Sketching The Mess Of Humanity With Ruby Wright
We’ve always been fans of observational drawing — for one thing, it offers a fresh look at the humdrum moments and makes us appreciate the beauty of everyday life. So you can probably imagine our excitement when we came across the charming work of Ruby Wright. The London-based illustrator has filled her sketchbooks with warmth and a touch of humour, drawing our attention to the colourful and yet easily overlooked people around us. Interestingly enough, Ruby once tried to avoid doing observational drawing by taking sculpture at art school. If you’re curious about who’d changed Ruby’s mind (Hint: It’s her friend and former tutor), her inspo wall covered with fun packaging and postcards, as well as her debut picture book featuring a packet of adorable animal crackers coming to life, read on to discover yourself!
AWW: What do you want to explore and bring to people through your work?
Ruby Wright: I live in the middle of a city and have two children, and as I draw from life every day my work is mostly concerned with the domestic and the urban. Those are the landscapes that excite me most as an artist. But the magic comes when I can explore the imaginary worlds of children within that urban setting. That's where my picture book ideas have come from so far. Also, I'm attracted to the mess of humanity, the silly and mundane when I'm out and about sketching. It’s important to have a sense of humour about the modern world.
AWW: How did you find your passion for illustration and develop your current style?
Ruby: I've always adored picture books but never thought I could be an illustrator as I didn't find drawing easy. I studied sculpture at art school so that I didn't have to do too much observational drawing. After I had my children, I decided to really pursue illustration and did several courses which taught me loads about storytelling and character development. However, it was when I started having tutorials with Ness Wood from Orange Beak Studio that I began to find my feet visually. Ness encouraged me to draw from life every day and to play with materials and mark making. It was this daily practice that helped me discover what I was and wasn't interested in drawing. I didn't consciously try to develop a style, but by producing a lot of work, some of which was really terrible, I began to feel my way towards what I do now.
AWW: Can you walk us through your creative process?
Ruby: My illustrations are informed by drawing from life wherever possible, whether I consciously go out to draw the thing I need to illustrate, or use sketches that I've gathered already. I always have with me an A4 sketchbook and a wrap of Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils. My other staple materials for sketching are a child's paint stick (which is like drawing with lipstick) and Caran d'Ache Luminance pencils. I've also recently been enjoying a Trusty 2B pencil. When it's time to turn those drawings into illustrations for my books, I'll sketch out the whole spread in pencil and then use a lightbox to create colour separations. I screen print or paint each individual colour in black ink on cartridge paper, scan it and colour it digitally, building up many, many layers. It's a laborious process but I love the hand-drawnness and don't think I can replicate that on-screen.
AWW: How do you stay motivated?
Ruby: Working on picture books is so exciting. It’s a total dream come true so I feel very motivated in general, but it's also such a slow business that sometimes I can feel like I'll never get to the end. It is particularly hard to get back into work after the school holidays, and often I'm just getting into my stride when it's time to go and pick up the kids from school. But deadlines help, and I like to work quite fast. I try to get out and draw one day a week as doing loads of screen-based stuff is very draining. I think I might make that a rule for myself actually.
Besides, having a network of illustrator friends is essential to bounce ideas around, seek advice from and go out sketching with. I was also in a writing group for a while — we had to present written work every couple of months so that was an incentive to generate ideas.
AWW: Can you show us your studio or work desk? What are the 3 things that have inspired you most recently?
Ruby: I wanted to make my compositions more interesting and utilise the foreground so I've been drawing from films and TV because directors are adept at this. I've found Pedro Almodóvar, David Lynch, Peter Greenaway, Dennis Potter, Wes Anderson, French New Wave films and kitchen sink dramas particularly inspiring.
I’ve always loved packaging (the Museum of Brands in west London is amazing!), and for my first book I had to draw a lot of food packets. I asked my editor if I could draw existing packaging and she suggested that I invent my own which was such a joy to do. So I went out and bought exciting-looking bags of crisps and biscuits and cereal boxes from the Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Turkish and Japanese shops that are local to my studio in south London. They are what really informed my book.
The inspiration for my stories has so far come from my children. I draw them a lot and if they’re playing I write down snippets of their conversations. They had this wonderful game where they turned the sofa into a spaceship and had a long discussion about what they needed to pack for going into space: “We’ll need an escape button and our lunch boxes…”, “Here’s my space suit — oh good, it’s already un-inside-outed”. I love including bits of real conversation in my stories.
AWW: What is one recent project you are most excited about?
Ruby: On 4th May, my debut picture book Animal Crackers will be published by Rocket Bird Books. It's a story about a girl who wants a pet but her mum says no (this is based VERY much on my own experience with my daughter). Then one night something magical happens in the kitchen...
The book is a dream come true for me. It's been such a wonderful project to work on because I've had the most fabulous editor, Libby Hamilton, who took my germ of an idea and helped me shape it into a cracking story; and because the art director is Ness Wood, who is not only completely brilliant but also my mentor, friend and former tutor. I never thought the process of making a book could be so enjoyable.
To find out more about Ruby Wright, please visit the artist’s IG account | @rubywrightlino
All images provided by Ruby Wright.