Featured Artist Ruth Becker works with a variety of different mediums in order to explore her creative process through multiple lenses. 

As a Jewish artist, Ruth was first introduced to papercutting as a traditional Jewish folk craft. Her papercuts display complex works of intricately-cut and layered paper designed with mathematical precision. In contrast, the awareness brought to her paintings is rooted in feeling, more spontaneous and colorful, and emotionally expressive. 

These distinct and almost opposite approaches function as multiple lenses through which Ruth Becker explores her creativity, perception, and understanding.  

Artwork Archive got the chance to chat with Ruth Becker about her creative process, career, and what being a successful artist means to her. You can see more of her work on Discovery and learn more about her art practice below. 

Ruth Becker, 'Eon',11 x 14 x 0.5 in

Has your work changed over time—do you find yourself understanding your art career through different periods of expression? 

Yes, my work has changed over time, and I have certainly worked through several distinct expressive periods.

As a multidisciplinary artist, it can be very obvious that I’m in a different period of expression based on what medium I’m working in. For example, when 2020 came around and my business and life changed very abruptly, one of the things I did almost immediately was to switch media: I put aside my paper artwork and devoted myself entirely to abstract and landscape painting for over a year.

Ruth Becker, 'The Whole World II', 20 x 16 in

Then, gradually over the course of the next year, I began returning to papercutting—but this time, I brought to my practice a more painterly sensibility that I’d had in the past. This is reflected in my newest layered paper artworks. 

The more work I do, the more I see how the successive, distinct phases in my work are all actually part of a single movement. They are part of one spiraling gesture that cycles up and up through phases of development while turning on several consistent axes.

Those axes are defined by several seemingly-distinct through-lines in my work, such as certain gestures, compositional elements, themes, or color palettes. For example, I am deeply drawn to rotational symmetry—circles, mandalas, certain numbers—and I just completed a set of smaller paperworks, all of which include versions of these.

These pieces are very consistent with the work I was doing back in 2015 and reflect similar insights and understandings. They also reflect new technical insights and a sort of strength of conviction that wasn’t there in the past. The work is cleaner now; more refined.

So it’s a different period of expression, to be sure, but the periods aren’t linear, and the work is a continuation of past work more than a departure. 

Moving forward, I expect to continue to see this evolution and am excited to be able to continue to draw on previous chapters in my work to create work that is entirely new. 

Ruth Becker, 'Lotus (in blue)', 19 x 19 x 0.5 in
 

Do you have a favorite or most satisfying part of your creative process?

I really enjoy solving the problems that arise in the course of the work. Often there’s a phase in my work where I hit an impasse, where I feel stuck and can’t see the way out. I really delight in devising novel or ingenious ways through those seemingly impossible straits, especially when it comes in an “a-ha” flash of insight. 

Relatedly, my paper artworks are designed on my computer in Adobe Illustrator. While I’ve gotten pretty good at imagining how those designs are going to look once they are cut out of actual physical paper, there’s nothing like stacking the sheets of paper for the first time and seeing the whole thing come together. I really love that!

I also love seeing people respond to my work in person, whether I’m exhibiting my work publicly or delivering a piece to a client. I used to imagine that my fantasy was to be alone in my studio and just make stuff all the time—not to fuss with the business or marketing or actual clients and collectors—but as I’ve moved along in my career, I’m coming to realize that that’s not really true.

As much as I love the alone-in-the-studio portion of the work, the work is only truly complete once another person receives what I have to give. 

Mostly though, I love when I lose myself in the work. I love when I’m fully engaged with the process and immersed in the making. That’s when I feel most at home in the universe.

 

You mention that within your work, your “medium is the message." Can you speak a bit more about how you came to discover papercuts as one of your mediums of choice?

I was first introduced to paper cutting as a traditional Jewish folk craft and created my first papercuts when I was in high school. At first, I made some greeting cards and simple projects, but by the time I was a college student, I was creating some pretty large-scale complex cut-out works.

From the beginning, I was drawn to the stark visual interplay of positive and negative space and loved the play of contrasts, as well as how paper could be used to make intricate works and also clean, minimal compositions. Or how it’s this humble, workaday material and how cutting transforms and elevates it from a two-dimensional surface to a three-dimensional substance.

Papercutting also has its own internal rigor, and meeting its demands is incredibly satisfying. You can’t just kind of smoosh things around and call it good, you know? It has to work—which is satisfying sort of the way solving a math problem is satisfying. Painting, on the other hand, is more like writing—with its agonies and ecstacies and clever turns of phrase.

The precision and planning involved require an analytical, exacting mindset and a certain mode of insight that I really enjoy bringing to bear on my work. 

That said, papercutting really became my medium of choice for very mundane, practical reasons. By the time I began making art full-time, I had three children under the age of five, was living abroad, and had little to no help with the babies.

My studio time took place during naptimes and in stolen moments; it took place in these unpredictable, in-between sprints. Since papercutting is a dry medium, I knew that however long I had in the studio on a given day, whenever I was interrupted, I’d be able to return to a piece and it would be more or less exactly as I’d left it. 

Ruth Becker, 'Sweetheart', 19 x 19 x 0.5 in

What has your artistic education consisted of (formal or not)?  

I am substantially self-taught as an artist.

My formal training is limited to a few really wonderful classes in college at UC Berkeley back in the 90s. Most notably with John McNamara, who is a really interesting, thoughtful painter, a lovely human being, and a much-beloved teacher. His teaching had a huge impact on me. Not only did his lessons ground my work from a technical perspective, but he also provided deeper lessons about art and life: mark-making, intention, mindfulness, etc. that I recall frequently, even 30 years later. 

John believed in me before it even occurred to me to believe in myself. I was a rhetoric major in college, destined for law school, and it never crossed my mind to become a professional artist. But, I loved art classes and tried to take as many as I could, immersing myself in them fully.

One day, when I was a senior and working on a large-scale papercutting, John pulled me aside in the hallway.

“I want you to know something,” he told me. "I want you to know,” he said (I’ll never forget this) “that you can do this.”

You can do this. 

After college, my career path meandered. I did, in fact, go to law school, did a stint in the news business, and traveled.

But when many years later, I had a sudden epiphany and realized that I had to be an artist, after all, and I was terrified, having no idea how to be an artist, I remembered that conversation. I took a lot of strength from that moment of mentorship, from knowing that somewhere out there, someone that I admired and trusted believed in me. I could do it!

Otherwise, I learned from memory, from YouTube, from Google, and from trial and error. I’d see something, try to reverse engineer it, and do my own version, learning as I went. Learning is one of my favorite parts of the process, actually.

Though I haven’t studied art formally, my formal education has certainly had an impact on my art career. I mentioned that I was a rhetoric major in college, right? The study of rhetoric is the study of persuasive communication and symbolic discourse—which of course includes art.

So I have a pretty solid theoretical understanding of art-making, even if I missed out on some of the practice in school. More importantly, in college and then subsequently in law school, I learned to write, which has been invaluable. Plus, I took a few classes in law school that had to do with advising small businesses, and that knowledge has been pretty handy!

Ruth Becker, 'provocativ', 14 x 11 x 0.5 in

 

Is there anything, in particular, you're working on right now that has you excited?

Yes! I am super excited about the collection of layered paper artworks I’ve recently completed. Much of this work has been a long time coming … really years and years in my mind on my hard drive. Getting that work out of my head and into the world is such a joyous feeling. 

Looking ahead, I’ve begun experimenting with ways to scale my work up, and I’m really excited about this. One of my dreams is to create works on a much larger scale, both monochromatic works and works in color, and I’ve begun the process of making that happen. 

 

What does being a successful artist mean to you and your life right now?

Being a successful artist means providing for myself and my family while doing valuable, meaningful creative work.

To be honest, I take the view that by working as an artist at all, I am already successful. That is, my primary goal as an artist is to keep making more art! So every day I live this life of mine is already a success, whether I have a paintbrush or cutting knife in hand or whether I’m gathering my creative stores for some future creative endeavor. 

I’ve also had some recent professional achievements, like having works juried into exhibitions and securing gallery representation for the first time, and—well, I’ve been at this for a while. So it feels really good and validating to know that the work I am doing has value to others, too. 

That said, whatever I might have accomplished so far, I am very driven as a person and an artist, so I spend most of my time thinking about what I still need to do—and doing it.

If “success” means feeling like I can rest now, then … I am not there. Miles to go before I sleep. 

This is both because I know I can do more to provide for myself and my kids —and also because making art is almost like scratching an itch. Scratching it is super satisfying, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying need. In fact, the more art I make, the more I need to make more!

So being successful means having opportunities to do the work I feel so impelled to do. 

Ruth Becker, 'Hyperbolic II', 8 x 8 in

Why did you decide to use Artwork Archive to inventory/manage your artwork?

Before I began using Artwork Archive, I’d been using a series of spreadsheets to track my inventory. I was getting increasingly frustrated, because the more work I created, and the more clients and collectors I had, the harder it became to find what I was looking for at any given time.

I would end up scrolling up and down spreadsheets, not remembering the right search terms or precisely where I’d stored information. It became less and less efficient, and I found it difficult to track everything. I realized that I was missing out on opportunities—and I knew there had to be a better way.

Artwork Archive was recommended to me by Danielle Glosser of Client Raiser. Danielle is a consultant to artists; she helps artists achieve their goals, and I began working with her almost a year ago.

Soon after we began working together, she took a look under the hood of my business and immediately suggested Artwork Archive to me—so I decided to give it a whirl.

I wasn’t even committed to sticking with the platform at first, but I found it really satisfying to use from the outset. Artwork Archive made it easy for me to efficiently import my data and get up and running quickly and efficiently. Pretty much as soon as I started using it, I was like oh my god where has this been my whole life? 

I’m very grateful that this software exists. It allows me to put my best foot forward as an artist.

 

How do you use Artwork Archive on a daily basis?

I use Artwork Archive to keep records and track inventory of all of my artwork. I use it to search and get information to the right people efficiently in a format that will be useful to them, and that reflects well on me and on my business. I also use Artwork Archive for invoicing, tracking exhibitions, and creating artwork labels needed when exhibiting artwork.

Sometimes I will use it in order to take a look back to see where I’ve come artistically and also to see how much value I've generated over time. As I review 2022 and look forward to 2023, it’s helping me clarify where I have met my artistic and financial goals, and where I could use some work. 

 

What advice would you give an emerging artist during this time?

My advice for an emerging artist during this time is, first of all, take heart. You’re doing great. Take a moment to breathe. Take time to listen. 

Then, I would advise younger or emerging artists to embrace the entire job of being a professional artist, both in and out of the studio. Art-making and creative work are, of course, core components of the job— but they are not the whole job, any more than doctors’ work is limited to administering medicine or teachers’ work is done entirely in the classroom.  

The work of a professional artist begins in the studio but extends beyond our creative practices.

Our job includes illuminating the path for others to connect with our work, using whatever tools are at our disposal. Whether we’re writing helpful artist statements, providing service to clients and collectors, presenting or work in person or online, or marketing our work so that others have the opportunity to connect with what we’re doing—my advice to emerging artists would be to embrace the whole job, and to commit to doing their studio work justice by sharing it with the conviction and intention it deserves. 

Ruth Becker, 'Magic (Warm Tone)', 19 x 19 x 0.5 in

Ruth Becker uses Artwork Archive to track her artwork, create artwork labels, and analyze how far her art career has come. 

You can make an online portfolio, catalog your artwork, and generate reports like inventory reports, tear sheets, and invoices in seconds with Artwork Archive. Take a look at Artwork Archive's free trial and start growing your art business.