Mrs Brown’s Tree, Victoria Park © Ruth Whiter
There’s something alchemical about a sketch artist who attends an event, transforms what they see into beautiful works of art, and flits away. I encountered Ruth Whiter recently when she was sketching musicians playing at a local community event, and couldn’t resist the verve and humour in her work.
“I suppose I got interested in art because I liked drawing,” she comments. “I spent my childhood bent over a plain refill pad and two packs of Berol felt tips, one thick and one thin. Lots of people warned me against focusing on art when it came to ‘A’ levels and higher education, but I suppose I couldn’t resist.”
Illustration had become a particular passion by the time I went to art college in Maidstone. “I developed a love of picture books, and illustrators such as Shirley Hughes, Janet Ahlberg, and then Maurice Sendak,” Ruth says.
Speak Up Climate Change Mass Lobby, June 2015 © Ruth Whiter
Looking back, Ruth can see the roots of the type of illustration she excels at now in some of her student work. “Once I stood at the edge of a rooftop supermarket car park and drew a wide, frantic, scribbly sketch of almost gridlocked traffic spreading in every direction,” she recalls. “I was channelling the energy of a time and place, and my passion for more sustainable transport. This was reportage illustration, which is what I do best, but it took me nearly twenty years to properly recognise that!”
Southmead Community Consultation commission – Travel and Transport © Ruth Whiter
During her student years, Ruth also grew “very interested” in stop frame animation, and went onto work in that industry for several years after college.
Ruth stopped working as an animator after she had two children. “As they began to grow up, I had a little space and time to try drawing again. I’d always kept sketchbooks as a student, so I got back into that habit.”
At the same time as getting back into sketching everywhere she went, Ruth began mastering Photoshop, which was to become an essential tool. “Soon, I learned to scan the drawings directly from my sketchbook and add digital colour without losing the original line, and then I got better at combining two or more sketches to recreate a scene,” she enthuses.
Glassby wedding couple dancing © Ruth Whiter
Ruth enjoys this stage almost as much as the actual drawing. “It’s much slower and more relaxed, carefully editing lines, and trying different colours and layers in Photoshop while listening to music.”
Ruth opts to draw entirely from life – a factor which adds to the palpable fizz of her work. “I draw best when lots of people are gathered for a common purpose. Somehow, they contribute to the drawing, and I’m free from the kind of front brain activity you have to deal with when drawing inside at a desk.”
Parents of Soul at Victoria Park Fun Day 2007 © Ruth Whiter
The crowd itself becomes the subject more often that the reason people have gathered. “Often it’s difficult to draw the thing they’ve come to see, because those things tend to move,” she explains. “The best example of this was my drawing of the 2012 Olympics Mens Cycling Road Race, which is a picture of the crowd waiting at the roadside in Leatherhead. I couldn’t possibly have sketched any bikes passing by, but the energy of the event was all contained in the crowd.”
Waiting for Bradley Wiggins 2012 Olympics men’s road race © Ruth Whiter
Ruth’s first printed pieces were for the very first Art on the Hill art trail in south Bristol. “People liked them because they were very local and they were a memento of a special event. Plus people love to see themselves in the crowd!”
Ruth is keen to point out that she isn’t a full time artist, however. “I do have another job – it’s important to say that as there’s a big difference between finding a successful way to be an artist and making a living from it.”
Kate and Simon’s wedding – mingling detail © Ruth Whiter
It makes the times she can devote to creating art all the more precious.
“If I find a good time and place to draw, if it isn’t raining and my pen isn’t running out, I can get on a ‘roll’ and get completely absorbed, filling page after page,” Ruth says. “You can see the drawings change as I gradually ‘loosen up’ and then start to get tired. I’ve done a few wedding commissions and these are almost a perfect opportunity – at one wedding last year I drew for eight hours with barely a break, and even when the sketchbook was full I found it hard to stop!”
You can find Ruth’s work at ruthwhiter.co.uk, “and I usually show my work at the Front Room (Totterdown) and Art on the Hill (Windmill Hill and Victoria Park) art trails. I’m happy to consider commissions, but not from photos – you need to invite me to the party!”
Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.