Artists Interview – Shelley Rhodes

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 – Jan Miller

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 – Julia Triston

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

Artists Interview – Jan Evans

During the past few  months home has become a central focus for a lot of  us, it has become a place of safety in uncertain times.  For some, it has allowed us to stop and see things that once we overlooked or ignored.  In this weeks interview  Jan talks about the landscape that surrounds her home.

Jan Evans
Are the themes/ideas for this project ongoing or are they new?
My local landscape has been an ongoing inspiration for many years, the woods, hills and fields that surround my home, and the wildlife within it, have become even more important to me over the last weeks and months of Lockdown. Nature on my doorstep was blossoming, blooming and proliferating while we were held back by anxiety and worry of what could or might happen, and the news bulletins which you didn’t want to hear but had to watch with unfolding horrors.

Home has been a safe place and a sanctuary just as it was for the glassmakers from Alsace Lorraine who fled from persecution in the 16th. century to this country and eventually to this small, quiet corner of Gloucestershire. My landscape was their landscape for the 50 or so years during which they set up a glassworks here. I wonder whether they loved this area as I do or were they so busy trying to settle in a foreign land, earn a living, feed their families, learn a foreign tongue just as the many who come to our shores today fleeing persecution and the troubles of the world.

Walking across the field where they once lived small glass fragments can be found. Also larger shards of pottery lie exposed by the plough, each autumn, tactile evidence of the work produced by the potters who came later to our area. Indications of slip trailed designs can be seen on these glazed pieces and by holding them, drawing and looking closely I have felt a connection to the fabric of their lives. So, how to combine my feelings for landscape, local history, the past and the present in a series of works has really evolved over the last 18 months.

What is your favourite part of the creative process ?
I enjoy all aspects of my work although it’s not always plain sailing.                 Starting with research on the glassmakers and potters, which has been fascinating, alongside taking photographs, drawing and note making, ideas started to develop in my sketchbook which gave me time to explore varied aspects of their story. There was also time to allow thoughts to simmer and generate. Collage and layers of design, revealing or obscuring, combining different elements, testing out ideas in paper, fabric and thread were all part of the journey but not always successful. Finding the right technique, materials and methods to develop the theme but also to be true to my own feelings for the work were paramount.

I became aware of the contrasting qualities between the fragility of glass and in Nature the delicacy of grasses and blossoms compared to the robustness of pottery and the natural elements of which it is made, clay, potash, silica and limestone. It became important for me to create my own vessels or containers, simple forms which are of today but reflecting  influences of the past. How could I achieve this?

Ultimately as my work in Insights will show, experiments with organdie, papers and wires led  me in one direction while heavy blotting paper gessoed, printed, painted and waxed took me in another.  Where these two paths will lead and what lies ahead ,who knows, but I intend to continue exploring,  experimenting and making. I am sure I am not alone  when I say  I feel I am always striving to achieve an elusive goal forever just out of reach. I suppose that is why we all keep creating and making.

Jan in her studio