Illustrator Ruth Chan is one of my favorite people to follow on Instagram. Her comics tackle lighter topics like dogs and curry fish balls to heavier topics like grief and race. “It’s a good way for me to process my thoughts,” she says. “I can say what I want to say but also integrate a bit of humor, which has to be part of life.” She also writes and illustrates children’s books. Here, Ruth shares an acne product that really works and how her dog saved her life…
How have you been fairing during the pandemic?
I live with my boyfriend and we’ve actually been doing okay. We’re both very lucky to still have jobs, and I usually work from home and don’t really see anybody anyway. I just bought more sweatpants and it’s all good. The hardest part is not seeing my family. They’re in Canada, and I haven’t been there for more than a year. And who knows when I’ll see them again?
Have you developed any new hobbies?
Last summer, the real soul-saving activity was surfing in the Rockaways. My boyfriend had surfed for a long time, and I dug deep into learning. We’d go for sunrise or sunset. Nowadays it’s too cold to surf, so my soul is dying again.
Surfing sounds so cool.
I’ve been following all these Hawaiian surfers on Instagram, and everyone is so chill. I’m terrified of waves and don’t like paddling out, but the idea of potentially being that cool one day is enough.
When did you first get into beauty?
Growing up, the idea of beauty and femininity was frowned upon in my family. My mom still uses Body Shop Body Butter on her face, which makes me cringe! But then I got really bad acne. I was like, this is a thing I have to address.
What helped with your acne?
Proactiv, which I started using in my twenties. I don’t love it because it’s so strong, but I tried so many other things that didn’t work. Now I’m on a constant journey to find the right cleanser. (Any recommendations? I hope so!)
What if you break out now?
If I feel a deep zit coming up, I dab on Blume Meltdown. It really works in bringing down the zit so it doesn’t come to the surface. It disappears; it’s amazing.
What other skincare products do you like?
One thing I read about for so long but for some reason didn’t believe in was moisturizing. But ever since I’ve finally started moisturizing my face, it’s helped so much. I have a lot of acne scars, so I put on Sunday Riley CEO Vitamin C serum in the morning. It’s crazy how much it smoothes and brightens my complexion. At night, I use Sunday Riley A+ Retinoid serum. It feels like you’re putting liquid gold on your face, and it smells so nice. Then I use Aqua Bomb gel moisturizer. The other thing that I recently realized was important is sunscreen! I’ve been using Supergoop Unscreen.
How about masks?
Oh my gosh! So, I discovered Peter Thomas Roth pumpkin enzyme masks on Instagram. The thin mask is exfoliating, and you leave it on for about five minutes. Then you wash it off and it’s like a very very gentle peel. Afterward, I put all my moisturizers on and it feels great. I use it twice a week in the evening.
What’s your bedtime routine?
I read in bed until I fall asleep.
Have you read anything good recently?
I loved Deacon King Kong by James McBride — a novel about an incident in a Brooklyn housing project. It’s brilliantly written, and there are twists and turns. I also read Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui — it’s non-fiction about how humans are basically made to be in water. What do we have this constant pull to the sea or ocean or lakes or rivers?
Tell me about writing and illustrating children’s books.
It is the best job in the world — it’s hard but amazing. Children’s books are this tangible art form that you connect with other people over, multi-generationally. They can be funny yet heartfelt, and almost every picture book has some sort of emotional truth. I’m still pretty new to it.
What were you doing before?
I was doing non-profit management, and then basically my life fell apart. I was married and my husband decided he didn’t want to be in the marriage anymore, and it turned out that he was having affairs. Afterward, I got depressed and I lost my job and I had to move out of my apartment because I couldn’t afford it anymore. It sounds clichéd, but it was one of those moments where you reevaluate your life. I asked myself, what do you want to do? And I wanted to do picture books. It’s super competitive, so I gave myself a year to read, practice and see if it could work. And very luckily it worked.
What helped you get through that hard time?
My dog and cat. My dog Feta, who actually died last year, saved my life over the past decade. He was a source of unconditional love and emotional safety. Pets aren’t caught up in the same things humans are. There was a time I’d cry so much that whenever I so much as sniffed, Feta would come over to check on me. And then go back to his bed when he saw I was okay, because he was a very good boy.
What’s your makeup routine these days?
I don’t usually wear much makeup, but when I do, I like Glossier Boy Brow. It’s good for lazy people like me. I use Innisfree eyeliner, concealer, blush and mascara. It’s a Korean brand, and my friends in Hong Kong who are VERY into makeup told me about them. Lastly, Ilia products are fantastic — my friend got me some samples for my birthday and I love them!
Speaking of birthdays, how did it feel to turn 40 recently? I had a weird freak out before my 40th!
My 40th was strange because it was last May — right in the part of the pandemic where it was like, there are other things to worry about than my age!!! So, it passed smoothly. Also, I don’t FEEL like I’m 40. Forty used to feel so old and I still feel like I’m in my early 30s!
What about your hair?
My hair is so thick. I love it! The last couple years, I’ve been getting digital perms — basically, a soft wave perm that originated in Japan. It’s much healthier than a regular perm, since it doesn’t destroy or dry out your hair. I’ve been going to the same guy for a decade — Kriss at Hair News in Flushing.
I love the drawings you feature on Instagram about growing up in a Chinese-Canadian family.
The most recent ones are about anti-Asian racism — obviously there’s this huge uptick in violence against Asians, and it’s pretty upsetting. I was thinking about being Asian-American or Asian-Canadian and how every one of us has had negative experiences. I was thinking about how it’s still important to tell these stories, even if they’re not these huge epic awful stories — but instead the everyday things that happen. Part of why I started this series was I wanted to share my experiences so that other would share theirs. I also wanted non-Asians to understand what microaggressions really mean and what they might feel like. When I made the first one, I was super depressed for two days and didn’t realize why. It really triggered something in me — that feeling of not being seen or of being assumed to be a certain kind of person.
How does it feel to be living in America today?
I’m lucky to live in New York City, where it’s so diverse. One thing I do feel is interesting is that whole idea of a ‘model minority.’ As an Asian, you’re good at math, and as an Asian woman, you’re quiet and sweet. And 1) I’m terrible at math and always have been and people joke about it — haha, that’s so crazy, you’re Asian — and it’s only recently where I’m like, that’s not okay to say, why can’t I be bad at math just like any other person is good or bad at math? And also 2) I’m not quiet. I have a lot to say.