+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety + Photos by Mary Ella Jourdak
Artist and high school junior Ruby Howland is one of those rare people who has discovered her calling at a young age and has walked its trajectory ever since. That trajectory is art.
Her greatest artistic influence and inspiration was her sister, Sarah, who is older by seven years, was always into fashion design, and graduated from Pratt Institute with a bachelor’s in fashion design. From the age of 10, Howland’s art journey became a serious pursuit as she followed in her big sister’s footsteps. She began creating different character designs and making up stories to accompany them.
As she grew, so did her approach to art, which began to diverge from her sister’s. “I forged my own path with digital art and painting. Digital art came first,” she says. “I started with it around fourth grade, drawing digitally because I don’t like getting my hands dirty, and that doesn’t happen with digital!”
Howland practices her skills digitally through Procreate®, which she has used ever since she first began dabbling in art, as well as other art mediums. She has become comfortable employing a range of styles, including sketching, anime doodles, and acrylic paintings, and using mediums as diverse as spackle, posters, and sculpture in her creations. More recently, she has grown fond of landscapes and conceptual paintings that can be interpreted differently, depending on viewer perspective.
She began taking art classes outside of school around age 11 and credits much of her learning to Kathy Dennin-Meagher, owner of the Raye of Light Studio. When she was about 12 years old, Howland started going to the studio’s Girls with Graphite class and fell in love with the way Dennin-Meagher taught, enjoying the one-on-one feedback and the small class group. She continued with classes and was taught a plethora of stylistic ways and mediums.
“It really helped to further my abilities,” she says. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, I started taking private classes with her to work on developing polished, professional skills, including through anatomy classes.” While Dennin-Meagher recently moved her studio to Bethany Beach, Delaware, Howland, undeterred by distance, visited the new location over the summer.
As Howland’s style has evolved, she has learned to incorporate a mix of mediums to express her vision and now works primarily that way. She favors using a lot of colored pencil with acrylic paint but now has her eye on moving into mixing digital painting with acrylics—printing out a digital piece and collaging it by brushing paint over the print. “I like character designs and lean into fantasy designs especially, which are stylized and cartoony.”
Howland is drawn to indie gaming, which is a more independent segment of the gaming world. She gains inspiration from seeing the varied, up-and-coming ideas from this sector, in which small, independent creatives are designing their own games. “I tend to prefer them over the big company games,” she says. Ultimately, she hopes to become a 3D animator for video games. She recently created a website to showcase her work, which will come in handy for college applications and as a work portfolio.
School has also influenced her artistic growth. She is currently enrolled in advanced placement (AP) studio drawing and AP art history classes, with the potential of earning college credits. While her regular load for academic classes is light, she describes these AP art classes as intensive. “My AP studio drawing class requires that I make a portfolio of 15 pieces by the end of this school year,” she says. “We get to pick a certain theme that we’re passionate about and create work around that theme.” Her theme is Journey into the Real World. “It’s based on my experience going through COVID-19, escapism, and getting back into the real world and what that’s like,” she says. “Escapism influenced me before the pandemic but became more influential when I couldn’t go out.”
For this project, she wants to include another side of her creativity: poetry, inspired by art. A lover of storytelling, she’s been writing since elementary school. “I love to create a world entirely out of my own head,” she says. “I developed a fondness for free verse, which is the most free version of poetry possible: no rules, no rhyming, and you can completely ditch grammar. It’s complete freedom to write whatever and however you like.”
In an iconographic piece she created, she included many of her original poems by creating the image completely out of words. She also gravitates toward creating nighttime cityscapes, as she is fascinated with how lights, especially bright ones such as neon, reflect in the rain.
As if her schoolwork and art studies don’t keep her busy enough, Howland also dabbles in construction and artwork for high school and other small theatre programs. She’s worked on set design since elementary school, during which she helped with the production of Disney’s Frozen JR. She also worked with the Talent Machine Company on productions of Legally Blonde and Mean Girls. High school productions in which she has been involved include Footloose and the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival. For the latter production, she won the school’s yearly poster design contest in 2023.
This academic year, Howland is busy lining up setwork for The Addams Family, Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival, Arsenic and Old Lace, and other productions, all while keeping up with course assignments and college applications, further forging her path toward a promising creative future.
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