October 4, 2013

Spotlight: Ruby Elliot

Ruby Elliot takes art as a coping mechanism to a whole new level.

I first came across Ruby Elliot's illustrations through an interview she gave on a blog earlier this year. I remember being instantly captivated by her addictive, relatable drawings, the way you are when you find an artist that manages to express something that's always lived inside you, unseen. When I made my way to her Tumblr and shop, where she sells everything from canvas prints to phone cases under her online name, rubtetc., I couldn't get over how perfectly self-contained and memorable every one of her designs were--as if they were all destined to be on a poster.

Her work deals with dark, complex subject matter, such as mental illness and body dismorphia, in such an open, honest way that it never becomes unsettling to look into the shadows of such subjects. Instead, it often makes you smile with recognition at the workings of the teenage mind. Through sparse, autobiographical sketches, usually in pencil or watercolor, sometimes containing no more than a girl and the thoughts that plague her, she has the ability to portray a completely tangible internal landscape; ways of thinking that are rarely expressed. I spent some time chatting with the 19-year-old Londoner about her influences, the pain behind her art and what it's like to see her thoughts on a t-shirt.

THE LE SIGH: Your work is sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious, sometimes both. Where do you get ou ideas, and what inspires you?

Ruby Elliot: Thank you! I always feel very boring answering the "where are your ideas from?" question in this way, but the truth is that I just seem to sit around and sprout them form whatever is going on in my head. The nature of what I draw means it's easy for me to incorporate thoughts and feelings into the art; in fact, they're normally the basis for cartoons or drawings with writing. It's become pretty habitual to flood pieces of paper with drawings when I feel flooded or overwrought emotionally, so I'm not sure if that's really inspiration so much as coping.

TLS: When people see your work for the first time they often say something like "I've always thought that!"--Do you try to make it relatable, or is it pure catharsis?

RE: It's still something I have to get used to! I never realized people would be able to relate so strongly to so much of it, and for a while I thought that must be a terrible thing as my head can feel like a pretty awful place to be. But more than anything else, getting that response has shown me that negative thoughts, insecurities and fears are a big part of the human experience for everyone; the difference is in how well we can manage them as individuals. So, I wouldn't say I make it deliberately relatable. I don't think I could do the drawing justice without having really felt what I'm articulating in a few lines. And I know from experience I'd really struggle to make it funny!

TLS: Your shop has been such a success, yet your work seems incredibly personal--what made you decide to sell it, and do you ever find it difficult to share such thoughts with the world?

RE: Oh, wow, well, that's very kind of you. A few months ago I began to get interest through my blog with regards to selling work, and I had other artists who use Tumblr suggest a site to me that was easy to use and sell products like t-shirts and phone cases from. I'm not really looking to become a commercial artist right now, and the biggest reward I get is definitely a self-developmental one. But it's great to be able to sell something I've created and see people enjoy it.

I do sometimes struggle with exposing certain aspects of myself or my illness through art, particularly as my audience has grown. Most of the time I don't worry about it at all, and even if it appears very raw and personal, the funny drawings feel like a scaled back version of how strong this tuff really is from my point of view. But certain parts of my life or past--namely eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and self-harm--I tend to talk about a lot more tentatively and certainly less explicitly. I think these are things that should be spoken about and allowed to be explored creatively, but I feel obliged to do so with a lot of care and consideration as they are such sensitive areas for others as well as myself.

TLS: Your work reminds me of no one else--who are your favorite artists and who do you feel your work is influenced by, if anyone?

RE: I've always loved illustration and comic/graphic art and some of my favorite artists are Quentin Blake, Mariane Satrapi, Grayson Perry and Yayoi Kusama--to name a few! Growing up, I read a lot of Tintin, Peanuts, the Beano and the Simpsons, as well as cartoons by Andy Riley and Gary Larson as I got older. I think my sense of humor has been influenced by all those wonderful people in lots of ways. There are also so many amazing artists on Tumblr--more than I could sensibly name--that I'm  a huge fan of and enjoy being inspired and entertained by regular art, comic strips and sketches they post.

TLS: Have you always loved to draw?

RE: I draw all the time as a kid--a lot of sheep and cats riding skateboards. I lost touch with art a bit at secondary school because I didn't feel inspired or excited abut the projects we did, and was always so worried about not fulfilling the course requirements that I ended up really resenting it and was never able to enjoy it on my own. It's only been about a year and a half since I began to draw again for its own sake because I was no longer at school. I've always been a pervasive doodler though--napkins in restaurants, photos in the newspaper, coffee cups--anything with a surface flat enough to draw on will be drawn on.

TLS: Why did you choose the name "rubyetc"?

RE: It was actually just a result of me messing around, trying to find an online URL that wasn't already in use. I wasn't always set on using it as my arty name or anything, but after a while it just sort of stuck.

TLS: The illustrations I love most are usually black and white sketches of a girl alongside text that describes her thought process--how do you go about creating something so stylistically simple, yet impactful enough to put on a t-shirt?

RE: The little girl I draw (who's probably a drawing of me, really) has taken a while to look the way she looks. Previously, I would spend longer drawing her and fussing over details and I think I just found it added more expression to the drawing when I was caring elss about detail and just making marks without adjusting bits I saw as disproportionate or "wrong." Iwill often exaggerate shapes or poses so they do have a bigger impact.

TLS: You get asked some pretty ridiculous and invasive questions on your Tumblr page, but you've turned that into a feature by giving witty, entertaining answers. I've spent ages just reading your conversations with your followers. Do you find it a chore to deal with the attention? Does it ever exasperate you?

RE: It's a pretty mixed bag. Overall, it's brilliant being able to communicate and connect with total strangers via my art. I'm always grateful when people share their thoughts with me about drawings they can relate to or they feel have helped them feel a tiny bit better during rough times. I'm still surprised by how few and far between the critics and nit-pickers would appear to be! But when I do get a spate of negative or difficult comments it can become very disheartening and stressful. I learned pretty quickly online--it really does pay to keep your cool so when it does begin to do my head in, I just make sure to switch the laptop off and do something a bit more real for a while.

TLS: Confidence never seems to grow in proportion to success, and you talk openly about your own self-doubt in your work. Has your faith in your talent grown with all the positive feedback you get, or are they completely unrelated to you?

RE: You're definitely right about that, yes. It's always been the case with me that very little is able to break through this teeming great wall of self-doubt and loathing. I struggle to acknowledge anything I do as an achievement, and if I do it often gets displaced with unhelpful comparisons to the achievements of others or just a perfectionistic, "this will never be good enough" attitude. But art is one of the only areas of my existence where I can now place a bit of self-worth, and see the value in what I'm able to create for myself and sometimes others. The love and support I've received from my family, friends and People of The Internet is an amazing thing. It inspires me to keep creating; keep looking for ways to live with myself; to keep riding the storm.

Find more of Ruby's work here.  

Holly Cassell, who is an artist and blogger who loves to travel, and has a long-standing love affair with hotels. Her floor is always covered in glitter. She writes about here world here.