We had the good fortune of connecting with Ruthi Drori Mitelman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ruthi, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
A few years ago, I was just attempting to go back to teaching art, after dealing with some difficult to diagnose diseases that had kept me ill and bedridden for a number of years. Before having to quit working a few years earlier, I had been a middle and high school studio art teacher for the bulk of my career, spending almost twenty years in the classroom. Knowing I couldn’t go back to full time work meant that I needed to find other venues for teaching, so I began teaching evening art classes and fell in love with working with adults! Meanwhile, I had always dabbled in jewelry making, and had run a slow moving side business on Etsy on and off for years.
In 2019, I was lucky enough to take part in a year long course called Breakthrough Collective, held by the lovely ladies at BrightSpot Creative, a kick ass, girl boss marketing firm here in Houston. The purpose of the course was to give resources, support and inspiration for achieving a breakthrough in business.
Throughout that yearlong course, Ruthi Makes was born!
Some of the questions asked during that year were the ones that started me on my journey. What gives me joy? What is my why? What do I want to do? Well, I discovered that I wanted to teach more, make more, and create more! My initial thought for my business was, ‘How can I do more of those things’?
First though, I had to get over misguided self doubts. You see, I never imagined that my Attention Deficit Disorder and lack of focus would actually come to define my business. Ruthi Makes began from my effort to come to terms with the things that I had always thought of as limitations. I discovered that they were actually benefits to my business idea. Finding joy in creating and teaching whatever I wanted, and then giving other people that feeling of joy in their explorations was a defining AHA moment! I always knew my superpower was teaching, and that my passion was making and creating. Now I’d be able to do both! So, having a great idea for a business was key, but getting past my own limited view of myself was critical too.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I never thought my career would bring me to this moment. My relationship with art has been ongoing my entire life. I learned the basics of drawing, painting and ceramics in after school classes and an exclusive art school scholarship program I was accepted to in my teens. My dad is an architect and a designer, and fed my needs as a kid with lessons in woodworking, sewing, jewelry making and more. One of my degrees is in Design, something I chose when I didn’t know what I would do with an Arts degree. I could have never imagined I’d end up becoming a teacher, or that I’d like it so much I’d get certified in teaching art later!
I’ve learned a few life lessons because of the challenges I’ve faced as an adult with multiple autoimmune illnesses. These have shaped the artist I have become. I’ve learned to grab a good day with both hands, and create when I can for as long as possible. I’ve learned that there are alternative solutions to questions and problems that arise in my work, which actually led to an innovative technique for sculpting jewelry that I developed, or the waterproof, non toxic finish to my fabrics that didn’t exist before I created it. I invent things regularly because I need them! I have taught myself every single thing I teach others, because I couldn’t leave the house to take a class, or because no one was teaching a thing and I wanted to figure out how to make it.
My curiosity is the reason my brand exists, because I have all these ideas, and make so many things! I’ve found that creative thinking is the root of all things. My impulsivity, which I once considered a hindrance to working, allows me to put one media down, and move on to another, then double back and use both to make a third. It’s made me more creative, and caused me to explore more things creatively. The focus I find with making new things feeds my inner perfectionist, and allows me to finish every detail as I imagined it, in full technicolor awesomeness! I’ve learned to play to my strengths, and one of them is that bounce from one thing to another.
I’ve learned that I’m quite happy to make a one of a kind piece with all my heart and soul, but would hate to have to make twenty of the same thing. The process of discovering and making something unique is what I crave. I read somewhere that Native Americans believe that a true artist leaves a bit of their soul in each piece they make. I love that idea, and feel that it’s how I work too. I strive to always give something of myself in every thing I am making. That’s why it’s all one of a kind.
I’ve learned that so much of art is experience. Nothing is wasted, not time, materials or effort, if your objective is exploration. My brain is always busy. If I’m not thinking of something to make, I’m figuring out how to make something I’m thinking of.
As mentioned, innovation is a big part of my process, and new mediums fill that need to be busy, but also give you the fun of learning how to use them for your benefit. My brain is happiest when I give it multiple projects to work on simultaneously, and I’ve learned to be okay with the chaos in my head and my space, because it feeds the process.
My own work encompasses a few different things right now. I am pretty busy! My Ruthi Makes classes are monthly, and take place in Rice Village. There, I offer a judgement free, intimate space, to explore a changing art medium every month. We’ve done Frida Kahlo fabric collage for two years running now, (in honor of the artist’s birthday), and abstract painting is always a fan favorite! We’ve made Nichos Decorativos, done metal tooling, paint pouring, jewelry making and so much more! I try to keep it interesting and varied, while offering options you won’t find elsewhere. I also teach more traditional drawing, painting and ceramics classes at ERJCC Houston.
I have two lines of jewelry: My Ruthi Makes brand that focuses on rainbow gems, minerals and raw stones with high quality materials, and another line that is a fun and quirky hand cut wood and decoupage jewelry line called Whimsy! that I developed during the pandemic, when I decided my obsession with fabrics and textiles needed more outlets than just my hand made clothing.
In addition, I offer soft sculpture art kits that I hope to continue to add to. The Moths and Butterflies kit came from a Ruthi Makes class earlier this year, and the Soft Sculpture Owls Kit came from props I created for a Wizarding World party a few years ago. I’m also just starting to get into offering my paintings in various formats, as prints, canvases and more, and hope to have that up and running by the end of the year. You can find out about those launches when they happen, by following me on social media!
Finally, since I started my brand in 2019, I ‘ve donated many hundreds of dollars in free classes, artwork and handmade jewelry – as well as actual dollar profits, to HISD schools, social activism organizations here in the United States, and also worldwide health and aid efforts. When you shop with me, you support both our local and global communities, one of the best reasons for shopping small!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’ve lived in Houston for most of my life, and two things always stand out to me about H-town: the food and culture! There is so much to see and do here. Some of my favs are Tex Mex at Chuy’s , or drinking the frose’ outside at Axelrad. I love Discovery Green, and would make time to catch a rock concert at Toyota Center. We’d go to the abundant museums here in town, especially the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, which is always a favorite. I’d walk the grounds at Bayou Bend and the Arboretum, or go look for murals and take pictures there. Art Car would be an awesome way to spend a weekend, and I could reminisce about the car I designed and created way back when. Finally, I am a big, big nerd, so the Space Center would be a very important stop too!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My husband, Guy, has always supported me wholeheartedly. Because of my medical history and years of not being able to work at all, when I came to him with thoughts of a business, it would have been an opportune moment to tell me it was time for me to pull in my share of income. Instead, he told me I was capable and talented, and I needed to give my business a try. He centers me, and is the voice of reason to my creative, flighty fantasies. And while I wouldn’t say I pull in a full paycheck yet, I still hope to do so one day!
The ladies at BrightSpot Creative, and my partners in crime in the Breakthrough Collective, are who gave me my wings. I think that too often, women don’t feel supported in their out of the box ideas, but my entrepreneurial sisters and mentors had nothing but love and encouragement for me when I said, ” I want to make a business out of my ability to teach anything, as well as my love of creating”. That was a scary moment, because I didn’t know what that would entail, or whether it was a viable option, I only knew that I was ready to claim my gift and put it out there in the world!