The illustrations of Ruby Etc caught our attention as they surfaced on The New Yorker in a rolling comic strip titled Reasons Your Creative Type Has Broken Up With You, which embarrassingly, several members of the It’s Nice That team could heavily relate to.
Ruby’s illustrations instantly make you laugh, with their paired back style and matter of fact narrative, there is something in them for everyone. Each illustration, however humorous, pinpoints areas of modern day culture that make you laugh at yourself but also highlight mental wellbeing poignantly.
Below, we get to know the London-based illustrator a little better, on how she found her brilliant style and impressive following at this exciting point in her career.
What’s your illustration background?
A little unconventional; I grew up in a house full of pens and paper so there was always a lot of art going on, which I loved. As a kid I would draw cartoon strips for my family (which were often about them) with a style largely plagiarised from The Beano and The Simpsons! However, I really hated art at secondary school. I spent most of the time shredding pages out of my sketchbooks where they’d gone wrong and I never completed my exams.
I left school when I was seventeen due to difficulties I’d been having with my mental health since my early teens. I was isolated and struggling to communicate verbally, even with family. I started illustrating a blog I was keeping at the time and started drawing on a daily basis. At first it was purely a therapeutic thing. When I couldn’t find words I drew and it was an important coping mechanism for me. Unlike school, there were no assessment objectives to adhere to or projects to be judged on, so I went back to doing what I’d always liked doing – drawing things that would make me laugh. I think when you are hit with the full force of illness or trauma it can quickly suck every bit of joy from your life and the lives of those around you. There’s a great sense that you have no control. Being able to find humour and in situations where life doesn’t want there to be any and then turn it into a drawing was my way of getting some of that control back.
Since then I’ve continued to make cartoons and illustrations, many of which but not all are autobiographical. I’ve been officially freelancing for about two years.
What do you enjoy about the illustrational practice?
It’s ever-evolving. I am still so new to many aspects of the professional side of things. I struggle a lot with imposter syndrome, so even believing I’m qualified to talk about this stuff is a whole to-do! One thing I take pleasure in is occasionally getting all my sketchbooks out (I fill 1-3 each month) from the past couple of years, say. They form one long living document, and it’s pretty weird that the contents of the sketchbooks can retain more specific memories and details of emotional experiences than my brain is able to. I love looking at other people’s sketchbooks for the same reason; they are such precious spaces when you aren’t precious about the way you use them.
What’s your process? How do you come up with the subject for a drawing?
My process is very simple and uninteresting! Something comes into my head and I draw it. An idea can go through a few iterations before I get the final drawing I want, particularly if it’s a commissioned piece, but I don’t draft things in pencil as it tends to become static should I try and ink over it. If it’s not looking right I just start again. My style lends itself to working very quickly (or maybe my need to work very quickly lends itself to my style). My brain seems to work on an immediate think it/feel it/get it down on paper basis much of the time. Drawing is almost a reflex to experiences or thoughts I’m having. I like to record the minutiae of my day because it keeps my head whirring ideas wise. I’m also terrible for people watching, but people are hilarious and being a social David Attenborough is unfortunately one of the best ways to source comedy.
Do you have regular characters that you keep going back to within your illustrations?
My most regular character is myself, although I change the way I look quite a bit. Sometimes I have makeup. Sometimes I am a slug. Sometimes I have few discernible features other than a belly button. I’ve also created short series with recurring characters such as a Father & Son birds and An Articulate Dog. I recently drew about 10 cartoons all featuring one banana that doesn’t talk, but is definitely sentient.
Lots of people ask you to draw them something on Tumblr, how did this begin?
It’s been happening since I started blogging, but when I answer one in a silly way that’s when I get a load of requests. People really like free art. It is fun from time to time, I have a huge back catalogue of silly animals ready to use.
What comes first, the phrases or the drawings?
Combining words and pictures is probably where I feel most at home, but there’s no single formula I follow. Sometimes it’ll be words that spark a drawing and other times I’ll draw then fit words in afterwards. If I’m feeling really wild I’ll think up both at the same time.
You’ve been praised previously for discussing mental health within your illustrations. How do you think illustration as a medium can help lessen the taboo around mental health?
The experience of mental or chronic illness is always complex and often not very tangible. Using an image or illustration to communicate distress that might otherwise be hard to verbalise or pin down is therefore a powerful tool, both in a personal sense for the artist, and on a larger scale to help others understand more about conditions. I don’t see it as my role to directly reduce stigma around mental health, but I am very open and unapologetic about my experiences when I’m drawing and I believe this attitude is something that is becoming increasingly accepted and popular, particularly among webcomic artists. I think humorous illustration in particular has a beneficial role to play: subverting the idea that taboo subjects like depression, eating disorders or psychosis can’t have a darkly comic element to them. This gradual normalisation and acceptance of mental illness into the public forum is a step in the right direction in terms of how we view it as a society.
What would you like to work on next?
I want to expand my capacity for writing and drawing jokes as well as creating fiction and longer narratives. Right now I am teaching myself (very slowly, because I’m phobic of things that aren’t pen and paper) how to enhance my work digitally, I’d like to see where that goes. I hope I can make a ton of mistakes without beating myself up too much, and attempt to enjoy the ride to being a bit better at this whole thing.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.