Behind the Scenes: An Interview with Ruby Donachy (Birthday Suit)

Updated: Jun 28

One of our favourite things to do when tasked with a new issue of Portmanteau magazine is to go on the hunt for a new illustrator for our new issue cover design. During this process we look for a few things in an illustrator. First, is the illustrator's art style cohesive with the issue's intended theme? Second, do they want to take on the task (we hope they'll say yes!)? And third, do we want them to be our friend? When we came across Ruby's Instagram account Birthday Suit, we knew instantly that we had found the cover illustrator for Portmanteau magazine Issue 2.


This blog post is an introduction to Ruby, the creator of Birthday Suit. We asked her a series of questions, some informative and some a little bit silly. These were her answers.


NB: Ruby, illustrator and creator of Birthday Suit is a different Ruby to the Ruby who is founder and editor-in-chief of Portmanteau LDN. We know, it's a little confusing.


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Hello, Ruby! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hello! I make custom nude portraits in London. I use a combination of screen printing, digital drawing and black ink for a graphic take on the traditional nude, and there’s a real focus on collaboration with customers in my work. I’m taking bookings now for in-person portrait sessions in Dalston and it’s the most fun way to spend a Sunday!


Be honest, did you agree to do our cover design because our editor-in-chief is also a Ruby?

Of course - I’ve never worked with a fellow Ruby before! It’s been a total pleasure.


Which artists is your art style most inspired by?

I love looking at ceramicists for shape inspiration - I especially love Betty Woodman. She’s really liberal with colour and makes lovely wonky, awkward shapes. I’m working on getting more confident with faces, and I love Otto Dix and Wilfrid Wood. Their portraits are really exaggerated and sort of gross looking. Otto Dix paints people with these spooky, gangly hands which I love.


Image: A painting by Betty Woodman

Can you remember when you first started out as an artist?

I’ve always made things and loved drawing, and I studied art at college then university. I cringe calling myself an artist - it depends what you think makes an artist. I only really felt ‘legit’ once I started making money from it which is quite sad now I think about it!


Why do you like to paint bodies?

I love studying folds and creases and those bits of softness that often people don’t appreciate in themselves. I like the challenge of capturing a likeness, especially during an in-person session where there’s a bit of a time constraint. I love being able to chat to sitters and learn about their personality, and how their posture or mannerisms will come across in their pose.

Images: Self-described 'wibbly-wobbly' art by Ruby. Available for order here.


I notice your designs have a bold colour palette. Is there a reason behind this?

I have no self control! I’m really inspired by vivid colours and unusual combinations and I just can’t help myself. You can feel the joy in an indulgent colour palette I think. One day I’d like to be able to exercise some restraint with a very chic, controlled approach, but not yet.


Do you have a favourite design you’ve done?

Honestly, anything I like best is always the stuff that sits in the shop for ages! So I think my taste must be off haha. I made two paintings at the same time that had quite an 80s feel and creepy toes.


For any artists who are perhaps a little shy to show their work online, or are just starting to build an online community, what is the most useful tip you can give them?

It’s a tough one but definitely just bite the bullet and do it. Making a separate account can help it feel a bit less intimate which definitely helped me when I started and I was worried about people in ‘real life’ seeing it. I think sharing work really helps to hold yourself accountable, keep making and exploring new things. Plus it gets so much easier and surrounds you with other creative people doing cool stuff who you can work with!


Do you work to music? If so, who could we find you listening to if we were to stop by your studio?

I literally listen to Khruangbin or the You’re Wrong About podcast every day and I’m fairly certain all I talk about is You’re Wrong About! If I need something more energising then the one and only Sean Paul.


Images: Prints, Sketches and Shapes by Ruby. Available for order here.


When you’re not doing your art, what is it you are mostly likely to be doing?

I LOVE a good rummage around a jumble sale or charity shops, that’s my absolute number one activity. Honestly I can barely remember life before lockdown so I’m trying my hardest to get out and enjoy my first proper London summer! So far on my to-do list is a swim in Hampstead Heath and a giant meal at Mr Bao.


Without giving too much away, can you give us a clue about your plans for the Portmanteau Issue Two cover design?

I wanted to do something a bit different! There’s definite Birthday Suit-isms in there but maybe not the nipple fest that you’d expect from me.


Where can people find you on the internet?

You can find me on Instagram @birth_day_suit or at birth-day-suit.com! xxxx


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If you've enjoyed this blog post and love Ruby's art as much as we do, make sure to follow her over on Instagram (@birth_day_suit) and Facebook. You can her website here to order prints and portraits. Keep up-to-date on our social media channels as well. We have a lot more planned with Ruby in the next couple of months, which we are majorly excited about. Hint: more behind the scenes action like you've not seen from us before and a events to get involved with.


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