Shelley Rhodes – Sketchbook Explorations

Summer has come and gone and what a summer it has been – well I hope for most people. However, Autumn is very definitely on its way; the trees are changing colour, it’s been quite windy and of course the temperatures have dropped. Last weekend the group met for their twice yearly get-together and thoughts of balmy summer days were just a memory. Over the summer three of our members, Ruth Issett, Dorothy Tucker and Alice Fox, taught at our Summer School but more of that in another post. We wanted to focus on other news this time.

One of our members has had a hectic and exciting summer. With the launch of her new book, Sketchbook Explorations, the last few weeks have been very busy for Textile Study Group member Shelley Rhodes. Well known as a group member and teacher, Shelley  found time to answer some questions when we caught up recently. I started by asking what it felt like to see the finished book for for the first time after all the work producing it.

It is amazing to finally see it in print. It seems like a long wait from handing everything in, to finally holding a copy of the finished book. I have been working in sketchbooks for many years without the intention of them ever being seen, so it is quite strange but thrilling to see them reproduced. I think Batsford have done a great job with the printing. We worked hard together on the layout of each page, as I wanted a really crisp, fresh look to the book. However, I also wanted to show multiple images from a sketchbook, rather than a single open sketchbook page. I think we achieved this and I am really pleased with the overall look and feel of the book.


What has the process of writing a book been like?

Like everything that is new it has been quite hard and there is always a steep learning curve. The initial writing came quite easily, but just getting everything in some kind of order took a lot of time. Working in sketchbooks is not a linear process. There is a lot of overlap, so I had to keep checking that I wasn’t repeating things. The final edits, reading through, moving chunks of text and rearranging the order took a long time. Similarly, finding the right images to illustrate each point was challenging.

How did you approach the process?

Getting started is often the most difficult thing. I tried to maintain a rhythm of working on it regularly in small chunks. Some days I didn’t feel ‘in the mood’ but I just had to make myself do it on those days by telling myself I’d just work on it for an hour. Then I would often find that once I got started words would begin to flow.

Did you have a clear concept of how you would go about the work?

I had a clear idea of how I wanted the book to look and I knew that I wanted to show the work of other artists and their approaches. I didn’t want a ‘gallery’ of their work in the book but I wanted to integrate their thoughts, words and images throughout the book. So I started a ‘conversation’ with each of the artists. Then there were a lot of emails, back and forth as well as face to face conversations with some of them.

What were the main ideas that you were trying to get over to the readers?

I really wanted to share my passion for sketchbooks and encourage others to use them regularly. I want to show how sketchbooks can be used in different ways and for different purposes. There is no right or wrong way of using them. They can really help with ongoing projects, development of work, exploring and experimenting, research as well as recording your travels or as a daily visual diary where you record anything and everything with no particular theme.

How important do you think it is to have and maintain a habit of regular, if not daily, drawing?

The more you do anything, the better you get at it. Confidence grows through practice and I find my drawings become stronger and more positive by working on them every day. I find setting a daily goal really pushes me to focus and complete a daily creative act.

[see my daily post on]


A lot of people are nervous about ‘drawing’, how do you advise people to start creating that habit of visual note-taking?

I would suggest starting by collecting or using collage. Arrange ephemera, tickets and found objects in your book along with notes and words. Or you could try creating small colour swatches based on your observations. The important thing is to start looking and recording.

What are your favourite materials when you make your personal visual notes?

I use a fine line pen, mechanical pencil, dip pens with ink, washes of watercolour paint and often chalks. I like to use layers of different media on my sketches, drawings and mark-making. Often, I will work on top of a collaged or prepared surface, rather than a clean sketchbook page.

What is next – what plans do you have for the next few months?

I am having an Open Studio Weekend at my studio near Burton in Kendal on 29th and 30th September from 10 til 4 each day [further details on my website and Facebook page]. I plan to show lots of sketchbooks, work and drawings that feature in the book and I will be selling copies of it. I have a full schedule for teaching for the rest of this year and for 2019, teaching in my studio, throughout the UK and abroad. Also I am continuing to develop my own work for exhibiting.

Finally, Shelley what is the book’s title and where can your book be bought?

The book is called Sketchbook Explorations – for mixed media and textile artists. It is available to buy on line at various online retailers. Also, Waterstones and other high street bookshops sell it. I have copies to sell at my Open Studio and when I teach workshops and give talks.

Sketchbook Explorations by Shelley Rhodes is published by Batsford. Photographs by Michael Wicks and Shelley Rhodes.


Thank you Shelley, I know it will be very popular and will be of enormous help to many people who are maybe a little tentative about the designing process and using a sketchbook.

One thought on “Shelley Rhodes – Sketchbook Explorations

  1. I recently received a copy of this book and found it a fantastic inspiration as a student graduating this year. Really great to read the interview and find you guys on WordPress. Thank you!


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