Published March 2022
Artists Larry Achiampong, Sarah Forrest and Adam Lewis Jacob respond to five set questions on the subject of ‘developing your practice’. They share their approaches to making new work with you in writing below.
Larry Achiampong is a Jarman Award nominated artist (2018). He completed a BA in Mixed Media Fine Art at University of Westminster in 2005 and an MA in Sculpture at The Slade School of Fine Art in 2008. In 2020 Achiampong was awarded the Stanley Picker fellow and in 2019 received the Paul Hamlyn Artist award in recognition for his practice. He lives and works in Essex, and has been a tutor on the Photography MA programme at Royal College of Art since 2016. Achiampong currently serves on the Board of Trustees at Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) facilitating art policies in the UK and internationally and also holds a place on the board of trustees for Elephant Trust and is represented by C Ø P P E R F I E L D.
Sarah Forrest is an artist based in Glasgow who works across film, installation, text and sound. She graduated from the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee (BA Hons Fine Art) in 2003 and the Glasgow School of Art (MFA) in 2010. She was recipient of the Margaret Tait Award 2017/18 and has recently received her PhD from Glasgow School of Art (What is Seen, What is Said to be Seen: Exploring doubt as a critical tool within artists’ moving image practice).
Adam Lewis Jacob lives and works in Glasgow. Lewis-Jacob utilises video, animation and objects to create work that questions authenticity, sincerity and representation. He made his first video aged 7 using footage he shot on a family home movie camera on holiday at Centre Parks. Currently Lewis-Jacob is interested in experimental non-linear cinema that combines different types of cinematic genres. He is interested in applying Kathy Ackers style of writing to video making. Before making art Lewis-Jacob spent most of his youth playing in bands, immersing himself himself in DIY culture, this is the basis of his interest in peripheral sub cultures.
Larry Achiampong: Since I’m not really from a filmmaking background (I didn’t study film production at art school or make films when I was there). In fact, I did a BA in mixed media fine arts, and then my masters was in sculpture. So, my approach to filmmaking has been very much from the ground up, as somebody who’s been learning and teaching themselves as they’ve gone along. I’ve learned from the things that I’ve watched (although that hasn’t meant that I haven’t had conversations along the way with different professionals that I’ve met up with) but the internet for me was a really important resource.
What I’ve tried to do is ‘world build,’ by what I refer to as ‘the pitch’. Of course, other artists also do pitches as well. But I really think about it as a pitch that I’m trying to make really knowledgeable and I want to invite the viewer to see what I want them to experience. I include why I think that I should be getting the funding to showcase and to give that experience. So, what that tends to involve, is maybe a few paragraphs of what the project is about, references and links to different aspects of inspiration of the work and how this new film, will kind of create its own path and be different from the things that have inspired it.
What I tend to do is rely upon my last film to inform the people who I’m newly working with about how I have worked in the past, and how that might help working together and collaborating upon the new project. There is the saying ‘you’re only as good as the last project that you made.’ I don’t think that’s entirely true. But I do believe that giving people an insight into the last thing that you produced can help instil confidence into the journey that they’re going to embark upon with you.
I’ve just finished creating my very first feature film, Wayfinder, which will tour nationally, starting with Turner Contemporary through to Milton Keynes and then finally at BALTIC. In addition to that, I’m hoping to do some limited screenings, which will be distributed by LUX. How I went about taking on the development of this project, this unique new film, was to think about the strands, the methodologies and the approaches that were utilised to develop Relic Traveller (2017). I would certainly say to really think around the things that were helpful towards the development of a past work and what you would newly need in order to make that next new thing. And then, for people just starting completely from scratch with nothing, when I think about a work like Relic Traveller (which although wasn’t my first project it was certainly the first kind of project, in terms of my solo practice as a filmmaker) is to is to dream, dream hard, dream loud, dream wide.
You’ll come across that journey and realise there are only particular limits to where that dream can go for that point in time. That’s okay. You can still hold on to those other things for the future. But if you put in that heart, and those creative juices into that, it will really open itself up into a type of presentation or pitch that inspires other people and hopefully inspires confidence in your ability to deliver.
Sarah Forrest: I don’t usually seek funding for a new work until I know where it will be shown, so the conversations and partnerships are formed at an early stage. I might have been successful with a proposal or been invited to make new work and so when I am applying for funding those conversations will already have begun. If I need additional funding, I usually find it easier with the support of an organisation, and this support can vary from being simply provided with a venue to being given help to source and apply to funding bodies. I have been awarded funding in the past for the research and development of my practice without a specific outcome, but generally I don’t fully commit to the production of new work unless I have an exhibition or event that I am working towards.
Adam Lewis Jacob: Maintaining relationships with people that had taken an interest in my work and made interesting observations at the time has helped with this. Some were directly linked to commissions or organisations that had funded my work and I used those opportunities to apply for additional funding from other organisations. Through that process we built relationships that went beyond the obligations of the opportunity. They saw something in my work even if it hadn’t revealed itself to me and I saw something in the words they said so the conversation continued and the trust built turned into friendships.
I’d also suggest reaching out to the people that work at the institutions that offer funding or commissioning opportunities. They are getting paid, and you are not usually reimbursed for the time you spend writing applications. They need your applications to justify their role, in that the institution will always benefit from a constantly revolving ‘emerging’ artist scene, where they are responsible for deciding who gets to access the fund. So make sure you get as much support and information from them as possible before starting an application form. In my experience most institutions will offer advice and are happy to do so and this can save you a lot of time.
Larry Achiampong: For me, when it comes to developing a new work, I try to look at that balance between structuring time from research through to the making of the work, editing, funding and distribution. The proof in the pudding really lies in the development of the ideas, the early research and even in approaching funding.
It’s not simply about informing the funders, but also about informing and even reminding myself upon the journey of developing a work. So, research is really a big a big deal for me. I tend to look up keywords or phrases in relation to ideas, that links to material (whether that might be audible or visual that might share a relationship or similarity with the things that I’m doing). For me, the writing process doesn’t end, even at the point of editing the film, that process is an ongoing one. The amazing thing with editing is that you can really play with time and how you understand time. That allows for a kind of looseness with writing. So, if I’ve written a script, for example, the only thing that’s important to me with that, is making sure that what I’m creating holds true to the sentiments within that work. And then, of course, there’s continuity, but I try to have, one might say, a looseness about my approach to how the story might develop.
When I’m doing principal photography sometimes there are things you come across when making film itself. When I jump into the edit space, I realise ‘Oh, well, I can actually add this other element into the work’ or when I’m recording additional audio, or doing additional compositions, things like that, (I also compose my own music). The writing process is certainly something that I appreciate a lot, because it’s something that happens at the beginning of the project, but also that it is festering away, both in the background and the foreground, upon the rest of the journey of the manifestation of the work.
When it comes to things like funding, it’s going to take the time that it needs for that work to develop or even, to happen really, I guess similar to distribution. You can’t really rush it when it comes to those things. And so even when I’m going for funding, for example, I’ll put in the funding bid with, whoever it is that I’m working with on production at the time. And then I’m still knocking away at small ideas within that aspect of the of the funding process. But it’s definitely important, to try not to think of how the work must exist within a particular time period. Because if you do that, then you kind of stifle the rest of the development process. I would even say that of the other writing, which again, is something that is every step of the way, a part of that evolutionary process of the film that comes into fruition.
Sarah Forrest: When I don’t have any exhibitions or projects lined up then I spend a lot of time researching opportunities, this might be residencies, open calls for film screenings, exhibitions or writing projects. Although I have a fairly consistent studio practice, I don’t often start making a new artwork in earnest until I have somewhere to present it. I need a deadline and a context to respond to otherwise I tend to linger in the playing around stage.
Once I have something lined up then the first thing that I work out is whether or not I need additional funding to produce the work. I’m quite single minded so this will be my main focus until the funding applications are written and submitted. After that, I tend to immerse myself in making the new work as much as possible but it’s an ongoing process and I’m always actively looking for other opportunities to make or present work.
Adam Lewis Jacob: This is tough, as ideas can come quickly but executing them can take a long time for all sorts of reasons. The more time you spend making and thinking freely at the start the less you have to explain at the end. The process is what you are doing and will reveal why you decided to do it. If you commit to that approach then you have more time for the practical aspects, which aren’t always as boring as they might first seem, meeting people, trying things out, convincing people and that sort of thing can make you think in different ways , find unexpected relationships and help you work out the kind of balance that’s best for you.
A lot of what I do is built around conversations and then isolation; it’s a pretty extreme contrast and because of tight budgets it feels like I am doing a lot of the different roles, but it does give me some kind of autonomy, even if it its within a neoliberal art system that pretends to centre care and support, whilst also pushing unsustainable, under-funded work demands that expect you to make up the financial shortfalls. I believe that more help should be offered in this area. The hope is that after a while the relationships you have made and nurtured start to take some of the workload away from you, and if they don’t at least you start to find better ways to manage the various roles.
Larry Achiampong: In all honesty, I wouldn’t say there are any particular resources per se that have helped the development of my writing. It’s something that I’ve always been interested in doing when it comes to writing. Buy what has been helpful has actually been to collaborate with someone else who may want to work on said project with me. So, in my case, most of my films have been produced or co-produced with Nephertiti Oboshie Schandorf, who has an amazing ability for articulation and writing. And along the years of the development of the films that we’ve worked on, there’s always been such a strong synergy as to how we approach things. So, one of the things I would certainly advise is, whenever working on a project, however big or small, is to work with somebody else on the production.
There are resources available that I would certainly advise people to look out. So, The Film London Artists’ Moving Image Network (FLAMIN) part of Film London have a range of resources and also a newsletter to sign up to which kind of gives information for people working in various aspects of their own career. There’s also that of four corners in Bethnal Green, who offer again a range of different opportunities and training and things like that, as well as the use of equipment, both analogue and digital and so on. I would also recommend Jerwood Arts as they have a range of different funding opportunities open at different points within the year for different types of projects as well.
Sarah Forrest: I don’t have any online resources that I can share, although I am sure there are some out there, but what I have found the most useful is talking to other people about my ideas as they develop and when possible sharing my proposal with someone who can read it through. I’ve found this particularly useful with funding applications where clarity is important because I have a tendency to hide the practical information in an over complicated text. I would also recommend returning the favour! Reading through other artist’s proposals and realising that I can recognise its strengths and weaknesses and can offer advice has been a good way for me to get a bit of critical distance from my own writing. It is also helpful to see the various ways people handle the more practical parts of a proposal, for instance how they format their portfolios or present a text. I often work collaboratively and I’ve found the process of co-writing project proposals or funding applications a really useful learning tool. And finally, if feedback is offered on an unsuccessful proposal then I would always take it.
Adam Lewis Jacob: The best thing, in terms of resources, was that over time I had accumulated an ever growing collection of successful and unsuccessful applications that I had written. Sometimes they had been written alone and at times with a friend. Keeping old applications/proposals has been a helpful reference. Another big realisation for me was that I didn’t need to come up with an entirely new idea or proposal every time, that I could recycle and reuse a lot of the text written in one application for another. At the start I would write with a friend so they could offer an outside perspective. Aside from that, The White Pube Funding Library is an interesting resource. I’d recommend calling up and asking to speak directly to someone that works at the organisation you are applying too. Ask questions, take notes and put that into the application. You could email if you prefer but I find it easier to talk over the phone. I also find it useful to record conversations (with permission, of course) listen back and make notes.
Larry Achiampong: When it comes to writing for a new project, I think about the key words or themes that are important that I want to articulate, the language that I want to speak. And then I continue to expand that into words or sentences that relate to something that begins to build a story. I try not to say to myself, ‘Okay, this is exactly what the story is going to be about’ as that becomes quite restricting. Even when you watch films, that there are always offshoots of other stories that take place, sometimes in certain films, there won’t be as much of a focus on those individuals’ stories.
So, I like that potential of opening up, that kind of Pandora’s box of direction of where something will go to, but then just expanding it piece by piece, rather than being particularly strict as to how that’s supposed to work out. For me, that isn’t fun. And if that’s not fun, then it stops the creative juices going. What is that striving, the feeling of where I want to go, where I want to pursue this thing, this collection of words, this collection of feelings. And I build up from there. Sometimes I think about the kind of filmic references as well. I may draw some of those things together, that might involve re-watching, a film, listening to a piece of music I’ve heard before, reading a piece of writing or even playing a video game. But I tried to start on a very kind of basic level of beginning with just a few key words or themes of things that really, really matter to me. And in many ways, that’s no different from making any other piece of artwork.
Sarah Forrest: It depends on whether the writing is a proposal for new work that doesn’t exist (yet) or if it is contextual information for a gallery or film screening that addresses work that I am in the middle of making.
For a proposal, I write over an extended period of time. My ideas don’t come out fully formed but I have to sit with them for a while, think about it in one way and then another, do more reading around the subject, look at other art works and let the initial idea develop through this process. Usually this involves me over complicating things and then stripping the idea back again, but this is a generative process and informs the final work. If I am proposing a new work, I often reference an earlier artwork of my own in my application because I find that this allows me to demonstrate an approach to practice that can gives an insight into how I work.
If I am writing about a work in progress then I go back to my initial proposal to refresh myself of what it was that I had set out to do and track how the ideas for the work have developed as I have been making it. I write from here – sort of half in and half out, reflecting on both my initial concept or subject and also the creative process. The difficulty with this is that my work can change right up until the last minute and so it is always a matter of finding a balance between offering enough information so that it is useful to a viewer and also leaving it open enough to allow for any changes to the work in the run up to its completion.
Adam Lewis Jacob: Loosely but precisely giving myself a clear idea of what I want to do. I find the initial inception of an idea is usually the most accurate and too much additional explanation pushes you further away from what was initially good about it. So I don’t overwrite and just get the idea down, as it will change anyway, the process will reveal new directions to go in. And most funders expect ideas to change so don’t worry too much about sticking strictly to an idea if you find it changes
For me collaboration is a big part of how I make work as it allows improvisation and unexpected things to happen. So for me it’s also important to think about the budget when applying for funding. If your idea requires working in collaboration, find out what the artist union rates of pay are and make sure you clearly communicate your intentions and how a collaborators labour will be reimbursed. Winnie Herbstein, Stephen Sutcliffe and Rehana Zaman say some really interesting things on how to approach various forms of collaboration in their answers to the LUX Scotland learning resource ‘working with collaborators’.
Larry Achiampong: I hope one of the best bits of advice that I can give to anyone that’s experienced rejection is not to let that situation be the only version of existence where the project comes into fruition. Think and dream parallels. If you’re thinking just for one avenue, the unfortunate truth is that you will likely fail. And that will be it. But if you think about a range of possibilities. If there is a certain amount of money or funding that you’re hoping for, but you don’t get that and you get something smaller, well, surely even getting that smaller thing could be helpful in creating something or a version of the thing that you’re hoping or dreaming on doing.
Try to be flexible with yourself. Try not to place so much pressure on yourself. As a practitioner, I go through rejections very regularly. It’s only been in recent years where I’ve perhaps had more success with some applications, but the rejections still come in. And it’s just really important not to give up on the desire and the dream for that thing to develop, or for it to be birthed into the thing that should and needs to be. Again, just try not to rely on one version or timeline of your project happening because if you try to do that, the likelihood is you will fail. But there’s nothing wrong with failure- it’s part of the process of building and learning about yourself, and your own potential.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that your project is a bad one. And sometimes it actually is just the loss of the funding body. I say that to myself, sometimes ‘Well, that’s their loss, because they fail to see what I believe inside that I’ve present presented to them to be the thing that should be given a chance’. It’s what we do. Sometimes you prove people wrong. So, you have to keep the drive alive of what you’re doing. But you have to also be willing to be flexible. Try not to be stubborn, headed in ways that will cease any aspects of development of what you’re doing. And that’s a really difficult thing. It’s a difficult thing to listen to as well as being a difficult thing to follow. And I don’t think I’m always necessarily right with that. But if I were giving advice, those were the things that I would say.
Sarah Forrest: First and foremost, don’t take it personally. It is generally not a reflection on the quality of your work or the relevance of your practice. Other proposed projects may have simply been more aligned with the organisation’s programme or appealed to the selection panel’s interests. If feedback is offered then take it, it’s usually useful, especially with funding applications where the criteria needs to be met in quite a specific way.
I think it’s good to remember that, whether successful or not, the time spent writing and submitting a proposal is never time wasted. It’s usually where a new artwork begins to take shape for me and so I tend to think about it less as something that precedes practice but as an active part of it. Although it’s hard when a proposal that I’ve spent a lot of time on is rejected, I usually find that the proposal grows stronger through the process of being picked apart and rewritten in response to a different context.
I would also say that even though an application was unsuccessful, it still will have been seen and considered and this can sometimes lead to future opportunities. There have been a couple of residencies that my proposal has been rejected the first time round but then accepted the second and so it’s good, I think, to see it as a longer process.
Adam Lewis Jacob: Apply with the same idea to several funding bodies; you don’t have to come up with a brand new idea every time. Funding helps and is usually essential because of the time it provides and the possibilities that result from working with other people. But ideas are free and value is created outside of money so try not to equate funding with success. Take breaks and try not to let rejection turn to stress or resentment.
Sometimes it is just as important to find a group of people that can support you in ways that are non-monetary, such as labour sharing, providing care and encouragement. Often the money offered is never enough and so these other forms of support become essential. If you can and want to, put on exhibitions, set up spaces, meet other artists.
Work outside of the institutions and realise you can do a lot of these things yourself within your own group of friends. Don’t exclusively rely on the institutional opportunities as they may start to affect how you make work or you might end working for an organisation that uses art to mask its other more damaging activities, for example see the ongoing debate around artists’ engagement with the Zabludowicz Collection. Finding the right opportunities that suit you and your work is important. Saying no to things might not feel productive at the time but actually it could provide you with more agency in the future.
Please note that Larry Achiampong’s answers were transcribed from an audio recording.