Faculty Spotlight: Jean Ruth
Department: Graphic Design
As a child, Jean Ruth always loved to draw and make things. Her work was so good that her teachers in elementary school would ask her to design and create classroom bulletin boards as well as make sketches for class handouts.
"That may be where the idea was planted that art could be used not only to beautify our daily surroundings but also as a practical and an effective means of communication," she said. "Later, I would discover that the field of study that concerned itself with creating and communicating visual messages was design and illustration."
Ruth has spent her career as an illustrator. During the past several years, she has redirected her efforts from package and advertising illustration to children's illustration, which she finds both "exhilarating and a little scary."
While freelancing and raising her children, Ruth also volunteered at their schools, which eventually led her to teaching.
"After volunteering as a reading aide, I realized I was very inspired when I saw the little light bulb go on in a child’s head when something clicked," she said. "That prompted me to return to school for a graduate degree in art education. Seeing that light bulb go on as students surprise themselves with their personal best is still my greatest joy in teaching today.
"My hope is that when students leave my class to enter the workplace or to further their education, they will come away inspired and energized about their capabilities and strengths. Chasing current design and illustration styles is not a good long-term approach. I’ve found that visual problem-solving by building on your strengths and being aware of your own voice, even in the commercial world, is one of the best ways to generate imaginative solutions and grow creatively."
Ruth still maintains a curiosity about the world that provides inspiration.
"Inspiration tends to come from the smallest and most unlikely people, things and places," she said. "In order to get that mindset, I need to get past some of life’s daily 'chaos.' Having times of solitude, whether walking down Michigan Avenue by myself or in a local forest preserve, is very helpful. The solitude not only refuels me but makes it possible for me to see my daily world with a sense of wonder and excitement."
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