I get an idea, a notion or feeling that on the one hand is extraordinarily vague but it has got a very strong core. Then I look through a lot of different photographs in the books that I’ve got in the studio and flesh that out, little bits from different images. It can be tiny portions from a huge array of different photographs. Then I pin down the thing that was in my mind and spend a long time drawing it out… They are not tonal drawings they are all lines, I work out the lines exactly where I want them, I must admit that I am pretty obsessive about that as well and I go through minute changes. So I’ve got the skeleton and that gives me a freedom to use the paint.
Carol Rhodes in conversation with Pat Fisher, May 1998.
For Carol Rhodes drawings were cartoons for painting – entirely functional tools. Not originally intended for exhibition – although Rhodes gradually came to change her view on this and allowed select examples to be shown after 2006 – they provide fascinating insights into her working processes and the thinking behind her paintings. They reveal an artist who worked both intuitively and very practically. The paper is usually thin and smooth, Rhodes was not interested in having surface texture or variety of marks. She liked the drawing to be plain, “so I can see what I’ve got”, and worked with just pencil and an eraser. When she had what she wanted Rhodes traced the drawing onto the board before she started to paint. When this process was underway the painting sometimes diverged from the drawing in composition and in details, and she would go back to the drawing to work out the changes. The coloured pencil lines that appear in many of the drawings are there for pragmatic reasons, so that Rhodes could see where she had already traced through. She would use a new colour each time she went back and made changes, but these colours were never random and she was just as particular about which ones she chose as she was about any other element of her work.
Rhodes kept her drawings in a plans chest in her studio and they have recently been catalogued. Images of a selection of them were reproduced for the first time in the monograph on her work published by Skira Editore in 2018. The first exhibition to focus detailed attention onto Rhodes’s drawings was scheduled to form part of the Director’s Programme of the 2020 Glasgow International. Postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is hoped that this exhibition can be staged at a later date.