Artists Interview

What stops you finding a solution to that creative problem you have?  Is it fear of failure, lack of time, or you maybe you don’t know were to start?  Sometimes revisiting ideas that you began to explore  but never fully resolved , gives you a gentle nudge in the right direction. Even if the incubation period was fifteen years ago as Kay shares in her interview.

Kay Greenlees
Are the ideas /themes for this project ongoing or are they new?
Since finishing my work for Dis/rupt I had been looking forward to revisiting my sketchbooks and notebooks for some ‘old’ ideas that I had not had the time to make. There are several of these.  In particular I was looking forward to a specific idea that had been around for a long time and I started to think about this as we moved into the INSIGHTS project. I suppose that the idea could be considered both ongoing (the underpinning interests can be seen in all my work) and new, (I have never made anything like this before). It also rather depends on your definition of ‘ongoing’ and ‘new’. This work is new in that I have used a lot of stitch which I rarely do.

The idea sprang from a thought and some photography that I recorded in a notebook, which eventually I was able to date to 2005. This was a much longer time span than I realised but the idea was always with me and so I used it anyway. It is what I was going to try next, with or without INSIGHTS. Also, of use were the Oblique Strategies cards produced by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. By chance the card I drew endorsed the thought, although it could easily have challenged the idea or working method. I enjoy using these cards when I am in a playful mood and on this occasion my randomly drawn card read ‘use an old idea’.

Incubating an idea for some fifteen years may seem extreme. The textile work plays with the idea of stolen identity which I felt was still relevant to today. The topic hasn’t quite followed the route I thought it would take so there may be other pieces still to be discovered within the overall idea.

As a visual artist was it a challenge to write about your practice?
Writing is not unusual for me; I write quite a lot in my sketchbooks anyway. This is a private form of writing. It is usually reflective, personal and highly critical of what I have done as well as noting action plans and achievements (or not). In my sketchbooks I am writing for myself, trying to pin down thoughts and ideas but not sharing them. There are over twenty pages of sketchbook writing for the INSIGHTS project.

Nevertheless, writing for INSIGHTS was a challenge. I find all shared writing a challenge, but it is the challenge that makes it a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. I also find it a creative process, an alternative way of working on the same project. But writing for INSIGHTS is a public form of writing and a lot of thought has to go into describing the process of working from the idea(s) stage, through to transition and beginning to bring the work to fruition. It’s difficult to do because writing is temporal and in explaining a process it tends to make it flow in a linear manner, whereas the artistic experience may be much more of a stop/start, re-visit, re-view, start again process. Creativity can be elusive.

Kay Greenlees

Artists Interview

As artists we spend quite a bit of time observing the world around us and responding to these events.  We have to look no further than the current situations we are faced with ; racial injustice, a pandemic and climate change just to mention a few.  What ever your subject, it is an opportunity  to engage with creative solutions to raise awareness, create change and even trigger action.  This week  Shelley talks about her continued  investigation and response to problems encountered  by the world’s coral reefs.


Shelley Rhodes
Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new?
Having previously made work in response to coral bleaching due to rising sea temperatures, I have continued to investigate and respond to problems encountered with by the world’s coral reefs. Having been overwhelmed by the amount of discarded plastic I came across while beach combing, I began to wonder if it affects coral and of course it does.  It contributes to disease and it can become entangled around the delicate coral fingers causing them to break off. I gathered the discarded beach plastic and laid out my new collection. Some of the plastic resembled little sea creatures or vessels to contain tiny pieces of broken coral. As I arranged the fragments, they reminded me of extinct exhibits in a museum. How sad if our coral reefs become extinct and the only way to see coral in the future is displayed in boxes in a museum.

What is your favourite part of the creative process?
I love sampling, testing, trying things out and experimenting. I like to mix different media – asking myself ‘what would happen if…?’  In fact, once I have figured it all out and know where I am going, I quite often lose interest in completing the finished piece. This is why increasingly I work in small units – almost little test pieces, which I build together to create a new piece of work.

Generally, my work tends to be two dimensional but this new body of work involves little three-dimensional assemblages, so I am very much learning as I go along.  I have been using porcelain, paper clay, slip, plaster, paint, wax, varnish and wire. As I discover some things that work and some that don’t, I am reminded of a favourite quote of mine,

‘Creativity is about play and a kind of willingness to go with your intuition. It’s crucial to an artist. If you know where you are going and what you are going to do, why do it?’  Frank Gehry

Shelley Rhodes

Artists Interview

In this weeks artist interview we share  Jan Millers thought provoking response to the questions.   

Jan Miller
Are the ideas  for this project ongoing or are they new ?
Making new work for a group project and exhibition with an agreed title or given brief  is not the same as following my own interests and ways of thinking and working. I make notes  (selecting  a suitable sketchbook is the first challenge, as if that matters to the outcome, yet somehow it does) to record lines of development … words, layouts, sequences, quotes … gathering information … a game of consequences.

In the case of Insights, TSG started the thought processes with a suggestion to look back at our individual previous work. This was invaluable to prompt a personal dialogue for me and start to recognise my own practice . There are many recurring themes and passions in my process. Do we always make the same piece of work? I don’t think so … but there is an identity unique to each individual maker, which may be more important to them than to the observer

What is your favourite part of the creative process ?
I really enjoy the sampling process: working new textile sketches with freedom without worrying about an end-product or to satisfy a brief. Spontaneity is important to me.

I have always enjoyed handling materials: I enjoy the touch, the feel, even the smell … I remember the fabric shop in Altrincham, its location in George Street opposite Woolworths, the few steps down and then the formaldehyde, burning our eyes, tickling our throats … I am not sure what part that played in the manufacture nor if it is even allowed today. For me cloth still reaches all the senses, but I do know the feel/handle gets better over time and use.

We each have our own ‘handwriting’ even in cloth and thread … though it may take someone else to recognise that individuality    read it and identify it. I enjoy the memory and story–telling held in each piece,  a hidden history that is personal and individual to each maker.

On my studio wall there are a few postcards that have retained their position … others come and go … I think these will always be markers of the most beautiful and influential images of textile process (wrapping, physicality of process, perfect folding) for me:

Bellini,  Presentazione di Gesu al tempio

Pablo Picasso, Woman Ironing

Robert Campin, A Woman

And that is not to ignore paintings of the Last Supper and the attention to the crisp folds of the  tablecloth.

If you have time, I would love to see your cards!

Jan in her studio

Artists Interview

As we adapt to the new normal, most of us have seen many changes to our lives and how we navigate creating may also have been impacted.  Artistic inspiration may  have eluded you  or maybe this period of time has given you more energy to devote to your practice. Our artist this week Julia faced many additional challenges and she discusses just how inventive she had to become. Sometimes we are forced into new ways of working and just have to embrace these moments.

Julia Triston
During this project have you looked at a new way of working ?
Working towards the Insights project has been quite an extraordinary experience for me. Like many fellow Textile Study Group members, I began this project in 2018, following our successful DIS/rupt exhibition tour.

I embarked upon this project with much enthusiasm, but in 2019 my work for Insights came to a complete halt as I packed up my home and studio in the north east of England and permanently moved to Denmark.

Temporarily homeless for a few months, with all my belongings in storage – and without my usual resources, materials and sewing machine to hand – this was an unsettling and challenging time. Whilst finding my way in a new country, navigating my way around a different language and looking for a permanent place to live and work, I had to find an innovative way to develop and continue my textile artworks for Insights.

Just before the Covid-19 pandemic compounded the situation, I borrowed a sewing machine from a new friend. I discovered charity shops where I could buy raw materials. I chanced upon a shop selling machine embroidery threads. And I found a city café that had a stock of free art magazines. At a temporary desk at a friend’s house, I was able to recommence my research, collaging, sampling and stitching and continue developing my pieces for Insights.

So, yes – having been pushed outside my comfort zone – I have certainly had to look at new ways of working for this project!

Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new ?
Each body of work I create does lead on from my last one, and there are connections and themes that run through all of my textile pieces. Underlying all my work is my interest in the memories of cloth; from discarded household linen to previously worn underwear, my raw materials are all second hand.

I am interested in creating conceptual textiles about identity and human rights issues which convey a political message through their narrative. Some of my works are explicit and shocking, which is the point. They are not designed to make comfortable viewing – they are statements designed to raise awareness. Although my themes continue, they are developing and becoming bolder and more thought provoking.

My current work investigates issues such as sexism, abuse and consent, and highlights campaigns supported by Amnesty International such as #LetsTalkAboutYes.

I start each new project with a sketchbook beginning by jotting down my thoughts and ideas about the exhibition title, then add primary visual research such as photographs, postcards, quotations and newspaper cuttings. Using this collected imagery I develop my themes through sketches, swatches, stitch samples and collage. Whatever I am making I have to be totally absorbed and immersed in the process; I need to believe in what I am doing and feel inspired and passionate about the statement and integrity my work will convey.

Julia Triston