This essay explores the interplay of Julia Kristeva's concepts of semiotic and symbolic in the Orcadian film-poet Margaret Tait's direct animation film Painted Eightsome, in which the music of a Scottish reel is combined with animated artwork painted frame-by-frame onto clear 35mm film. As a creative artist, Tait used a range of forms. She wrote prose and poetry, and made short films, usually shooting on 16mm with her clockwork Bolex camera. In her cinematic work she explored an array of highly experimental techniques, including painting and scratching on the film surface, from the beginning of her filmmaking career in Italy in the early 1950s. Tait regarded her short films, of which she made over 30 across almost half a century, as 'film poems'. Notable for her experimentation, improvisation, and innovation, she pursued a uniquely individual and independent engagement with filmmaking in relation to concerns and interests arising from her concern with the everyday. In her hand-painted works she engaged directly with the materiality of film and the creative potential of its physical properties. Painted Eightsome, made over a period of 14 to 15 years and completed in 1970, combines music and painting within the artform of poetic film. The running time of the film, just over six minutes, is determined by the length of the accompanying music. The frames of the 35mm filmstrip are delineated with hand-drawn lines and have been painted with aniline dyes in a range of colours. I consider the traces of the maternal inscribed in the materiality of Tait's 'painted surface' and her animated imagery, in order to examine the ways in which the artist’s creative processes, including the physical engagement between her body and the filmmaking materials, effect and inflect the articulation of semiotic and symbolic in her hand-painted audiovisual artwork.

Publication Date


Publication Title

Frames Cinema Journal





Organisational Unit

School of Art, Design and Architecture


animation, direct animation, film, Margaret Tait, painting on film