I met Ruth Speer last summer at the opening of “Flower Child”, a group show at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco that we both had pieces in. Her painting “Alles Zu Seiner Zeit” caught my eye immediately and I wondered how I hadn’t seen her work before. She later introduced herself to me with such genuine warmth. Between her warm energy and beautiful art, I was excited to stay connected and see her work evolve. Now, she has been kind enough to take time out of what appears to be an incredibly busy schedule to answer some questions about her past, present, and future!
I adore Oregon, but I only moved here halfway through my childhood. My parents are from Germany and the US, so I was born in England and then shuffled through several different states before coming here! But wherever we lived, my sisters and I were outside exploring constantly, and Oregon hasn’t been any different – the forests and rain, and the aesthetics of Portland in particular, have all found their way into the things I make.
“My mom is an artist, she would draw these wonderful scenes of women in ball gowns dancing…”
I can see that! What was your first experience with art making? Were you always drawn to oil or even paint in general?
My mom is an artist and studied graphic design, so my first art memories are of her getting Sharpies and huge sheets of paper, taping them to the floor, and drawing huge pictures to color for my sisters and I. She would draw these wonderful scenes of women in ball gowns dancing, men in top hats, houses and trees, and we would have buckets of crayons and colored pencils to color them with.
I’m a firm believer that the content you consume as kid can be what most affects you and your art throughout your life, and my own first pieces were all very inspired by the picture books I loved. Which were mostly fairy tales, with illustrations by amazing artists like K. Y. Craft, Trina Schart Hyman, and H. J. Ford; so I would spend hours drawing excessively detailed princesses and queens loaded with jewels! From the beginning, I preferred drawing females, because I quickly realized men weren’t allowed to be as decorated as women could be, which made them way less exciting to draw. While that’s not the reason I still make art of women today, I definitely have thought about those early realizations and how if I were to paint a male figure, I would want to subvert that expectation.
It sounds like you had such a lovely and inspired childhood. I’ve noticed that you do seem very inspired by fantasy and books. Are you an avid reader? And what are some favorites you’d recommend?
Absolutely! I love historical and fantasy novels! Some of my favorites are classics like Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and obscure stories like The Light Princess by George MacDonald (illustrated by Maurice Sendak!), and I’m currently finishing the brilliant Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab. It made me remember how inspiring a good book can be in terms of world building. I would love for my paintings to be as immersive, storytelling, and imagination provoking as a good book is.
Speaking of books, I know that you are currently a student. What are your post-grad goals?
I would love to say I have a plan, but all I can think of at the moment is what a relief it will be to not have classes and homework and be able to make my own work regularly. But I love my university, and the wonderful people I go to school with and take classes from, and I’m so fortunate to be able to get a degree in art. It’s just very weird to have “being an artist” as my job and at the same time be going to art school, because the two can be at odds – for example, as an artist, having a signature style is important and professional, but as a student, I need to be experimenting and branching out a lot. What I’m most afraid of is seeming arrogant within school and closed off to critique about my work because I’m already a working artist, and seeming unprofessional and flippant as an artist because I’m still in school and only 21. I just have some insecurity and role conflict issues I need to work out apparently!
“I would love for my paintings to be as immersive, storytelling, and imagination-provoking as a good book is.”
It was so inspiring to watch your video on YouTube that showed the entire painting process of your piece “Magic Always Has A Price” from beginning to end. What was the experience like for you?
Honestly, it was much harder than I thought it would be! For one thing, I don’t have the best studio lighting, so I had to film in natural light, which at the time only lasted until about 4:30 since it was dead winter. So I would race home after my morning classes and paint for a few hours in the afternoons and on weekends. Plus my old camera stops filming after a certain time and runs out of battery often, so it was a very sporadic, odd way to complete a piece. I have so much respect for artists who film their process all the time! The editing part was so much fun, though, and I’m actually so excited to do it again. Watching the process back from beginning to end was the weirdest and fulfilling experience.
What are some of your favorite art supplies and/or tools?
I’ve used mostly Gamblin oil paints for the past few years, which I love. The biggest exception to that is a color called Renaissance Gold from Windsor & Newton, which is a brilliant warm gold I use all the time. I usually paint with a lot of round brushes but I’ve been loving filberts lately! That’s the weird thing about talking about my “process” when I feel like I’m still such a baby artist – it’s changing all the time. It’ll probably still be changing in twenty years!
And lastly, what has it been like gaining such a large social media following? Has it boosted your confidence as an artist? And/or are there any setbacks?
There are pros and cons, but there are so many more pros than cons! It’s so lovely because I’ve met and collaborated with amazing people and companies through Instagram, and that sounds like a run-of-the-mill comment everyone makes but it’s surreal to reach out to people via the internet and have this little app facilitate meetings and friendships and new art in real life. It also helps me to continue making things when I don’t feel like it, because people will ask about the progress of a piece or get excited to see what comes next.
I love the art community, because you get to see these glimpses of what an artist does, those in-between moments, shots of their workspace, and their behind-the-scenes thoughts that you would never, ever get to see or know otherwise. And for the most part everyone is so, so lovely. But, of course having a bigger audience means your work is also more likely to be found and stolen by people or companies, and that really sucks the creative energy out of your whole day or week depending on how long you have to deal with it. The best strategy with that kind of thing has been to be much more thoughtful and kind than I may feel like being in the moment, because people respond to that a lot better than if you lash out, and you can actually educate people helpfully about things like the right way to use inspiration.