Person of Marvel: Ruth Holly - Artist, Designer and Creator
“It is an innate feeling inside me to discover something overlooked, give it the attention and time it deserves, highlight its beauty and give it a practical use.”
Designer Ruth Holly has spent more than a decade honing her skills as a creator and maker, designing everything from cushions to lampshades, to art prints, notebooks and more, creating a lifestyle brand that is both timeless and distinctive.
Working from the beautiful and raw surroundings of the Yorkshire Dales, Ruth combines the natural elements of the countryside, expansive cityscapes and encompasses contemporary trends to create beautiful artisan collections of homeware and stationary fit for traditional and modern interiors.
After falling head over heels for her ASPECT collection, a coastal-inspired series of linen cushions, birchwood trays and wall art, reminiscent of the soft pink sun bleached skies and sandy grey shores of lingering summer days, we were over the moon to be able to speak to Ruth about the magic that goes into her creative process and learn more about how she grapples with the demands of social media amidst the rise of conscious consumption.
Can you tell us a bit about how you became a designer?
I studied art and design at school and as well as being musical, I knew that design was a field I was passionate about. I studied design at A Level and went onto do a foundation course at Manchester Metropolitan University, which gave me a broad understanding of all the different disciplines. I was still unsure after foundation about what path to choose, so applied for a broad Creative Imaging course at Huddersfield University, which provided my with knowledge on graphic design, textiles, surface pattern, illustration and self employment. I passed my degree with a first and went straight into employment designing cutting edge card and wrap designs to supply to M&S. After more than 10 years working in house for other companies I decided that to feel fully creatively free, I had to set up my own design identity.
How would you describe your personal brand?
Raw, real, unique and understated. I develop unique photographic finds into beautiful designs for everyday living.
What are some of the challenges of your craft?
The main challenge is designing goods that will be commercial. Society has quite limited views of what is perceived as beautiful or luxurious, and people are so wary to try new things, they feel more comfortable sticking with ‘safe buys’.
My aim is to challenge that view and help customers see beauty in raw and natural states, encouraging them to choose simple and stylish designs, inspiring them to create interesting and unusual interiors.
What does your creative process entail?
There is no strict method to my work; it is quite an organic process and I can find inspiration anywhere. I use traditional photography to capture found textures and patterns. I then combine these images with contemporary trends using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
I play with the scale and color balance before digitally printing onto a mixture of linens and cottons. I'm very much against deliberately distressing surfaces to give the worn look. The surfaces I find are unaltered; changing them in any way distorts the character and to me devalues it.
The dedicated craftsmanship of your work is very apparent, tied to the current trend for people to shop more consciously and perhaps less often, how does this impact your designs?
Thank you, yes I’m increasingly aware that people are choosing more carefully what they spend their money on and I’m a huge advocate for this. I design from the heart, and am led by my own inspirations, yet I feel this only inspires my customers more and gives them an emotional connection with their Ruth Holly goods.
I keep on top of current trends, and with this awareness, it means that my brand stays fresh, although I’m certainly not a follower and have created a strong cohesive brand by following my own instinct. I get so much amazing feedback from customers at markets and directly – people remark on how unique the brand is.
This new wave of independent retailers, designers and makers are slowly influencing the general public. Customers are now showing their values by choosing independent brands, brands that are not just brands, brands that are actually people, like them, just trying to do their thing. My customers want goods that mean more, and I am more than happy to give them this. It’s very important to me as a designer to develop something that will create a stir in the viewer.
To what extent are your designs a reflection of your own interests and experiences?
My designs reflect my interest in nature, natural textures, forgotten times, history, abstract art, Scandinavian influences, and minimalist design. I follow painters, textile artists, ceramicists and sculptures; I love architecture, and enjoying wandering and searching for visual treasures whilst travelling. It is an innate feeling inside me to discover something overlooked, give it the attention and time it deserves, highlight its beauty and give it a practical use.
Where do you feel most inspired?
Travelling, seeing new sights, among change, new experiences, modern architecture, derelicts abandoned buildings, public gardens, national trust properties, or by the beach.
How do you go about designing your own home, is there a process, or is a more organic accumulation and curation?
At a time when I had bought my own house, I was overwhelmed by the amount of overly commercial ‘blingy’ home décor available. Personally my style and taste is quite paired back, I enjoy simple natural goods, and prefer an organic looking interior, with muted colors (and the odd magpie find here and there!) This helped drive the decision in what products to develop and the direction my collection would take.
I tend to mix second hand buys with designer and maker handmade goods, a few high street pieces and family heirlooms. My home is a reflection of me, I get so much lovely feedback from friends and family and visitors about how well put together it is and with such a warm and ‘homely’ feel. I have a lot of my own designs and goods at home!
How do you navigate the world of social media from a personal and business perspective?
If I’m really honest, I’m finding social media more and more demanding of my time and energy when I would much rather be doing something else! But I fully understand that this is our world now and if you don’t embrace these things you get left behind.
I tend to stay off Facebook; I can contact my customers through direct mail and find new ones at fairs and markets. I use Twitter occasionally, although as like many other creative’s it’s not my go to choice! Instagram is brilliant. This is where I can share new developments, new products, little snippets of my home and personal life, inspire my followers with empowering quotes, share travel adventures, collaborations, live stockist updates.
Before posting I like to ask my self questions like, does this speak to my target market? Does it add value to their lives? Am I being real and honest?
What does a typical day look like for you?
I still work part time alongside the business, Monday and Tuesday are my Ruth Holly days, then I work as a designer for a small in-house studio designing digital illustrations and surface patterns for gift ware and stationery products. On my Ruth Holly days, I usually start with admin, and allow myself 1-2 hours of catch up. I enjoy new product development so spent time researching and developing new ideas with my existing designs, I maintain my website, develop SEO, check-in on my Notonthehhightstreetshop, pack orders, liaise with my suppliers and stockists.
I try to blog once a month; this is a very personal insight into the business and my career as a designer. I put aside time to contact existing stockists and customers, while also developing new business leads – prep for trade shows and retail markets, and also design new collections. This year has presented itself as a bit of a creative block so I am excited to see what will develop next season!
Outside of design, what are some of your other passions?
My family, there is only me, my Mum, My Dad and 99 year old gran in my tiny family, it’s only natural that we are all incredibly close.
I also enjoy yoga, running, gardening, interior design, mental health and wellbeing, art, culture, and travel.
If you were not a designer and maker, what would you be?
I would like to help animals or wildlife, maybe do something environment focused, landscape architecture.
What is the best piece of advice you have received or given?
Just start. So many people are fearful of starting something until it’s perfect or waiting until the right time. These things absolutely grow and develop organically so there is never a perfect time. “just do it!”
What are you currently reading, listening and watching?
I dip in and out of several books and rarely finish any but I love Mastering Your Mean Girl by Melissa Ambrosini, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and How to Live Like Your Cat by Stéphane Garnier. I love 91 Magazine and Psychologies Magazine.
On the box; Location Location for house envy, Grand designs, New Live In The Wild with Ben Fogle. I don’t do box sets as I don’t have the time or patience! – but I had flu in February and watched the whole of The Good Place.
I recently watched The Dawn Wall and it totally blew me away, I don’t climb but the film was intoxicating.