Rug and Textile Designer
With her intrinsic, inimitable and whimsical design approach, South African-born Ruth Lazerson is a rug and textile designer – and I’m calling it… she has the coolest career in history.
With unrivaled innovation and creativity, Ruth has one of the most remarkable career journeys. Her impressive career started with a background in art history, art curating and the business of art. She completed her BA Honours Degree in Art History and then went on to study art at Sotheby’s in London, completing the “Works of Art Diploma” with distinction.
You are going to love Ruth’s account on her childhood, time at school, and her retrospective outlook on her upbringing, which has sparked a strong ethical commitment and relationship with GoodWeave – a company that advocates for social change.
Yep, Ruth is a warrior. A lover of aesthetics, colour and Ellen de Generes… I mean whats not to love?
Please meet the incredible Ruth Lazerson…
Hi Ruth, Love, love love your work, so intricate, beautiful – you really do have the coolest career. Can you start by telling us where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are and the career that you are in today?
Hi there! I grew up in Johannesburg in South Africa under Apartheid. At the time I didn’t really know any different but looking back on it now I think my experience has had a lot to do with the person I am today and the career that I have chosen as well as the work I do as a result of my career.
South Africa was (and still is) an amazing multi cultural melting pot with many very rich and fascinating cultures. The natural environment is quite spectacular with wide open savannah plains, wildlife, and exquisite beaches. I guess my love of nature, beautiful things, rich textiles and art must have come largely from all this. I work with textiles and create beautiful things, often inspired by nature.
Life in South Africa was not really like life in too many other places, and it really bothers me to think that we lived like that and just accepted it. We had servants that were paid a pittance and worked unfairly long hours while living in a room the size of a shoebox. They had to come to the cities to find work in order to support their children and families out in the country. This meant that sometimes parents and children didn’t see each other for an entire year. This really saddens me and I think it has left me with a strong sense of social justice and a need to do more for families who are unfortunately separated due to circumstances beyond their control.
Luckily my work in carpets enables me to do something worthwhile and help children and families in India. I work with an organization called Goodweave which is trying to save children who are being used to make carpets when they should be at school. Children who make carpets often work very long hours, don’t grow properly because they are sitting all the time and have respiratory problems because they breathe in the wool fibres while they are weaving.
So, in my work I’m not only creating beautiful things, I’m also contributing to helping children and families!
Thank you for that deep dive into your childhood. it’s awesome to hear that you are now doing so many things, to positive impact the next generations. Let’s back it up to high school. Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to a high school in Johannesburg called Redhill. It wasn’t the highlight of my life that is for sure but it wasn’t terrible either and I think I just got on with it because I understood that it would benefit me in the long run – although I had no idea what I wanted to do and exactly how it would benefit me.
Did High School play an important role in your career choices?
I don’t really think high school played an important role in helping me decide what I wanted to do. I knew that I loved art and languages so I did that. I was really useless at maths and absolutely loathed it so I didn’t do that (wish I had though). Looking back its all definitely shaped what I’ve done but at the time I really didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do so I just did what I enjoyed and loved doing.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
I worked in an art gallery for a few months in my last year of school which I really enjoyed. I basically just had to put stamps on letters and do other menial tasks to help everyone, but it was wonderful to see the artworks, meet the artists and see how an exhibition actually happened.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
When I finished school I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I didn’t think I was good enough to do a Fine Arts Degree so I ended up doing Art History and Psychology thinking I might like to do something with art therapy. In the fourth year of Psychology the statistics really got to me (like I said, wish I’d done maths at school!) so I decided to go further with the art. I finished an Honours Degree in Art History in Johannesburg which I absolutely loved and then went to London to do the Works of Art Course at Sotheby’s (which I believe is still offered). That was an experience of a life time and I am forever grateful to my parents who had to fork out big bucks to send me there for a year. I graduated with distinction and decided to stay in London and try and get some work experience.
Wow Ruth, how terribly exciting. What a journey. Let’s dive into your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
I got a few part time jobs in London in clothing stores so that I could stay on there and then I arranged to do some work experience at Sotheby’s in the Prints Department which was probably one of the highlights of my life!.I put into practice what I had learned on the course and got a good insight into the process of valuing art and looking for fakes and forgeries. When I couldn’t stand working in the clothes shops anymore and Sotheby’s, unfortunately, couldn’t offer me a paid job I got a very low paying job in a gallery. Once again, it was such a great learning opportunity as I got to help with exhibitions, writing press releases and interviewing artists. I wanted to travel so when I could afford it I went to Paris and Israel and also worked in various art galleries there. When I was about 26 I went back to South Africa where I got a job at Sotheby’s in Johannesburg. When I got married, we came to live in Australia and unfortunately I had no background in Australian art so it was difficult to get a job at one of the auction houses or an art gallery. I had my children and took 10 years off working to raise them.
How did you get the job that you are in now?
I got into the job I’m in now quite by accident actually but I know its definitely the right path – I wish I’d come across it earlier in my life but at least I’m doing it now! When my eldest child was ten I realized that I wanted to go back to work but wasn’t really sure what to do. I knew I wanted to do something with art and design so I enrolled at the International School of Colour and Design in North Sydney and did a CERT1V Diploma in Design thinking I’d go on and do interior design after that. During the CERT1V course we had a rug designing brief which I absolutely loved and couldn’t stop designing rugs! Instead of going on to do interior design I did the Diploma in Surface Design and followed this up for another year with Rachael Taylor’s “Make it in Design” course which is an outstanding surface design course online. When I graduated I knew that I wanted to design rugs and I’m still designing rugs!
Thank you for sharing the courses and knowledge that you have collected Ruth. So what’s the hardest part about being a rug designer?
The hardest part of what I do is the admin. I’m a creative and that’s really what I want to be doing but running a business requires a few more skills than just creating! (Did I mention that I wish I’d done maths?). There is a lot to do in terms of legalities, admin, shipping, accounting and insurance – these are all things I find extremely difficult and really don’t enjoy at all!
Maths… got it! Ha Ha What does a day a typical business day look like for you and your work?
I’m lucky enough to work from my office at home although I have a showroom where I meet clients so I work in both places. I usually spend some time on a Sunday evening organizing the week ahead and making a “to do” list which I check off as I get through them.
My days are very varied with lots of different things to do. Most days I spend the first part of the morning at my desk answering e mails, writing promotional material for my business, on the phone and doing admin. I usually make appointments and meet clients and interior designers at the showroom from about 11am – 2.30pm. This is the fun part because I get to show them the rugs and then this is when we customize the rug design, choosing colours and materials to suit the client using our rug software programme and the rug pom poms. The afternoons are usually spent back at my computer and working on orders that either have to be executed or that are already in progress and talking to my supplier in India.
Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time to design as I would like although I do try and make a few hours every day to paint and work on my designs – usually in the evening. Designing for me involves painting with different mediums like inks, gesso, watercolors, acrylic or gouache as well as drawing and doodling. Once I’ve done a few I then I scan the artworks into Photoshop where I play with them and create my designs. To turn these designs into rugs, they need to be translated into a rug CAD which eventually becomes a rug pattern used by the weavers in India to weave the rug. Once the design has been translated into a CAD I know how many colours I can use for the rug and I have to select these colours from a box coloured of rug pom poms. In India they use these coloured pom poms to get the yarn dyed correctly so the rug has the exact colours I’ve specified. For me, the designing process is the best part of my job!
Fascinating, just love the process of bringing one of your designs to life. I want your job Ruth! Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
Honestly, my hero would have to be my mum! She has the most amazing outlook on life believing that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. I think that rubbed off on me! She found her true calling and lived her dream later in her life and that is such an inspiration to me.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in design or even rug design?
Firstly I’d say believe that you can do anything you set your mind to and then go and get it. I’d also say sometimes we don’t always find what we want to do as soon as we finish school and it takes a while (sometimes many many years) to find our happy place and that’s perfectly ok because everything we do along the way is preparing us. Hopefully, you know what you like doing and can do something along those lines because it will eventually lead you where you need to be.
To be a textile designer I’d say do a textile or surface design diploma or degree. Make sure you are totally proficient in the Adobe Suite especially Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign so that you can translate your painted designs into print ready files. To run your own business I’d suggest doing a book keeping course and acquiring some solid and practical marketing skills both in dealing with people and on social media.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession:
- Favourite Websites: www.design-seeds.com for colour inspiration, www.style-files.com for interior design inspiration, www.designsponge.com for design inspiration, www.theruggist.com for all things rugs and carpets, www.businesschicks.com and www.creativewomenscircle.com.au for my daily dose of positive vibes and business inspiration, Rachael Taylor’s Make it in Design is also a great resource for textile and pattern lovers and she offers some fantastic online courses in surface design.
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: Caravanaire on Instagram for beautiful imagery
- Favourite Podcast: My favourite podcasts would have to be the ones by creative entrepreneurial women like Grace Bonney and Tiffany Han.
- Favourite Books: I’m an avid reader and read anything and everything although my preference would always be for historical fiction. One of my all time favourites would be The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and a close second would have to be A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I also loved Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin.
- People you love: I find inspiring are usually those who are happy and comfortable with themselves and who they are. Ellen de Generes epitomizes the image of individuality and being comfortable in one’s own skin and is just such an inspiration to just express yourself and be who you want to be.