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Lockdown and Lyrics - Artist Pamela Tait on working with Belle and Sebastian


When Covid happened, the public workspace where Pamela created her artwork had to close due to lockdowns, and so her primary method of creating artwork was no longer available to her.

This adjustment saw Pamela return to drawing and painting at the same time that a new inspiration entered her life - the words of writer Douglas Thompson - and a collaborative project funded by Creative Scotland, ‘Oneironauts’, which called on her to respond to Douglas’ writing with illustrations.

Very soon after, Stuart Murdoch, frontman of Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian, contacted Pamela to commission illustrations for their forthcoming lyric book, and thus Pamela’s whole artistic world was to be reformed:

Pamela, tell us how the project with Stuart came about?

Stuart initially got in touch with me in 2018 to enquire if I would like to create some art work for the band. It's a funny story about how he came across my work, which involves a serious case of serendipity! (He explains this in the foreword of the Lyric Book) anyways, long story short, my reply was a repeated 'yes please'!

Then in Oct 2020, I got an email from Stuart asking if I would like to create the artwork for a Belle & Sebastian Lyric Book. This time I had a small hesitation in my answer, as 10 days prior to this request from Stuart, I found out my funding application from Creative Scotland, to collaborate with the Scottish Surrealist writer Douglas Thompson, had been successful. So I had a really nice, honest discussion with Stuart about the time frame for the Lyric book. It all felt doable, and it also felt like too amazing an opportunity to let pass me by, so I said yes again.

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How did it feel working with a different source of inspiration, especially in such a tumultuous time?

I found it quite easy but only because, more often than not, when I listen to music, I get images floating around in my head anyways. And it felt like a real gift as during 2020, my anxiety got really bad due to Covid and the impact of it. When I get really anxious, I tend to not listen to music as it can hold a memory of that time in my mind. But the music of Belle & Sebastian, awww it is just so beautiful, it felt like a great big musical friend was here with me; soothing and supporting me. So for that reason, it felt like a real timely gift.

Your usual practice is to study the trees, and create your characters or ‘beings’ from them. How did you approach the project creatively without that visual source?

I had a few really positive, encouraging and honest conversations with Stuart at the very beginning of working on the Lyric book. I really couldn't have asked for a better person to be working with. Stuart was completely open to me creating whatever felt right, with the main focus being on just having fun. I can't describe how amazing that was, it still leaves me blinking with a silly smile on my face when I think about it....I felt so honoured to be the person who was now responsible for creating the illustrations for this Belle & Sebastian lyric book.

So my approach was to close my eyes and repeatedly listen to one of the songs from the list Stuart provided me with. In that time, I would try to squash all the anxiety out of me to find the imagery the music conjured up in my mind. Then I sit in silence and draw. I was mostly using coloured pencils, a few illustrations are just graphite and a few are watercolour with pencil.

I would explain my thinking behind each illustration to Stuart, to help him better understand what I was drawing. As it felt really important to not be too literal in the illustrations, as I didn't want to break the magic each Belle & Sebastian song will have cast in people’s minds.

So even though resisting the storyline as my visual guide felt quite a challenge, I hope what I created purely enhances the musical experience for everyone.

What influence did this project leave on you as an artist?

Having the two projects running along simultaneously - Oneironauts and the Lyric Book - really strengthened the approach of storytelling within my work. They also gave me the biggest amount of confidence in my own artistic ability.

Now I am on the other side of these projects - and I feel ever so proud of the work I made for both, I can see how much I have evolved and learned and I am ever so grateful for having had that experience. As nerve racking and scary it was - it has been truly wonderful riding on the coat tails of Belle & Sebastian!

Straight after completing those two projects, I had to create new work for my joint exhibition 'Hidden Harmonies' with Erlend Tait at The Biscuit Factory, and instead of looking to the trees for inspiration, I found myself looking within, drawing from the well of me. Again, this felt a bit scary, but as I had faced scary already, and knew that there was something bigger and better behind scary, I faced scary and again, got a most pleasant surprise.

The trees are still there inspiring me though, I've not completely turned my back on those big leafy friends!

Hidden Harmonies by Pamela and Erlend Tait runs at The Biscuit Factory 6 May - 30 June

Dream Friends - Watercolour and Pencil on paper £850

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