In the 4th of our Creative Personalities series we meet London based illustrator Ruby Wright and get an insight into her inspirations and creative process.
It's a chilly day in early November as we crunch through fallen autumn leaves to meet Ruby and explore her studio space in South London. We head to the Pleasure Gardens next door to take some pictures first before exploring her studio.
The studio is compact but bursting with colour. Surfaces are covered in glasses, jam jars and tins of colourful pencils and other drawing materials and trailing plants. Our eyes are drawn to the shelves filled with retro toys and figurines sitting alongside the books and the walls adorned with illustrations, packaging, postcards and sketches.
We sit down with Ruby as she finishes her daily drawing practice, the sharpenings from her pencils topping up an oversized jar on the desk in front of her, and catch up.
How would you describe your illustration style?
That’s a tricky one! I use screen print to make my illustrations so they have bold, bright, flat colour. My observational drawings are usually just coloured pencil, sometimes with an ink wash.
You use quite a distinctive colour palette, what influences the colours you choose for an illustration?
I’m basically drawn to three colours: blue, pink and yellow. With screen printing you can layer translucent colours and I like the element of surprise you get with that. But I recently went on a brilliant colour workshop with Juliet Docherty which has made me start to want to use colours I was afraid of, like browns, and to create colour palettes based on real life. I also love Orange Beak Studio who offer 1 to 1 tutorials and also run some great workshops and events.
Your illustrations often document everyday life - what inspires you?
You’re right, I’m really interested in everyday life. And also where everyday life and a child’s imagination meet. That’s the golden point for me. “Mum, I’ve got invisible dogs, can I feed them some cornflakes?”
When I’m drawing from life I gravitate towards slightly crappy spaces. I love bins and drain pipes and washing lines. I was brought up in Dorset and spend a lot of time there and I need to be in the green, but I can’t draw it. I’d rather be sitting on a pavement in Peckham drawing some dead chickens hanging in a butcher's shop.
What does an average day look like for you?
My husband and I take it in turns to do school drop offs, so if he takes the kids to school I cycle to my studio, try not to spend too much time looking at Instagram and get screen printing.
At the moment I’m working on a book so it’s a collaborative process between me, the editor and designer so I’m either drawing, screen printing or making changes to text and artwork. Usually I get into my stride just after lunch and then I have two hours before I have to go and pick up the kids. I’ve got better at fitting work into small pockets of time.
If we go to the playground after school I sketch people. I don’t have a workspace at home but often ideas come to me when I’m away from the studio; cycling is particularly good for working out a story.
What are the best and worst things about having a creative job?
The best thing is creative fulfilment. I think all humans need to express themselves creatively, whether that’s as an artist or through cooking or gardening or mending things or through curating the clothes they wear. I’m lucky that I can spend all my work time making stuff. And working on this book is a total dream, I’m collaborating with the most amazing team and yet it’s my name that goes on the front of the book. It’s a huge confidence booster. But the downside is that occasionally people think what you’re doing is just for fun, that it’s a hobby. And of course not many artists are rolling in cash.
What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired?
Go out and draw. Somewhere new. Preferably with a friend.
You had a residency at UCL’s Plastic Waste Innovation Hub and produced an illustrated children’s book ‘One pop bottle’ explaining how plastic is made and recycled, what do you do to try to live more sustainably and how can we all introduce more sustainable ways of living?
My mum is hugely environmentally aware and brought me up to throw away nothing, even if it is totally useless. I reacted against that a bit in my teens but as I get older I've inevitably become more like her.
I gave up flying in 2008 and it’s really important to me that my kids are environmentally responsible too. Though that means our holidays are dictated by what’s gettable to by train and it’s hard to visit my brother who lives in Bosnia, though it’s doable.
We do lots of smug middle class things like grow veg on the roof of our block of flats and compost all our food waste. As a child I was vegetarian but started eating meat again in my late twenties, I need to own up to that. Though we only eat meat on weekends.
My husband is massively into repair, so things don’t get chucked away when they break. I’ve stopped shopping on Amazon, most of the kids’ toys come from charity shops and I make some of our clothes.
I think a lot of the environmental stuff that I do is partly to make myself feel better, there’s nothing like having a bit of agency to make the environmental catastrophe we’re hurtling towards seem less depressing. We need governments to be much tougher of course. And education is essential, but I think people really do want to do the right thing, and it doesn’t take much to make small changes. We’ve benefitted in the west from our heavy carbon footprint and the exploitation of the world’s resources and now it’s our turn to lead by example and make real sacrifices.
What are your favourite things to do in South London where you live?
In Vauxhall where my studio is, I love the pleasure gardens and the City Farm, and Madeira, the Portuguese cafe one minute from the studio is great for custard tarts. Lassco, the architectural reclamation place, is great, it’s a Georgian townhouse right on the gyratory and has a nice cafe.
I love the Walworth Rd and East St Market, and the Walworth Garden is one of my favourite places. It's a charity run nursery with amazing echiums, and it’s open even on Christmas Day.
I used to love the Elephant and Castle shopping centre but it’s been demolished, it was hideous and crumbling but a generous bit of public architecture, people used to just hang out there in the weird leather massaging chairs and it was brilliant for drawing in.
I resent the blandification of London, my neighbourhood has a rich history which is being systematically bulldozed and replaced with high rise towers that are marketed in Singapore, bought and left empty. This area is being rebranded to make it seem arty again and local people can’t afford to live there and are leaving the borough. It’s heartbreaking. But south London is still brilliant.