Jess Racklyeft is the illustrator behind her adorably heartwarming debut picture book. With her beautiful, vast array of design and art work and use of mixed media, Jess’s passion and talent shines brightly in Smile Cry. Today we find out more about her illustrative inspiration.
“It’s such a cool book! It never finishes and you could just read it all day!” – Miss M, age 6.
The fun flip-over format with its narrative meeting in the middle is just the beginning of what makes this book so special. Smile Cry, where you can start at either end, deliciously offers its readers a gourmet of emotive goodness to explore and ponder.
My two daughters, ages 3 and 6, perfectly fit the target age group for this clever story, and our first reading experience was … unforgettable! Each page turn, whether we were enjoying the kinds of ‘smiles’ or the types of ‘cries’, motioned us into role-play and thought-provoking action.
The reactions of the three cute characters – piglet, bunny and cat – are easily identifiable as they face a mixed bag of situations, and feelings. Tania McCartney‘s text is wholesome and pure with sentiments of depth that delve further than it appears on the surface. Her beautifully written phrases allow their readers to consider the subtleties of each emotion. It may be a sorrowful, disappointed or even a joyful cry, or an ecstatic, satisfied or grimacing smile. From a ‘hug a cuddly monkey smile’ to ‘perhaps it’s a lost cry’, or a ‘tickle smile’ to a ‘tickle cry’, the level of warmth and empathy will touch each heart in different ways.
Jess Racklyeft‘s illustrations perfectly suit the delicate nature of the story with their pencil and watercolour softness and pastel tones, not to mention her sweet, cuddly characters that exude personality and warmth. I also love how Jess has included fine details and layers to turn each spread into a story of its own.
Smile Cry is a divinely heartfelt book, chock-full of sweet and savoury sentimental moments. It is a valuable resource for building foundations for sound emotional development. Readers from age three will simply gobble it up at every turn, over and over again.
EK Books, March 2016.
Congratulations, Jess, on the recent release of your first picture book, Smile Cry! How do you plan on celebrating its launch?
Thank you so much! On Saturday April 9th I’ll be launching the book at The Little Bookroom in Carlton North (Melbourne). This is my local bookshop, and since I wandered in there almost four years ago with my baby has been a place of inspiration and support… They’ve been stocking my cards and prints, and now my first book.
On the day we will have tasty baked goods, drinks and lots of games. A musician friend Claire Hollingsworth will be playing a few songs, and I’m looking forward to sending it off into the world with some cake and champagne. The fantastic author Tania McCartney recently launched the book in Canberra and it looked like such an amazing day.
What were your thoughts on Smile Cry when it was handed to you to illustrate?
It was a big build up as I had entered a competition to illustrate the book that Tania and the publisher Anouska had run on an online drawing group, the 52 Week Challenge. I had seen a couple of lines of text from the book to create my entry, but wasn’t sure how the narrative would work or the characters etc. So when I first saw the manuscript I was so excited about the possibilities. The text was so image-filled, Tania had put together such a sweet and sensitive manuscript and my mind was racing with the illustrative possibilities!
What was it like to collaborate with the talented Tania McCartney?
She’s just a dream to work with. She’s so passionate about children’s books (like me!) and has so much respect for the industry and the process. I used to work for a children’s publisher and I know usually the author and illustrator don’t have a great deal of interaction in the process, but I was so lucky EK Books allowed us to work closely on it. I think this resulted in the best outcome for us both – and we had so much fun through the process. She’s an inspiration.
What little secrets can you share about the making of Smile Cry?
On “An ate all the pies smile” I snuck in a little copy the paper The Age. One of my favourite pastimes pre kids was an afternoon of sun lounging with the paper in the park with some baked goods. Sadly, this doesn’t last more than a few minutes these days, but I drew it remembering those days very fondly J. Also, I created a very subtle colour palette for each side – Smile has slightly warmed tones, and cry cooler.
I love the softness of your lines, tones and sweet characters in the book. This style perfectly suits the gentle nature of the story. What was your favourite part of the book to work on? Why is this meaningful to you?
Thank you so much! It’s funny because I did another book around the same time, and by coincidence they are coming out the same month (The Midnight Possum) – it’s a completely different style though, and I didn’t actually consciously plan out the look as much as I now see they have. It just sort of came together in a very easy way (with a lot of drawing, of course!).
In terms of my favourite part… I loved working on all of it to be honest! It’s been a lifelong dream to illustrate picture books and the process was just a joy. I think the pig walking in the forest page was perhaps my happiest one as it is my happy place being in nature too.
Your illustrative repertoire is wide with work including children’s books, painting and design of cards and prints. Is any one venue more challenging than the rest? Where do you plan for your art to take you in the future?
I had a long time working in other industries before working as a freelance illustrator, so when I set out to make my career viable and stable, I wanted to gain work in a lot of areas. It’s been pretty challenging trying to keep up with all the different projects and clients, especially since we had a second baby, but I do enjoy working on lots of different things. I would say picture books are the most challenging as you have to dive so deeply into the project, but it is something I would like to do more of. I hope one day to both write and draw my own books, as well as create a line of décor products for kids (I love translating illustrations to different mediums – eg doonas!).
Have you always wanted to be an artist? What do you love about illustrating for children?
I have, although I got swept into working in a variety of other jobs before I got back to my true work love, illustration! I love the fact that you are creating work that a child can connect with and it may stick with them for the rest of their life. I reflect back on my favourite books from my own childhood, and the way they spoke to me so strongly in an emotive or imaginative way.
What does your work space look like? Is there an item in your studio that you cannot live without? What are your favourite mediums to use?
We are really lucky in that we have a “granny flat” out the back of our garden which has beautiful light, and an intercom so I can hear when our bub wakes! I love working with watercolours (and always have) although more and more I am having fun experimenting with digital media. I’ve also been scanning in my 3 year old’s artwork and use some of this for collage material for my work, or for drawing with her – for example last October she did some watercolour marks and I made an Australian bird painting a day in ink.
How did you get your break in the industry? What is your greatest tip for emerging illustrators?
I sent the most amazing lady, Patricia Howes from Omnibus, my portfolio for 6 YEARS! While I look at my first work and grimace, she was so kind and would send the most helpful feedback – and called me to say I had a job illustrating a book with Sally Morgan (you could have blown me over with a feather). I’ve also been lucky to have yearly catch ups with Anna Walker, and amazing people like Tania and EK Books to support me through the process of working on my first book. So I guess I am saying – make connections, friendships and keep chipping away, as all those incredible people from the industry are usually also very kind and happy to share their knowledge.
What are you currently working on? Any exciting projects or upcoming events that you can share with us?
In October my next book will be released with Scholastic, called One Little Koala. Right now I am working on many many client projects, from designing resin jewellery for Erstwilder, creating portraits for my Etsy shop, designing candle labels for a non-profit, painting a peony for a wedding gift, designing fabric etc…. I keep a little overview of projects on my website www.jessesmess.com as they come to fruition. But in the background I am always musing over the next possible book project, so hopefully next year I will have a couple more out in the world J
Looking forward to seeing more amazing art from you. Thank you so much for joining us at Boomerang Books, Jess!
Thank you so so much for having me!
Purchase Smile Cry.
Find details for the launch here.