Portrait of the Artist: Interview with Ruby

In recent days, I’ve been able to catch up with Ruby Owen Hull and ask her a few questions about the stunning self-portrait that has earned a place in the Royal Academy’s Young Artists’ Summer Show exhibition.

I guess the self-portrait particularly resonates at this time, as Ruby is dressed in it as a nurse, and she is sporting a shoulder bag that shows the colours of the rainbow that have come to be associated with honouring those working for the NHS.  However, as the interview below will reveal, these features are essentially coincidental.  Ruby is a fan of cosplay, a performance art which involves participants dressing in costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character.  It just so happens that Ruby had chosen this particular costume to wear on her day out in Manchester, back in February, before Lockdown had started.

Here are the questions I asked her, with Ruby’s responses in italics:

What inspired you to paint this particular scene?
I painted this particular scene because it was taken on a very nice day, when I had lots of fun. I went into Manchester to meet other cosplayers, and, because I love to cosplay, I thought I could represent that in my painting.
Was it based on a photograph?
Yes, it was based on a photo that one of my friends took of me.

You appear to be wearing a nurse’s uniform, and you certainly are carrying a shoulderbag that displays the rainbow colours that we have come to associate with the NHS.  Did you choose this costume as a way to honour the NHS? 

This costume was not consciously chosen to honour the NHS; it is a character that I really like that I was cosplaying. The character is called Mikan Tsumiki, from Danganronpa, and her costume is like a nurse’s uniform because she is the ‘ultimate nurse’. The bag I was wearing was also not deliberately chosen with a view to honouring the NHS. I had bought it because I thought it looked nice and went with the outfit. Also, this was before some people started associating the rainbow with the NHS. I can see that the meaning of the painting might look different in these current circumstances though.


You have a remarkably well developed style for one so young. The style is essentially realistic, but you have avoided making it just like a photograph – so you have slightly wobbly lines and the water of the fountains is painted in an impressionistic manner; and yet the there is a genuine sophistication to your technique, with the wet, shiny surface of the pavement and its reflections really cleverly captured.  Is this a style you have been taught, one that you have based on other painters’ work, or simply a style that you have developed yourself?
That was actually the first time I had tried painting in that particular style; I wanted to make it look as realistic as I could. I learned some more watercolour techniques when I was doing it, such as taking paint off with tissue and using masking fluid. I have used watercolour paints before, but not really in that style.
Do you just paint in school, or do you do a lot of painting – as a hobby?
I do art at home as well as in school, and I do some painting, but I also like to draw, using pens, markers and coloured pencils.
Is this typical of what you would normally paint, or are other types of scene your usual subject matter?
When drawing people, I usually tend to just do the head and shoulders of a person, so no, it is not really what I would usually paint or draw, although I am trying out lots of different things in my art. 
What was your response when you discovered that your work had been selected for exhibition by the Royal Academy?
When I first found out that my work had been selected for exhibition by the Royal Academy, I was extremely happy, and very glad that my entry had been selected out of so many, especially as the other entries from school were all really good.
Interview by N. Dickson.


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