Drawing in Public

Local illustrator Jackie Ann Ruiz talks about developing her art while solo parenting through a pandemic.

Publishing a book during the pandemic has proven especially difficult for artists.

With many brick-and-mortar bookstores closing for good, most artists have had to compete for space on internet platforms where personality matters more than the work itself.

For Jackie Ann Ruiz, a single mother homeschooling two small kids, the task has been nearly impossible. But just as her book, “There’s No Manual: Honest and Gory Wisdom About Having a Baby,” co-written with former Reductress editor Beth Newell, isn’t your typical, stodgy pregnancy guide, Ruiz hasn’t followed the common path to becoming a writer and artist.

For Ruiz, Chief Powhatan’s curse feels apt in describing her relationship to Richmond. Originally from Brooklyn, she has been returning to Richmond since 2006 after graduating from Mary Washington University with a degree in studio art. After brief departures to New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, Ruiz, along with her two children, Rocket and Otis, made Richmond their home in 2015.

Since moving here she’s worked as a waitress, house cleaner and youth instructor at the Tuckahoe YMCA, all while developing her gifts as an artist, moving from sketches to portraits to mixed media. Inspired by her own experience with home birth and noticing a lack of current content on women and motherhood, Ruiz decided to work on her first book, an illustrated, graphic and honest depiction of what women go through during pregnancy.

Released in February of last year, “There’s No Manual,” has been praised for its style, humor and empathy. While the book became a must-read for new mothers, Ruiz garnered even more attention this past year during election season when one of her illustrations in support of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign went viral. For Ruiz, the success has felt well-earned. But as a working, single mother raising two children during a global pandemic, she’s had little time to enjoy it. Style Weekly caught up with Ruiz to discuss her work, motherhood and Richmond as a home for artists.

Style Weekly: Your body of work is unique in that it accommodates both comedy and drama, allowing for you to take on weighty subjects through text and art. … How did you come to choose this art form?

Ruiz: Since I was a kid, drawing has been my way of slowing down my brain and processing emotions and events, sometimes while they’re happening and sometimes long after. Being an observer gives me a role. It gets me out of my own head so that I can empathize with the people around me. I draw in public. As I developed as an artist, I started to notice that if I paid attention to the intuitive voice inside of me that pointed at things that resonated, and grabbed on to those moments or ideas, the work I made was more impactful.

An Elizabeth Warren drawing of yours went viral during the elections, giving you a national platform. Can you speak to that experience and how politics play a role in your work?

That was the wildest thing that’s ever happened to me. I love Elizabeth Warren and so when I kept hearing the same sentiment over and over during the primaries, that people loved her policies but didn’t think she was electable, I felt angry. I couldn’t really let it go, so I decided to make a drawing and write an essay explaining that if all of the people who wanted to vote for her did, she was electable.

I’m not a political artist – my work is fairly personal in nature. I believe in the endless capacity of humans to transform and grow, and I believe in the power of art and storytelling to break down barriers and usher in revolution. Those are my politics and I know that my success thus far has been a result of my commitment to those ideals.

How has the pandemic affected your work and do you see a point in which artists can thrive in this environment?

I’m a single mom with primary custody of a 4- and a 6-year-old, so I’ve been homeschooling and solo parenting pretty much 24/7 since last March. While I have certainly not been thriving, I have also never been more acutely aware of the inequities of our society and my own privilege. This crisis has made it clear that we have many gaping holes in our safety net as a country and until we support our citizens, thriving will be a concept reserved for the rich.

Despite the struggle though, every artist I know is on fire, head down, creating something or ruminating on something they will create soon. I can’t wait to see what they make.

How does motherhood and creativity intersect for you as artist?

The goal of my first book with Beth Newell was to create a manual for women that shed light on the parts of motherhood that are not often talked about, in order to help new moms feel understood and seen during a time of intense transformation. We wanted to speak to the difficult parts that our society hides from women until they are blindsided by it, but also the transcendent and holy and powerful parts of stepping into motherhood that are talked about even less. Motherhood was when I saw my own raw power, when I began to trust my own voice and the things it wanted to say. All female-identifying folks, whether they choose to procreate or not, have this moment of reckoning with their own power in a world that is so afraid of it.

In what ways has Richmond provided opportunity for you as an artist, and do you see the city embracing the arts as we move forward after so many great divisions have been exposed within our community over the past four years?

In Richmond, artists support other artists. I found a progressive and incredibly supportive community at Studio Two Three in Scott’s Addition, the printmaking studio and school where I wrote my first book. The new Lee monument is my favorite piece of art in Richmond’s collection. I hope that, someday, the former capital of the Confederacy will collectively embrace art because of its power to transform us, so that we can write the next chapter of our history together, painting messages of love and hope and healing over relics of a fallen hate mob who lost the war.


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