In 2000 Ruth Dent was working in IT in the City. In 2001 she had her son and decided it was time for something different. Like most mothers, she wanted to spend time with her son, and commuting and working in London meant 12-hour days, which didn’t work for her, and she was fortunate to be able to stop working. In 2003 she took an Adult Education Evening Class in Abstract Art – and from there finished up in 2010 with a First Class Degree in Fine Art Printmaking. Proving that no matter your age or stage in life, you can start a new career any time.
Whilst experimenting with her style, she showed four paintings to a friend and his immediate response was that they would look great as (Hermès) silk scarves, right up our street!
From here, the seed was sown, although it would take her three years to actually get to the point of launching. She decided to manufacture in Britain (Macclesfield – the silk centre of England, complete with its own ‘Silk Road’), and to design and make her own packaging as she couldn’t find what I wanted, a perfectionist at heart. She also came up with ‘Travels with my scarf’, as that was a key part – taking the art off the wall, so it could be shared, travelled with and worn (we all have limited wall space), as well as creating memories with the collector. Effectively she would appropriate her own art, enlarge and transform it into digitally printed silk scarves. These would be gifts to oneself or a friend, presented gift-wrapped to create an experience which includes the story behind the artwork.
Ruth Dent is all about art, not fashion, and we love everything that she stands for. Here, we spent some time with her to find out more…
Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
Yes – most of all would have been to listen to myself, my own intuition and to recognise that I was doing my own ‘thing’ which is different to that which others do. For me, the art comes first. I am an artist first, and the scarves appear after the art, and not every image will become a scarf.
So – there never was going to be a Spring-Summer or Autumn-Winter collection, and yet I tried and failed to get into retail ?! … I finally woke up in 2017 when I arrived at my studio, exhausted from attending various trade fairs and realised that I needed to stop and spend more time in the studio and move the scarves to being available exclusively online.
Now the scarves are available exclusively online, and I am very happy brightening up the world one scarf at a time. And it’s okay for me to decide when to launch new scarves, and for only a few artworks to become scarves. After all, these are treasures to cherish, wear and keep, to travel and make memories with. And after 5 years I’ve only just launched the 10th scarf …
The latest scarf has been released in an edition of 50, compared to editions of 100 for the two ‘centenary’ scarves (Voyage Out and Suffragette), and higher stated editions for the other 7 – although I haven’t printed the entire edition for them, but that was when I was trying to get into retail ….. Going forward I shall release scarves in editions of 50 unless there is a centenary involved!
How do I want women to feel when they wear my scarves?
Elegant, inspired, elated; wrapped in creative energy.
Who is my dream customer?
My dream collector loves colour, art and stories. The art speaks to her (or to the person who is buying the scarf as a gift, and knows it will be liked) – I’ve seen this, and as the scarves are so colourful and bold they either ‘click’ with someone, or not.
She is independent and makes her own decisions. She wants to wear something that is different, expresses her personality and which won’t be on every street corner. Opening her wardrobe to see her collection of bold, brightly coloured scarves hanging on the door makes her smile.
She loves her scarf, wears it with pride, is admired and can share the story of her scarf and its travels.
She has joined me for the journey, receives my monthly newsletter and hits reply to reach out to me occasionally.
Talk us though a day in your life.
This question makes me think of the program: ‘What does an Artist do all day?” And the answer is: many more things than making art!
So – my permanent studio is in my house in Lot et Garonne, South-West France. I’ve had a studio there since 2009 and moved my permanent studio there in 2018 when I had to vacate my Rochester studio. Since then I’ve been going to and fro between Kent and France, and am gradually spending more time there.
Wherever I am I start the day writing my ‘morning pages’, with a coffee.
In France I head into the studio, working on the latest painting(s), taking a break for a walk before lunchtime to buy bread. After lunch I head back into the studio unless I am waiting for the paint to dry – this can take a couple of hours or a day – either way, I will keep going back to see how it’s drying, and that way I can intervene if I wish – adding more paint, or moving it around.
There’s the monthly newsletter to produce, which includes photographs of my work plus an exhibition I’ve seen or place I’ve been. I am in regular contact with my IT and Fulfilment providers, and others, such as my scarf Manufacturers, Photographer and Graphic Designer as the need arises.
Exhibitions require a lot of work: curating; packing, transporting, hanging, marketing, writing about the work, organising the PV, invigilating (on some occasions) and finally take-down, packing and transporting. It is always tremendously rewarding to see ones work exhibited and to be able to meet the visitors, and to chat, if they want to about the work. It’s the Spectator that completes the circle, when a piece of art ‘speaks’ to them. They bring themselves and all of their experiences, and mostly see something completely different in the work to that which I do – and that’s great, as I never want to be prescriptive. We all see differently.
‘I mix colours with emotions to help people celebrate life on earth’.
That’s also the case with the scarves, as collectors are drawn to the one that contains the colours and energy that best suit them. I have seen people’s faces light up when they have wrapped one of my scarves around them, and know from comments received that they feel special when wearing them.
New scarves have their own timeline – from when I select the images, decide upon the size and particular silk to creating the digital file for printing. Samples are produced from which I make a final choice. Then to decide how to wrap and how to include the story and my welcome message. In the last couple of years, my ideas have changed: the Suffragette Scarf comes wrapped in a print which contains the story on the reverse side, whilst Pathways Scarf comes with an original painting and a letter. Much of this work will be done whilst the scarves are being manufactured – which takes a couple of months.
Sometimes I like to live with and wear a scarf before releasing it. That happened with Pathways Scarf. I’d had it sampled along with three others, and wore it over the summer, when I found it so versatile and easy to wear!
I have started creating a weekly video, and batch making the videos when I am in the UK. When there I go to The PrintBlock to screen print – maybe packaging for scarves or to work on an idea, or a new set of prints.
I do like to get out for a walk each day, and several times a week, take a longer walk with my camera.
And of course there’s all the other stuff – emails, social media, accounts – and everyone has to deal with that, so it’s boring and we won’t mention it!!
Nature feeds my soul – can you tell us more about this?
Yes – this realisation arrived when I was writing about ‘Breathing Space’, the installation that brings the forest into the gallery, in response to my/the question: ‘Did cathedrals, temples, stupas and labyrinths originate in the forest?’
Rather than re-think and re-write, I’m going to include here the first part of the text that I read out at the Breathing Space / Espace d’inspiration openings (and which you can hear me reading in the ‘Arrival at Breathing Space’ video):
Twirling around as sunlight and shadows play a game of hide and seek.
I move; they move. I am still; they still move. Attracting my attention, showing me lines, textures, shapes and colours. Fleeting and passing, these images freeze, to be replayed staccato like as a film in my memory.
Aware of my continually shifting viewpoint , I look forward, step forward and look ahead. Every step marking subtle changes. Familiar and fresh, I ramble along well worn paths where light and dark sparkle and glint amongst the trees.
Did cathedrals, temples, stupas and labyrinths originate in the forest?
I have experienced their grandeur, trod the same stones as countless others and felt at peace in the cool darkness, amongst soaring columns as shafts of light point out what is to be discovered in their partially illuminated interiors.
My spirit can soar in all of these places, and yet it is nature that consistently nourishes my soul.
The mesh of the tree trunks. Those from ages past extend their branches to secure their space, whilst thin, coppiced trunks sway and chatter in the breeze. Clashing and bending, creating an elongated grid which constantly shifts with the breeze.
It is never silent in the woods – there’s always the sound of oneself, and the birds, and perhaps most surprising is when the trees clap, their upper branches swinging into a frenzy as the wind whips through. Are they mocking or congratulatory, I wonder? There is rhythm and energy. And complaints from the birds as they are forced to move!
A groundswell of emotion – deep, primal. Of being, belonging and of forever … changing. A challenge to capture the moment, a glimpse, a feeling, an emotion. To explore what is seen and unseen. To acknowledge the healing found in nature, in colour and in truly seeing and being. Alive.
Between the trees light abounds, making dust visible as it swirls around. These folds with their soft edges are invitations to look deeper; to go further. Then suddenly a threshold has been crossed and one is grounded and surrounded and in the midst of a clearing.
What will you find?
What lies within?
Is nature hiding?
What is nature hiding?
… That’s the end of that part of the text, and I am happy to answer any supplementary questions you may have.
What does self-care mean to me?
Balance … recognising the need to slow down, speed up, exercise, take a rest, see my homeopath … I’m still learning to listen to myself and my body. To go with the flow and with the rhythms of the seasons and the moon: time to have ideas; time to push forward; time to let things go; time to rest – to let things rise/marinade.
That all sounds great, and I am a work in progress. I think there’s a difference between challenging oneself and pushing, putting oneself under pressure. I know that I both challenge and pressure myself, and at least I am now able to recognise when I’m pushing myself too much, and to step back, review and reconsider what I’m doing and why. That’s where the ‘morning pages’ really help (see Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), as the idea is to simply write and let whatever wants to be said to come out and onto the page. Sometimes a subject arrives before I sit down, other times I start writing and questions, ideas come, and then possibly some answers! And not always …
Tell us your favourite motivational quote …
‘Look back at what you have done, then look forward and consider what you could achieve’ Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll
I met Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll when she was Director of the V&A Museum – which also happens to be my favourite museum.
What do I do for inspiration when I’m lacking creativity?
- Go for a walk – likely with my camera, so the walk lasts longer because I will download the photos and they may lead me to something else.
- Go and see and exhibition – looking at the work of other artists usually generates a desire to get creative oneself.
- Pick up some materials and play around with marks, shapes and colours – just for fun.
- Leaf through a book about a favourite artist
Our readers love to travel, what destination is top of your bucket list?
It’s a journey and a destination …. and of course, there’s a story!
So – I haven’t yet visited New York (really … !?). However, I have visited the US as I have cousins in Denver. (My Mum’s twin sister and her family emigrated there many years ago). As a family we (Mum, Dad and my sister) made two trips to Denver, and went on a road trip each time. During these two trips we visited ten of the western States.
Roll back time, and many moons before we would go to the States, I remember my Grandma making several visits and travelling transatlantic on the QE2. I still have a postcard she sent me from New York.
So – top of my bucket list is to travel to New York on the Queen Mary; to experience the distance, the sea, the stars. To go on a voyage and to arrive in New York harbour and to float past the Statue of Liberty, as thousands of others have done so, and then to experience New York – with visits to MOMA, MET, the Guggenheim, etc.
What does 2020 hold for you?
Plenty of studio time as I have three areas of work that have their origin in Breathing Space:
- ‘The Day the Sky Shattered and Flew Away’ – a continuing series of paintings on canvas and on paper. Plus an Artistic and Musical Performance at the Monflanquin Festival of Arts and Heritage, 20-21 June, where I will have an outside space, and paint on canvas and paper, whilst Alec Dent creates a soundscape with synthesizers.
- ‘An Invitation to Breathe and Dance with Life’ is a new piece of work which will see me work on a much smaller scale than usual. I shall be painting a number of 10 x 15cm ‘invitations’, which will be used to raise money for Running Space. (more info about the charity below)*.
- Plus I have an idea for an Artist book, related to the Tree Alphabet
- Abstract Art Scarves – there will be one or two more scarves this year.
- Art Videos – I have started making and releasing a weekly video about my art, what inspires me, and how/what I see. These include a soundtrack, written by Alec Dent (my son).
- I am going to be turning my garage into a Print Studio.
*Charity Info: Running Space
I am collaborating with Running Space on ‘An Invitation to Breathe and Dance with Life’, as I want to do something to help / help raise awareness, after one of my son’s friends died by suicide last year. The project is still being defined, and I’m not able to give out any more information than that given above. I’m feeling under pressure (yes – from myself) and have decided not to specify how many invitations (postcards) will be painted. We also want to get our act together and sort out when, where and how to launch the project; our ideas are fluid and we realise we need to communicate what we’re doing well in advance of the launch. That’s why I would like to mention it, and then there will be more information as we make decisions and put plans into action, on my website. I realise that House of Coco focuses on positive, uplifting articles – and it’s great to read them. I often stay away from the ‘News’, and my work is celebratory, as, quite frankly, there’s more than enough angst in the world.
Where can people find out more?
Website: plus signup to receive my monthly newsletter