Betsy Dadd


Written by Marlon Dolcy
15 Monday 15th November 2010

Betsy Dadd is a talented artist who works with paintings, monoprints and drawings. Her output also includes animation, (or moving drawings) of which some have featured in music videos. She has won the Nagoya University of Art 2008 First Prize award. She has given screenings and has had exhibitions shown in Japan as well as England, she has also made an animation based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel Del amor y otros demonios. Don’t Panic brokered an interview.

Where did you get your inspiration from to make your paintings, drawings and animations?

All sorts of places. I always have a drawing book, pencil and pencil sharpener with me so I draw a lot when I'm out and about, and sometimes take myself on drawing ventures – to the roof, to the zoo, or when I am on the train. But also if I am reading a particularly good book, or listening to a really nice bit of music I will often imagine a scene which might later crop up somewhere in my work. So I would say I work equally from observation and my imagination.
How would you define your own style of work?
Usually when I tell people I make animations I try to explain that they are more like a moving painting or drawing. So much animation now is quite graphic and computerised, and my work is different in that it is much more about the drawing aspect and the materials I use. You can see they're just made out of graphite, or chalk or oil paint or whatever, and they are quite primitive in terms of their animation technique. But I also try not to have a style. I try to be quite varied in the way I go about making my work, otherwise it becomes boring to make. I think a style is something that shouldn't be nurtured; it just comes about by being yourself with your work, often in ways that are not even apparent to myself.
What thoughts or feelings would you like people to take after viewing your work?
Hopefully my work leads people to construct their own ideas and narratives. They do seem to touch on peoples' memories and experience but somehow lead you into a fictitious world. I don't really mind if the trail of images seems quite illogical as it’s always important to surprise in order to keep someone entertained. 
Do you feel that music enhances or adds something to your animation artistically?
Definitely. The music completely changes how a piece is read, which in some cases can be quite dangerous to just plonk a soundtrack on top of an animation as it can be quite prescriptive. But once I have decided on what music I am dealing with and have been living with that piece for the duration of making, I find the two become inseparable - I cannot look at the silent animation without hearing the music in my head, or listen to the music without imagining the images. But perhaps more interestingly, I find one helps you appreciate the other, for example, the rhythm of the moving image can make you hear the music differently, and vice versa. So in the end they seem to need each other.
Do you feel that your work is similar to William Kentridge in how he uses stop-motion and time lapse to capture his charcoal drawings which he's continually drawing over?
I hope so. I am a big fan of his work. I came across him when I was just starting to dabble with animation so I guess he made quite a mark on me. Before then I considered animation and my drawing/painting practice as quite separate activities, but he helped me realise that animation could just be an extension of the rest of my image making process.                                  
Where did you find the idea to use photographs for The Mariner’s Children video and where did you find those photographs?
I wanted it to have the aesthetic of old cine footage, so by animating photographs and photocopies it looked a lot like a real life three dimensional space, but I could also then draw into the images. Sometimes I just come across images which strike me so I take clippings and photocopies, accumulating an archive of images to dip in to. But I do also trawl the internet when I am looking for something in particular.
How long does it normally take to create your animations?
That depends on so many things. The most time consuming is when I hit a block, but I think I work best late at night. If I am on a roll I probably produce about one minute in a day, but then editing can be fiddly and take up equally as long. People are often put off by the lengthy process of animation but if I'm absorbed I don't really notice the time.
Could you describe the process of making your animated pieces?
Well I start off by making lots of sketches and drawings and often mono-prints to then work on top of. As a rule I tend to not story board but would rather improvise with the images and see where they lead me - often somewhere I could never have preconceived had I stuck rigidly to a storyboard. So I have my camera clamped above my desk and angle poise lamps either side, taking each photo as the drawing evolves bit by bit. Sometimes you see a drawing being drawn from scratch, or sometimes I animate the subjects by erasing and re-drawing in a new position. The animation all takes place on one surface that changes so you can see the ghost of the previous frames leaving a trail behind the moving subject.
Your work seems very surreal and poetic, but is almost always devoid of dialogue. Do you feel that it is more difficult to achieve a narrative without dialogue?
Perhaps, but I'm not usually trying to communicate a given narrative, but rather picture an atmosphere within a piece of music. I often get quite stunted if I have to work with lyrics. If there is dialogue I feel like I am just illustrating what is being spoken, so it becomes a bit of a balancing act between being too literal or too arbitrary with my images. I find music alone tends to suggest much more to me visually than words do, or at least I have more freedom to be imaginative.
With Pixar CGI, and computer technology, do you feel that your style of animation is a dying art?
That sort of animation is just an entirely different ball game. Traditional stop-motion might be becoming rarer but it doesn't mean that it doesn't still have its place, and people are still learning how to do it so I don't imagine it will die. I guess it’s just considered more artistic now than anything else as it’s commercial use is pretty much defunct. 
What is next for Betsy Dadd?
At the moment I'm making animations for the backdrop of a couple of dance pieces which is quite interesting as I am finding out that animation and choreography actually share a lot in common. But I'm keen to do more projects which combine performance with animation, so all sorts of things such as cinema with live soundtrack performances, projected stage scenery, and also live animation. Lots of possibilities...
You can find examples of Betsy Dadd’s work on her website

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