Ruby Alice Rose (aka Ruby Jones) is the Wellington illustrator who drew the iconic image of two women hugging, one in a pink dress and the other in a yellow dress and blue hijab, after the Christchurch Attacks on 2019.
The image received hundreds of thousands of shares online, millions of times over, all around the world. The terrible impacts of that day were unimaginable. But what was beautiful was how Ruby’s picture caught everyone’s heart, showing how art can triumph to show humanity in the wake of tragic events. I was fortunate enough to meet Ruby a few days after her image was drawn because I wanted to talk to this Wellingtonian woman who had, in one picture, done so much for us all.
Art and drawing has always been a part of Ruby’s life. “I’m from a big family of artists and sculptors. Everyone in our family is an art teacher or a cartoonist or similar. My brother and I would be given toys as kids, but most of the time we were more interested in pens and paper and just wanted to draw. So when people ask when I started to draw, the truth is that I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw” she explains.
Ruby has always sketched people rather than landscape or other subject matter. “I used to sit for hours and draw people with certain characteristics. I used to draw people with broken legs over and over, or women who were pregnant because their bodies fascinated me. When I was younger I used to draw for hours” she explains. “I’ve tried to draw animals and other things but I’m kind of bad at it. I don’t feel the same connection because I’m really obsessed with humans and their relationship to the planet.”
Digital drawing is the current toolkit mainstay for Ruby. “I only started drawing digitally last year. I’ve always drawn by hand on paper or scanned it to colour it in. I love it now because it’s so fast. You can do it anywhere. I’m obsessed with it now” she says.
To draw, Ruby uses her ipad and Apple pencil. “I mostly use an app called ‘Pro-create’ Ruby explains. “Digital drawing is as similar as you could get to actual drawing on paper. If you press harder, you’ll get a harder line and lighter you’ll get a softer line. The other day, I tried to draw on paper and I went to ‘tap’ to remove a line. I was slightly disturbed by that” she laughs.
With work evocative of Chagall, Ruby is inspired by romantic imagery and music when creating her art, which seems fitting. “There’s a really strong link there” Ruby says. “I love the album Blonde by Frank Ocean. I get an intense feeling, as if I want to draw every line. I have the same feeling from Lorde’s music.”
Self-taught as an artist, Ruby studied one semester of design at University when she finished school, but found it wasn’t for her “I hated it” she smiles. She has, interestingly, a degree in occupational therapy which she admits that nowdoesn’t use. The need to create was almost primal however for this residents: “When I’m not drawing, I don’t feel like myself,” she says.
Ruby’s iconic picture came about because she had Friday off work sick and had the radio on 15 March 2019. “I was listening to it as it unfolded. I didn’t think it was what it was, because I rationalised ‘This is New Zealand - it doesn’t happen here’. Then it turned out it was. I went on social media and saw that no one knew what to say. I felt real anger, but I asked myself what I would do if I could - and I just wanted to give a hug to everyone. I needed to channel that energy and did the drawing in the moment and posted it on my feed” Ruby says.
Ruby believes that when people don’t know what to say, an image can express what to say. “I think people found it helpful” Ruby says. “At first I felt like it wasn’t enough, and I needed to go out and do more. But since then, people have told me it did actually help them. There’s been an amazing response from the Muslim community world-wide. They’ve been grateful to see themselves in the image I drew which shows you how under-represented they are in media. If I could provide a tiny bit of comfort in a terrible situation, then I’m glad I could.”
Since our meeting, Ruby Alice Rose has gone on to have her illustrations featured on the cover of Time Magazine, was featured by Vogue’s Instagram, and designed a T-shirt for the Auckland and Christchurch Arohanui benefit concerts. She’s also illustrated a proposal for a kids TV show, made an illustration for Nadia magazine, worked freelance work for Stuff and has almost finished the draft of her first book, to be published by Penguin Books.
Today, Ruby says that she feels like a proper Wellingtonian. She’s just settled into a beautiful new apartment in town “...so I’m feeling super excited and motivated for the adventures ahead.” Her book will be printed in the next few months time. To make her ‘break’, Ruby will open an online store and do some more freelance work. “I’m also still working full time at my regular job which is nice, keeping that human connection to a workplace feels important to me. It’s been a lot to juggle but they have been extremely supportive so I’m lucky!”