - "you'll be next". This is what you get for teaching obscure tenets of Catholicism to children too young to understand...Similarly, what if ideas, like energy, like static before a storm, bursting to discharge, were hopefully seeking a receptive mind...like a hyperintelligent alien, having travelled millions of miles through vaccuuous space, and seeking someone to whom it could pass its momentous message from another galaxy...How to become such a mind...is there an artists' tinfoil hat or antenna? a drug as Carlos believed? a head tattoo, a magic sign like a crop circle which will attract them?
Or maybe, as Richard suggests, the creative mind is a muscle like any other which needs training, regular exercise, and a warm-up before getting up to speed. A warm-up like a series of bad, weak ideas you toy with and discard. Or a knockabout, a conversation with a friend, batting idea-ettes back and forth but neither trying to score a point... Or a blog... 
Do your scales, run through the exercises and get ready to Be Creative.

Like a visit to the gym, a visit to Being Creative needs some preparation. Empty your head. Transfer those things it is full of to paper, or sort them out - and they are gone. Drive them out with tiredness from a long walk, with the excruciating boredom of a staff meeting, with astonishment at some fabulous thing seen or heard that you can immerse yourself in, beside which the boring little idea of worrying about the leaking roof, remembering the laundry or caring why whatshername never posts on your facebook anymore will wither in embarrassment and shuffle off to a sleepless sunday night. Play with a ball of wool, a cat, or the garden.

Dress suitably. Comfortable clothes that will not restrict the free movement of ideas. Desperately chic vintage weirdness. Pyjamas. Your brother's old seacadet jumper which is too tight and unravelling at the cuffs. Does it help, if you look and feel like An Artist? Or just provide a handy excuse for days when the ideas don't seem to come..?

Always carry a pencil, a pen, paper; something to occupy your hands, something which provides sensory feedback - the sound of graphite scratching on paper, the vibration from the drawing action travelling up your arm. If you are chosen by an idea, if you spot one passing by, if you sense one bubbling up from some corner of your mind, write it down. Draw it. Doodle, expand, experiment...shamelessly. Ignore the CCTV, ignore everything...

Immediately, the idea will begin to evolve, to morph, to develop an attitude...it will decide who or what it wants to become. There will need to be a period of negotiation, which may be long-drawn-out and fruitful; your work may become a true collaboration between yourself and the idea... Like the characters in a novel you might try to write, the ideas will refine their personalities ; they will become confident and more assertive and eventually undermine your illusion of control. Help them to satisfying conclusion, to a narrative integrity, to a beautiful or a meaningful or an ecstatic expression. Help them communicate themselves and then, if you love them, let them go.


joining too many dots...

In between making glass doodads and mending broken stained glass window panels and building a madly ambitious glass-and-wood sculpture for the garden, and gardening... attempt ludicrously ambitious film ideas and get bogged down for days on end animating waving grasses because I saw some on the clifftops on a walk and thought what fabulous textures, and how they looked like the waves on the sea and how a boat might sail through them...and how that reminded me of an opera I saw based on Where the Wild Things Were, (the night Max wore his wolf suit and sailed out of the bedroom in a wooden dinghy)...and how I could knit a wolf suit, or maybe just a suit, in fact (pause to clear out sideboard and throw out dozens of old video tapes) I could perhaps knit one out of the videotape, (pause to contemplate recycled arts, the politics, the aesthetics, the fun factor of recycling as an art/craft mash-up)...and then thinking how that would disguise the form of the human underneath, perhaps enough to confuse the viewer as to the human's gender...and then reconnect with an older idea about wrapping a human in - something...bandages, paper and string?...so you could try to read it as a human but not as a man or woman... (and simultaneously, neither as black or white)

Miki Z modelling kitchen roll by Lidl
and finally, spending a mad but fun afternoon wrapping a friend in kitchen roll and taking photos for reference for an animation...that will have nothing whatever to do with waving grasses or boats or Rooks that suddenly take off, shouting from a fence post, buried neck-deep in meadow flowers...
and then going in to the new show at Baltic 39 and looking at a collage of a giraffe and thinking how Id like to keep it simple, no frothing textured fronds at all but blocks of joyful colour and sturdy solid lines and a suggestion of tree, grass, bird not a Samuel Palmer etching and then Oh how about a NARRATIVE in all of this and then
just do the drawings and stop trying to join ALL the dots. Some ideas will flow. Others will flow away - let it unfold as it will. Try not to get distracted by all the shiny toys. Try to strike a balance between what is "beautiful" and brings you "joy"/ and what is rich with meaning and brings you questions. And what is fun.


shameful abandonment of blog

Once upon a time, working in France as an au pair, I was worried about not making art for a whole 6 months. Would I still be an artist? Would I forget how to do it? Would the ideas dry up without an outlet and then not flow again, like a dammed stream finding a new course...
Now, without the pressure to produce REF-able outputs and get them listed by a stupidly tight deadline, continuing to produce outputs - or as I like to consider it, to make art - is not slowing down...but the pressure to conform to a particular way of working, reflecting, surrounding the work in a specific language of interpretation and contextualisation is now relaxed. Going back to making art for the sake of it, the joy of it, still finding it the main reason for getting out of bed in the morning, not tied to a timetable or agenda; the only difference is I feel more free to experiment. BUT - I don't feel compelled to write up the experiments.
On the other hand, writing up is the reflective process that ensures we that learn something from those experiments and identify a useful place to explore and experiment next...rather than wandering self-indulgently in ever-decreasing blobby circles.
SO - why have I shamefully abandoned this blog? Because the garden needs me, to dig and weed and help it grow radish, spinach and courgettes. (developing muscles, the joy of tiredness caused by digging up and planting) Because the hills need me, to appreciate their beauty and peacefulness, (the joy of quietness, beauty, challenging gradients), because I did some commissions (stained glass, picture book, illustrations) and because actually making art is the most fun you can have, most of the time. So, I am trying to get a balance between physical exercise , thinking, creating and finding time for socialising, collaborating, learning.. Lord, Im even thinking of taking up running. So many ways to be happy...busy...so little time... So - apologies to my Reader for abandoning you, and to my academic hind-brain for leaving you to reflect by yourself. I will try harder.


Start with the right story

think in images not in words...?
Another day, another film festival... and I have to say: I don't really get it...animations that aren't actually animated, but seem to be a series of images, some of which have movements in, some not; and which accompany a story being told by a narrator. I don't want to come across all purist (having made a career of doing things the wrong way) but it seems to me the point of animation is that it should do something that text and image don't - something more. That it should be not so much an image that moves, but a movement that is captured. I wonder if people make these films because getting fluid movement is really hard, especially if you are looking for naturalistic movement, or even harder.. gracefulness? Or whether maybe they are starting with a story which is too complex and subtle to work any other way. I like to find stories which will work without dialogue, where the narrative comes across in the actions and the emotions come across in the visuals, the pace, the expressive capabilities of a wobbly drawing.
There's a fine balance in trying to make animations for adults, which are visual stories but neither slapstick nor downright obscure. I don't know if I'm making that balance; but I do know I'd never make an animation tutor- I'd be telling the students "You're starting with the wrong story!"


and afterwards, they schlepped

Yes...after the joy of making the film, hawking the finished product round, trying to get exhibitions or showings, doing the paperwork and creating special versions of the film just for one portal is deeply boring. and the downside of being a one-woman band is that you have to do all that, when the only bit you are competent at is long-completed and your head has skipped ahead to the next story idea

(There will be FISH. Inside someone's head. an expanding head. and people with REALLY long arms. and maybe dancers. and men which turn into women and women which turn into men. the fish might come out of a book. maybe the people turn into fish...why? why not?)

maturing. fermenting? or just preserved for later... 
Ideas crash together like in dreams, throwing up images from the recent holiday (black-and-white sea. mermaids. tiny ponds), Thursday's Dance performance (more anatomically-correct characters, so the distortions of a limb or a movement are more apparent?) and random things seen or heard (knitted sheds! pop-up cards, summerhouses on a mountaintop, an ancient man practicing the organ in church while the churchbell chimed 3pm. Running into an old friend and having a random conversation about cocktail dresses)

Something is needed to stir these up and precipitate out a useful narrative. Apparently, the annoyance factor of crappy technology (mine or someone else's) can in fact provide this. The screaming frustration of non-user-friendly systems with outdated technology (WHY do you still only accept onscreen viewers in 4:3? Hands up any animator not using 16:9?? WHY do you think it wont matter if you squash my movie to fit, just as though the visuals weren't important. It's a film, not Jam. Oh, wait...Jam??)

I understand some festivals operate on a tiny budget with harassed volunteers, and I am happy to support - with patience if possible - underfunded artist/filmmaker-led indy initiatives. But when festivals with a long pedigree and a big budgets, or festival portals which broker applications get it (the technology, the interface design, the dead links and translations-into-English which suddenly aren't, the missing vital information (we ONLY accept DCPs))wrong you feel like asking - AGAIN - why is it always artists paying for the right to beg to show their work? If the arts are big business, and Art is the commodity, why is the artist the one who doesn't make any money out of all this. If film matters, if animation is interesting, then how come all the ticket money doesn't provide the successful filmmaker with even a measly return of the entry fee?

and, instead of getting steamed up about this, can I make an animation about it?


The Medium is the Message...

Finally, found the time to start the experiments in Linoprint I had intended...thinking...imagining that as my style of drawing resembled linocut, it would be interesting to go back to basics - make linoprint images and then try animating them.
<hysterical laughter>
The difference between drawing on a graphics tablet and carving into lino is almost complete...From posture (standing instead of sitting) to scale (it is impossible to cut lines in crumbly lino as fine as those you can finagle with a pen) to the thinking process informing the design and the fact that lino has no back-button or facility for making multiple versions while you make your mind up...
Instead of a simple change of medium, this has become a way to explore new ways of drawing, to improve and fine-tune mark-making processes. It has made me go back to the computer with the idea that I am "designing linoprints" - the colour separation, the process, the simplicity of texture produced in black and white (no gray)
Although I worked exclusively in linoprint many years ago, this is another illustration of how you can't go back! So, in between looking enviously at the fluid shapes and intricate beauty of linoprints in galleries, I am going back to learning simple techniques, clumsy shapes, cut hands and the frustration of realising the huge gulf between a vision and a rusty, out of practice craft process.
Yes - fairly lumpy and disgusting. But without this I wouldn't have made a whole series of drawings reminiscent of the olden days of  rotring pens, or investigated the interplay of colour and texture, or ...well, had a play about - which is always a valuable exercise.
Last week, I was with a friend on the swings in a park...no children anywhere, it was a schoolday, so we had a go on the obstacle course too. Suddenly, 3 separate old people had gathered into a huddle and were glaring at us disapprovingly, staring, muttering, you could see they were trying to decide whether to come over and brandish sticks or just write to the local paper. Because grown-ups aren't supposed to play, unless they are doing it with small children. No wonder obesity is such a problem then...Meanwhile I will continue to try making linoprints - only better - and to learn through play, and through trying to reflect on what it has shown me.


Because it was there...

Once you are out of your artistic comfort zone, and no-one is crying, might as well try some other previously unused (by yourself) and hard-to-imagine-what-you-can-do-with-it technique. A tutor in my first year at artschool told me "you can change the story but you can't change the handwriting". We-e-ell Chris, actually you can if you work hard. If you decide to accept the challenge of doing a "simple clear instructional" animation style - just in case you really wanted to apply for some of those commissions - just to see you can - just because it was there. And quite quickly you realise you have to make the style your own, and it doesn't look much like the "inspiration/ source" materials that they have posted online because - well, that's someone else's work, ideas, style...handwriting. And because copying someone else's work is really boring.
(I mean, if that's what they want, why don't they find out who animated it and get them to do the commission? is that too simple? What about original ideas? What about being different because you are actually trying to compete with those sources so maybe an alternative approach rather than glorified plagiarism might be more exciting to your audience. Or maybe not. maybe your audience wants what everyone else has, in the same way everyone else has it? You see, I'd be rubbish at marketing...)
And then this interesting thing happens where if you take out all the autographic marks, the scribbly, gestural doodads, it becomes all about the colour. And you realise there is a very good reason why you normally work in black and white or limited colour palettes, because you're not very good at colour. I mean, I love colour! I love clashing red and purple clothes, rich mixtures of orange and red, I love the blue of bluebells and the contrast of purple and yellow in an iris. But without the marks, the textures, everything looks like it was cut out of sticky paper in a nursery classroom. And trying to use every crayon in the tin is fine when you are 7, but suddenly becomes painfully difficult and inappropriate when you are trying to be a mature artist. <Guffaw. Mature!>
Well then -  another day, another chance to learn something new, develop a new skill, face another challenge. Another chance to fail and a chance to be proud of succeeding. Another way to be a human.


Pencil tests

It has been said - by those who know me - that I favour the bull in china shop approach to experimentation - just barging in, bellowing with joy and occasionally going "wow! nice soup plates". It has also been said , not entirely unfairly, that I adopt the same approach to everything else. But, having decided to make 3 versions of the same film (which became 4 after the first one was eaten by owls*) means I get to reconsider the whole thing multiple times...and that the original line-only version becomes a pencil test for the versions which follow. In a way, this is boring. Like tacking stitches I never bothered to use before stitching something on a machine. But it also means you can mess about more with the images, experiment...the hard part (arguably) of deciding the story, the length, the various scenes/ shots is done. So you can play around with the treatment, and with putting in random extra things just because. And then, a new treatment suggests different scenes/ or different focusing in on a closeup, because it is being driven by the visual, not the narrative.

Oh well, maybe the two are indivisible, but the point is you SHOULD be telling the story differently if it is in colour vs black and white. You SHOULD think about what happens to your narrative integrity when something based on an exploration of line becomes something with mass, shape, texture. How best to preserve the sense of things flowing into each other and a fine balance between a certain randomity of direction, and the suggestion of causality, of narrative. Of trying to balance the thought "why a HORSE??" with the idea that the horse is only a representation of something like life - the life-force that doesn't care who lives it so maybe I shouldn't get hung up on it either... the balance between allowing the "characters" - the line, the funny little insect things - to act out their own story with the suspicion that this may be a self-indulgent failure to take responsibility for them. You made that horse, dammit, you can't just leave it there with no narrative resolution!

Artschool used to be big on the importance and power of play. Experiment. But before we publish the results of our experiment, we need to have some idea of what we have found out, what we have learned, and what use any of this may be to someone else - which I suppose correlates to the meaning. So, does this tiny film mean anything...we-e-e-ll it "makes reference to" some ideas, perhaps even "playfully", and arguably it "questions the dominant hegemony" of something or the other so hell, yes. In non-artspeak, it features a hand with a pencil, which draws a figure, which then acquires its own pencil and draws itself a face, and then draws the world, so I'm going with "themes" of self-determination, freedom, the joy of playing and the importance of art.
Humpty Dumpty# may say it is about Glory, or Cabbage, or even the nature and existence of a God ...but we shall know how to respond to that.

*A literary reference (Mervyn Peake)
#another literary reference (Lewis Carroll)


Poems from the wreckage

new software. (which I haven't used for years) A learning curve. A new approach. Hoorah, let's be open to new experiences, new tools and how they can shape the work. Let's play, creatively.

Let's forget how flaky this software always was and how it sometimes crashes with no warning as if it were still the 90s and personal computers were and exciting novelty which, like a dog dancing, we did not expect to do anything well, but were only surprised at them doing it at all.

Not only crashed but corrupted beyond any hope of re-opening. 3 weeks' work. If your immediate response to this included the word "back-up", kindly leave this blog immediately. After searching various online forums and help sites, dowloading all the software they said might help rescue the work, installing, running, de-installing...finding that inexplicably people advertised software as opening file formats it did not open, but opened entirely different formats with similar letters in them, in a different order (is dyslexia rife amongst the nerd community? or vice versa?)...I still had zip, nada, a Foucauldian Lacuna... and irritating people saying I should have backed it up.

Gentlemen, advice about doing something yesterday, unless you are giving it to Dr Who, is not advice but merely smugness.

After tears, shouting, reassuring the cat I was not shouting at her, shouting at the cat, and quite a lot of caffeine, I have of course rebuilt the movie. It is better. It is a second draft. It has benefitted from being rethought from the beginning and by my having actually considered "is this worth doing?" and "what, in the end, is this all about?"
Yesterday, another artist/friend was lamenting that she often didn't finish works because she wasn't sure what it was for, what the point of it was. Never being able to say "this is it" because we don't know what the hell "it" is. Perhaps this comes perilously close to asking what the point of life is, but I suspect the answer may be the same. To do what you love. To do it better. To learn, grow, develop, explore...(failing, questioning, trying again)...does art have a better answer than "because it was there"?...or a less sanctimonious one than "to become a better person"?

The original movie was in danger of being just that, an endless experiment with no idea what it was hoping to discover or prove. A thing I started mainly because of the terror of not having a project...of being naked and lost in front of a computer.
I think I can describe the new movie as being a visual poem. That is risky enough for someone whose normal works might be best described as (visual) short stories.



Somewhere in the borderlands between farting about, playing, creative play and robust experimentation...somewhere in that liminal space which exists between worlds, and beyond the relentless call of emails, messages, and ooh I wonder if anyone has fitbits on special offer right now...
Somewhere in the space we desperately hope is neither this nor that, and so uniquely able to observe and learn from both the thisses and the thats...
Somewhere between serious artistic endeavour I hope will result in a useful product, and the joys and frustrations of the process for its own sake... between the joy of freeedom and the self-censorship that tuts "you are just wasting time"...seems to be where I live right now. Computing colleagues used to speak of "creeping featurism" - of the phenomenon of digital things never being finished because they were to easy to endlessly reproduce, tweak, to create different versions ... Self-imposed deadlines help, because shortness of time lessens the fart-about factor - correspondingly then, there is a danger that more time to invest in the art process simply results in more Faffing.
Currently, I am running 3 projects with a curious hierarchy. Animation with a capital A is an experiment in an animation driven not by narrative but by purely visual developments, events following other events on the basis of morphing shapes and what they suggest. Im counting the ways that could go wrong. Narrative is so fundamental, not just to my work but to human interpretation. Plus, new software which works differently, has to be re-learnt and is much less forgiving...Thanks for reminding me why my daily artwork environment is full of obsolescent and unsupported antiquities, at least a decade out of date but still my go-to tools like an ancient and almost hairless paintbrush that is perfect for scrubbing in texture...
Making animations with a lower-case a is a series of weekly animations for posting on social media. It's not self-consciously art, it's entertainment... into which I suppose friends and friends-of can read meaningfulness - or not.
The third which is perhaps art, or perhaps craft, but chiefly Fun with a capital F is not animation at all but making jolly things which will have some kind of a life, actually be seen and bring (in some tiny way) happiness to those who engage with them. A pair of wings for a costume hat, some glass bunting for the front window which the neighbours have remarked on, photoshopping...for so many occasions.

moving between liminalities via a Foucauldian lacuna
Sometimes the three can overlap...sometimes the fun leaks out and into other things... and the ideas can jump from one to another, if we do not allow ourselves to put fences round them, but let the borderlands overlap and cross-pollinate.

 I'm thinking I will make a map of these borderlands, of the areas where quicksands and bogs threaten the unwary, of the mountains that offer the best view on a clear day, and the citycentres full of excitement, diversion; and the chance to compare notes with other travellers over a pint or two of creative metaphor. Of paths less travelled by, of where be dragons, and where best to start your recherche for temps perdu. Although perhaps the point is that liminal spaces cannot be mapped - but that's no reason not to try.