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Member only guide to the Australian book industry.
We are thrilled to share our April Member Spotlight features author and illustrator Jess Racklyeft! Jess was recently announced as the winner of a SCBWI International Bologna Scholarship, which included a ticket to the Bologna Book Fair and the opportunity for Jess to showcase her illustration portfolio.
Jess Racklyeft is a Melbourne-based author and illustrator who creates a variety of illustrated things – picture books, paintings, prints, pins and cards – mainly in watercolours. Her work often combines collage – either on paper or digitally assembled – and lots of ink, and for every book she tries to use a new technique or process to continue to challenge and grow, book by book. Jess worked in publishing sales for almost a decade before making the leap to full-time illustration work, and since then has won several illustration accolades including two CBCA Notable Picture Book of the Year awards. Her work can now be found in bookshops and libraries across Australia.
What inspired you to begin a career in illustrating and writing?
I have always loved books and after university found myself working for publishers such as Lonely Planet and the Five Mile Press in a variety of roles. On the side I was always drawing, a secret passion of mine! When I left to go on maternity leave ten years ago I decided it was the right time to give illustration a good go and submitted my portfolio to several publishers. That year I received my first book deal and I have steadily increased my workload (and skills, such as writing) from there.
What did it mean to you to win the 2023 SCBWI International Bologna Scholarship?
It was such an honour to receive this international recognition, as SCBWI is such a wonderful organisation that connects a huge global community of illustrators and authors. The opportunity to attend the fair with the scholarship took away the financial stress to attend, as well as allow me the opportunity to network further through the SCBWI community and grow new international contacts. I also could meet some of my international publishers in person finally and hopefully find new opportunities for my books. It felt like a very unexpected and magical gift to win this scholarship and attend the fair, which I had hoped to attend for many years.
What was the experience like?
The experience at Bologna was incredible. After COVID years and young children I hadn’t travelled for ten years – just being in the beautiful city of Bologna surrounded by old, reddened buildings, stepping on marble floors under porticos and hearing italian being spoken passionately on the streets with the smell of italian food was enough to bring me to joyous tears on day one! After the jetlag subsided, the fair began and was a huge, at times overwhelming, display of the global children’s book industry. At any one time you could visit an industry talk, find yourself in a meeting, see the best contemporary illustration at their exhibitions, get lost through the many halls of publishers and take a wonderful break on the Australian stand. I found myself in an “illustration battle”, spotted my translated books (and many of my industry friends!), was inspired by the incredible books being made and loved meeting the SCBWI team and hanging out with the Australian crew. Beatrice Alemagna had a jaw-dropping exhibition on in town, and nights were spent visiting bookshops and restaurants. I pinched myself regularly.
I have brought back the Illustration Annual, a sketchbook of ideas and notes, a bundle of business cards and most importantly complete inspiration for making the best books I can. The time in Bologna felt like a boost in a new direction and I think it will take many months for me to process all the inspiration I found there.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
That learning never stops and you never “arrive” – you just continue to grow. Also, that the aim isn’t to find success through others’ eyeballs – rather to find your own path and art style that reflects you and your unique journey.
Which Australian authors/illustrators have been influential on your author/illustrator career?
Anna Walker has been an art mentor to me for over a decade, and I continue to marvel at her illustrations and kindness. Davina Bell has been an incredible friend and writing mentor, helping me work out projects and refine my rambles! Anna, Davina, Jane Godwin, Alison Lester, Sylvia Morris, Gabrielle Wang, Lucia Masciullo, Kelly Canby, Isobelle Carmody, Sarah Allen, Inda Ahmad Zahri, Tony Flowers, Carla Hoffenberg and Josie Montano were all on the Australian Creators’ stand and I loved meeting this wonderful community of creators at the fair.
Why do you think it’s important to be a member of the ASA?
The ASA supports our industry in so many ways. The advice on contracts and careers, advocacy for fair pay and negotiating support from the government – all such vital support for our growth and future. I also love being a part of the Style File and the support the ASA provides for illustrators, too.
Find out more about Jess Racklyeft at www.jessesmess.com