Longings & Belongings

As I have been working my way through a year of my research and artist development, Grow Your Own Artist, I have been learning more about using sound in my artworks. A visit to artist Freya Dooley’s studio last year was pivotal in how I think about making work with sound and has helped me to develop new work.

Drawing of a blue and white jug, with an eye drawn in charcoal on its side
Eye Jug, pencil and charcoal, 2022

I have seen Freya’s work at Chapter in Cardiff and at Eastside Projects in Birmingham, and I was struck by how well she uses video and sound together in her installations. I contacted her to ask whether she’d be able to help me as part of my project and I subsequently visited her at her studio. As well as taking me through the sound editing software she uses (Ableton), we talked about ideas and I asked her how she approached creating a spoken word piece.  

“I start with a script,” Freya explained, and something immediately clicked in my brain. I had one of those moments of clarity when you see something that seems obvious in retrospect, but that you were too close to what you were doing to see before. I love writing, as well as making art, but I had never found a satisfying way to marry these two things together before. Here it was, laid out in all its glorious possibilities and this became my inspiration over the summer and autumn of last year.


I tried writing and recording some spoken word pieces, using my phone to record my voice. I liked the way that this worked: the process of writing and recording, while at the same time working on some stop-motion animation sequences in Photoshop, was very absorbing. As I recorded more, I realised that the quality would be better with a ‘proper’ microphone, so I bought a reasonably priced recording kit (based on Freya's recommendations), which has a recording interface, condenser mic, headphones and the cables. I also bought a midi-keyboard so that I can play music sequences (I am no musician, but it has been a delight to create simple pieces with this and also with a smartphone app).


In terms of the visuals, I was creating a stop-motion animation on brightly coloured backgrounds. The object that I based this around is a traditional, blue and white striped, Cornishware jug that I took from my grandmother’s house after she died. During the pandemic, I kept coming back to this object, drawing it over and over, with an eye placed at its centre. This object holds a memory of my grandma, and I am reminded of her each time I look at it on my art studio desk. At first, I wasn’t sure where I was going with the drawings, but eventually I began to try them in animations and these developed into a short animation called Longings & Belongings.

Still from Longings & Belongings, short animation, 2023

I put the animation sequences together and added a spoken word piece I had written about the experience of clearing out my grandma’s house. There was a long period when I couldn’t see a way of finishing this animation. I did a lot of thinking, reading and research and struggled with this period of ‘artist’s block’. I know from experience that this happens regularly when I am working, but it doesn’t make it any easier when you can’t move on with a project. 


A friend who coaches artists told me that there is a part of the cycle of making creative work that is called the ‘fertile void’. It feels as if you have lost all impetus and that you are incapable of making anything, but even during this difficult time, you are still somehow processing experiences. It is a bit like how nothing much can grow in winter, but winter also produces the conditions for spring to happen, so it’s part of the natural cycle. 


I wrestled with my stalled creativity for a few weeks, and then I tried putting a second spoken word track onto my animation. I left it like this for a while, repeating the animations that were there to fill out the length, but aware that this was not ‘right’. Then I had a day when I came into my studio, and I knew what to do. This is a good feeling to have when you’ve been stuck for a while! I was able to create a new set of animation sequences and finish my film, Longings & Belongings, in time to submit it to an open call for Borderlines Film Festival. The piece was selected and will be shown in the festival’s Open Screen Sidebar on 5 March 2023.


Grow Your Own Artist is funded by Arts Council England, through its Developing Your Creative Practice programme.