Illustrator, Jess Racklyeft, took a leap into the unknown when she quit her day job in publishing sales to try her hand at freelance illustrating. She told child mags blog how becoming a mother to three-year-old Ivy and baby Billy changed her, and what it took to finally break into the career she’d always dreamed of.
Parenthood definitely changed me. I think it’s taught me a great deal about selflessness and the importance of having to live in the moment – some Buddhist qualities! For me, becoming a mum has given me more focus and direction…and a greater love of coffee and wine (not so Buddhist).
Before I had kids I spent long days in an office working in publishing sales. Weekends were spent with friends or my husband sampling new Melbourne restaurants and bars…and sleeping in!
I can’t actually remember what my expectations of parenthood were. I was so focused on the birth that I didn’t focus on much beyond that. I was a little naive about the influence having kids would have on my life – I expected they’d fit into my world, but that has since been turned upside down.
Before I was pregnant I wish I’d known…to relish travel, restaurants, even yoga classes – things that now take a lot more planning and energy. What helps me to parent well now is having a supportive partner, helpful friends, and definitely keeping my creative life alive. The best parenting advice I’ve been given is that a happy mum = happy kids. You don’t always have to put them ahead of your own happiness. I always did a bit of freelance illustration work (secretly from my day job!), but it took that first year of maternity leave three years ago to really immerse myself and realise I could make it a career.
I read somewhere “Leap and the net will appear.” This is the best creative advice I’ve heard. I spent so long before having our daughter dreaming of the day when I could work for myself doing something I love. Jumping into my creative work wholeheartedly could have happened a lot earlier if I’d been a bit braver.
Saying “Yes!” to every opportunity is how I broke into my creative career. From logo designs, to portraits, to editing, to cards, to eventually my dream (making kids books), I rarely turned down jobs and this gave me a broad base of work and a lot of experience. Without the internet, I think I would have taken a lot longer to get started professionally as an illustrator.
My creativity is driven by having something to do every day that I love. Also, to make something from blank paper and pens that people can enjoy. I’m inspired by Melbourne, our kids, other artists who I currently stalk at 3am while breastfeeding! Currently the long breastfeeding stints at 4am give time to muse on ideas and research online. Watching and talking with a toddler similarly gives me new perspectives on life and art. I’m forced to slow down and look at mushrooms growing on the side of the footpath, or create owl nest castles out of pillows.
I try to involve my family in my creativity as much as I can. Ivy and I paint together and I’ve created a library of watercolours and acrylic textures we’ve made together that I use for digital illustrations. She’s just starting to be happy painting her own canvas and not mine, which helps! Right now I’m working with a sleeping baby on my lap, so Billy is involved too!
We’re super lucky to have an amazing daycare near us. Ivy goes three days a week, while my husband works four days. We juggle our everyday creative pursuits around that schedule, and pre-Billy I was running to the studio almost every free moment I could scrape together. I’m praying this guy will be a good sleeper, so I can continue working away during naps and nights.
The pure joy and love you can have in a moment, and how fast those moments come and go has surprised me. Also, not being able to plan life too definitely. You can be planning projects or outings and a curve ball (e.g. a sick kid) throws it all out the window. You have something bigger than yourself to work around.
If I were to give advice to other mums wanting to work as creatives...I’d say it’s crazy how much you can make in short amounts of time – go for it. If you have the calling to make art, you have to listen and give it respect. It will help you be a better parent too.
What does it mean to you to be an Australian creative who is also a mother? Freedom. I feel lucky I’m working in the age of the internet, in a country that supports (arguably) artists and in a more progressive time than my own mum experienced. She wanted to be an artist and was told she could be a secretary or nurse.
34-year-old Jess Racklyeft is an illustrator and mum to three-year-old Ivy and baby Billy. Jess lives with her husband, kids and Winston the pooch in Victoria. Check out her work and follow her on Jesses Mess, Instagram and Facebook.