In conversation with Frieda Ruh, an illustrator with a passion for colour and lettering
Frieda Ruh is a Berlin-based illustrator who loves all things letter-related. Whether it is food packaging, web banners, brochures, or websites, she uses ornate lettering and vibrant colour combinations to truly bring her projects to life.
Why did you decide to take up illustration?
I always wanted to do illustration for a living but didn’t think I was good enough so I started studying something very different after school, which didn’t fulfill me at all so I started to study graphic design. I liked doing graphic design but I wasn’t super passionate about it, I didn’t feel like I was doing very creative work or work that mattered…
After my second child was born and the pandemic started, I needed a creative output and started lettering and illustrating as a thing I would do in the evenings to keep me sane. I still didn’t think that I had it in me to do this for a living but I started to share my stuff online and then things just evolved and I’m very grateful for that.
How do you get past creative blocks?
Fortunately, I didn’t have a creative block yet.
What I struggle with is that I sometimes don’t know which (personal) project I should work on. I have lots of started illustrations and letterings on various devices and at the moment, I think a lot about what project makes the most sense to work on: Is it important for my portfolio to have that included, or should I work on something that might be more interesting for clients (like book covers, maps, packaging projects)?
What is your creative process?
My creative process depends on whether I work for a client or for myself.
If I do client work, I think about what should be included in the illustration and what the client might want to express, then I start working to offer at least 3 different sketches.
When I work on personal projects I just get started and see where things take me…
Where do you look for inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere – I’m mostly inspired by nature, street art, stuff I see online (Instagram, Pinterest), and my kids’ toys (a great way to get inspiration for color combinations is their huge collection of coloring pencils).
What are you reading or listening to right now?
Right now, my favorite music is from Deichkind, a German band that also makes the best videos (very inspiring).
When I’m working, I love listening to fantasy or cosy crime audiobooks.
The book I’m reading at the moment is Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne.
What does your typical day involve?
A typical workday starts with taking my children to school/childcare. And then I try to spend some time outside to destress because our mornings are always a bit of a rush. There are a few beautiful parks and a lake close to where I live in Berlin, being there always gives me a boost.
Back at home, I start checking/replying to emails, and then I start working on client or personal work. I also try to have a big chunk of one day a week where I tackle all the not-so-creative tasks that come with being a freelancer (website, socials, reaching out to people I’d like to work with, money/taxes).
What has been your favourite project to date and why?
I got very lucky and started working with my amazing agency Studio PI very early on (in fact they are the reason why I’m an illustrator at all because if they hadn’t reached out to, me I definitely wouldn’t have thought that it’s a possibility for me to work as an illustrator/lettering artist although it was my big dream).
Thanks to them I had quite a few projects I’m very happy about, especially the snow fairy packaging design I created for LUSH last year. I loved working on that project because it gave me so much creative freedom and it’s just special to see something you made in a store.
How do you switch off?
Being in nature helps me a lot to switch off. If I’ve got lots of work, I try to meditate which helps me so much to stay calm but I’m not good at keeping that up…
Who inspires you?
Three people that inspire me and who where/are very important for how I try to handle things now in my career are Sachini Imbuldeniya (she’s the founder of my agency and is now Executive Creative Director at Nemorin), Claire Cheung (who used to be my illustration agent and is now Head of Creative at Penguin) and Sing Yun Lee (who is the illustration agent I work with now).
They are all amazing, kind women with a vision to make this world a better place and I’m just very grateful for their support and all the work they do. It’s weird because there are tons of amazing illustrators out there who have definitely inspired me a lot but in the end, these three women were my inspiration to get things going.
I think sometimes, it’s not about the creative inspiration, but about people making you realize you could do things differently and achieve things you wouldn’t have thought possible.
A big thank you to Frieda Ruh for contributing to our series of creative conversations with industry experts.