Ruby Sgueglia physicalises feelings in their textural, colourful illustrations
The artist tells us about breaking free from their comfort zone, and the satisfaction of carrying techniques and concepts from one project to the next.
- Ruby Boddington
- 10 September 2021
Illustrator and artist Ruby Sgueglia describes their work as “egocentric”. Not that their work is at all self-centred, but rather that there is an ego at the centre of a piece, something that stems from their fascination with capturing the ephemeral nature of feelings and emotions. “That sounds a little corny, but I guess that’s part of my schtick,” they say. This could mean attempting to visualise an ache in their knee, or sadness, but most importantly, it’s the connection between these “physical feelings and internal feelings” that compels Ruby to create. “I try and create work that speaks to the physicality of emotions,” they continue. “And the thing that contains all these ideas and really is my most favourite and frequent subject is people.” In turn, Ruby’s artworks are as much about understanding themself as they are about learning about others.
In terms of how they got to where they are now, Ruby finds it tricky to pinpoint what led them to illustration. “Talking about the people who’ve influenced my creative journey... I kind of want to say everyone, and I know that’s such a simple answer but I feel like I’m a sponge and I soak up everything I think is cool or beautiful and carry it with me,” they tell us. An inherently curious creative, Ruby spends a lot of time crafting, explaining that “whatever my hobby is at the moment, it has an influence on me when I approach a new piece.” This sentiment also stretches to other outside influences. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic Ruby moved from Brooklyn back home to upstate New York, and there, they developed a newfound appreciation for the landscape they had grown up in. Namely, it was with the colours and textures of the forests and gardens around them and these very same elements can now be found within their work. “My ride or die elements of art are colour and texture,” they add. “The way I use colour and texture has changed with time but I love how tactile and emotional colour and texture can be.”
When working on a new piece, Ruby will spend a lot of time thinking before anything else. “I’ve got to roll the brief around in my head for a long time before I’m ready to start putting pen to paper, and when that happens I basically scribble out a bunch of stuff and then my real ideas come from interpretations of those sketches,” they explain. Layering also plays a major role, and often they will draw on top of drawings, again and again, a technique they learned from their favourite art teacher in high school. “When we did observational drawing she would tell us to ‘make it less wrong and more correct’, and that is like the mantra of my practice. I’ve changed the meaning slightly over time but when I’m working I’m just building upon the marks on the page and making it less wrong, and more correct.”
Having someone or something infiltrate their “bubble” and pull them out their comfort zone in this way is when Ruby feels they make their best work. A recent brief started in June called Atlas is testament to this. It was a response to a call for submissions from the Lincoln Center and Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), looking for artists to create a mural. In line with an exhibition called Faces of the Hero, the brief asked entrants to visualise their interpretation of the word “hero” and where it fits into the modern world. This was a new challenge for Ruby, as she is used to dealing “in feelings – not cultural archetypes,” but ultimately it was an incredibly rewarding one.
Their process involved “walking out of the intensely personal individual subconscious and into the collective subconscious,” and a realisation that heroism is when “sacrifice and selflessness define the modern hero, whereas a hero in the classical sense has a whole lot more personal growth going on.” Ruby, therefore, looked to the story of Atlas who, in Greek mythology, was condemned to hold up the heavens (or sky) for all eternity. “There’s nothing about Atlas that makes him a hero,” Ruby says, and although not fitting with the classical hero archetype, in modern terms, “Atlas is exactly the kind of guy we would call a hero on the news,” hence why Ruby decided to depict him.
Being forced to think about new ideas and concepts in this way meant Ruby was also forced to make images in a new way, something that had a knock-on effect in all their resulting work. “Sometimes I get a brief that has me so scrambled up and those projects usually mark the beginnings of new aesthetic eras,” they explain. “My brain on Atlas definitely started off scrambled, but that put me in a place that required me to follow through on ideas and experiments that were brand new or just little seedlings. I love feeling like I ‘solved’ a drawing, and when I finished Atlas it absolutely felt solved.” In fact, the very seedlings sewn during that project went on to inform the work Ruby made for It’s Nice That and Allianz in a recent commission. “The flow from one project to another is so satisfying and working on Moment of Truth was a serious treat. I love emotional/visual/physical feedback loops and I’m still just riding the high of getting to work on two projects that create their own emotional/visual/physical feedback loops.”
Ruby Sgueglia: Ascent (Copyright © Ruby Sgueglia, 2021)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.