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Meet David Ruff of Ruffmade in Edgewater

Today we’d like to introduce you to David Ruff.

David, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m an artist originally from Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina. I moved with my partner in 2001 and now am thrilled to call Chicago home. As a child I was always drawing and creating something. Through school I always tried to push myself creatively. After high school, I studied architecture and visual arts at Clemson University but left before finishing my studies in 1991.

In an attempt to “find myself”, I put the idea of being a full time artist behind me in the early 1990’s, but always created things in my spare time. As time went on, I began creating more and more pieces and exploring new mediums. Around 2010 I began creating more consistently and started to focus my energies on showing some works.

In 2012 I had my first solo show. It was a disjointed show of image transfer pieces. I learned so much from that first show on how to create a cohesive narrative and show. I continued to create and show my works on a regular basis after that first show. In 2016, I transitioned from a part time artist to full time creative. With the change, I have also started to really focus on my techniques and subjects and find my creative voice. It (and I) will always be a work in progress, but each day makes it a little less scattered.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Growing up, I was the typical punk rock kid of the 80’s with dreams of being extraordinary and something revolutionary. The years that followed made me realize that revolutionary and extraordinary are relative and not always the same for every person. And rejection is just part of the artistic life, and everyone has had to deal with it in one way or another. That’s all part of the deal if you want to create. You have to develop a thick skin for that part.

So, I would love to go into a story of how I was an outsider and fought through all these obstacles to pursue my art…that would be a much cooler story.

But the reality is, I have had a pretty uneventful and lucky life. I was a good student in school. I was lucky enough to find skateboarding and the creativity that bloomed within that scene in the mid to late 80’s. Those experiences, and just the scene as a whole, helped to shape who I became. I always seemed to find my way both in and out of the creative world without feeling defeated. Skateboarding teaches you that in order to “land the trick” you have to put in the time, and sometimes the blood. Not an easy lesson, but a good one to learn.

And I was lucky enough to have a support system that has always pushed me to be myself and create. I can’t thank my family, both biological and chosen, enough for what they have given me all these years. It isn’t always easy to experience rejections, but knowing that you have that support makes it so much more bearable.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Ruffmade story. Tell us more about the business.
Well, I am kind of all over the board with my work. I like to explain that I am a mixed media artist first. From there I have a lot of irons in the fire at all times. I do work with reclaimed materials such as windows and wood flooring to create industrial pieces that reflect my love of the urban landscape and the decay that goes with it. I also create paintings and drawings that are reflective of that same industrial vibe, but much more aimed at a fine art audience in terms of materials.

I have also delved into printmaking, photography and figurative works and draw on the inspirations I have gotten from those mediums. I have been working on larger pieces that are much more abstract and concerned with developing movement and texture. These pieces are combining my love of urban street art and acrylic painting together in pieces that are much less directly derivative of my surroundings. In addition, I am continuing a series of “sidewalk crack” paintings begun in 2015 that explore looking down as you navigate the urban landscape.

Most recently I have been focusing on new pen and ink sketch pieces that reflect specific views and vignettes that I have found. Some are industrial and urban. Others are more pastoral and bucolic. The pieces are intended to not only reflect that view, but also the feeling that the view evokes in me. Hopefully viewers will be able to tap into something when they look at one of my pieces.

One of the things that keeps me going day in and day out is when someone looks at a piece and really connects with it. That is what makes me the most proud. When it happens, I like to really savor that to push me through the days when people just aren’t connecting with them.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Luck is always something that plays a huge role in my life. I like to say without luck I would have nothing. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that supported all my weirdness. My formative younger years were filled with lots of lucky moments that I look back on now and really am thankful for.

I was lucky to come up in a time where art and music exploded and forced me to be more creative. I am lucky to have found someone to love and who loves me for who I am. And I am super lucky to have had an opportunity to explore being a full time artist.

Now I also know that without hard work and determination, luck alone can’t make you feel or be successful. So yes, luck is important, but so is keeping your nose to the grindstone day after day. Those days where you hear a lot of “no’s” can make you feel unlucky, but you just have to push through and keep on creating. That’s truly the part where I am lucky that I still want to create no matter how many times I hear “no”.


  • Original Pen and Ink pieces starting at $20
  • Wooden Chicago flags and squares starting at $50

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