My name is Jessica Cruickshank. I am an illustrator because it’s the only thing I can do and I’ll never get bored of it!

I make pretty letters and pictures for book covers, editorial, advertising, and other fun projects. My work is all about the little details, strong concepts, and the occasional historical reference. What interests me most about creating book covers is being able to take one form of art (words) and turn it into another (pictures). I have so much respect and admiration for writers, and I always hope that my art can do theirs justice.

I grew up in Brisbane, but I now live in the land of Carly Rae Jepsen and maple syrup—Canada!

I studied graphic design at Queensland College of Art. It is only now that I really appreciate those boring art theory and history classes. I also completed AWARD school which helped me develop the conceptual thinking skills I use every day.

I realised that I had some pretty special skills when I got my first job in an ad agency. I split my time between designing banners (boring) and creating lettering for clients like David Jones and Taronga Zoo (fun!).

The key to staying inspired is to draw what interests you, create lots of personal work, and take lots of breaks (especially if they involve hot chips or dog pats). I spend a lot of time at the dog park, because watching my dog Phoenix run around with his puppy friends allows my brain to switch off for a little while.

While I’m not doing client work, you can probably find me snuggled up on the couch with my dog and my iPad, drawing for fun while bingeing something on Netflix. Alternatively, I’ll be indulging in one of my ‘grandma’ activities like practicing calligraphy, or hand-sewing and embroidering doggy bandanas.

The best thing about working on commercial projects is being able to help solve a business problem while creating something beautiful. I thrive on the challenges and restrictions of a commercial brief. One of the most formative experiences of my career was attending a talk by fellow Jacky Winter artist, Christopher Nielsen. His message to me was: ‘say yes and shit yourself later’. At the time I’d been asked by a Sydney pub if I wanted to hold an exhibition in their tiny back-room gallery. I said yes, and then I got to bring the show to Melbourne, and then my little exhibition got some press, and then clients started sending me illustration briefs, and the rest is history!

Another job that significantly changed my career was the book cover for Words in Deep Blue. I was able to work closely with the art director to create lettering that could work within a complicated layout—it was a hand painted script that sat over a grid of books. It was tricky to figure out how to arrange the lettering over the books while maintaining legibility. In the end, the cover worked really well and got a lot of love from reviewers and fans. I believe this one was my big break into the book design industry!

Here’s a recent artwork I created for Westfield. I got to paint and embroider a vintage denim jacket, which was then photographed for a nation-wide campaign. I loved being able to bring my embroidery skills to a commercial project! It was great to get off the computer and get crafty.

Not long ago I worked with Four Pillars to create a special edition bottle for their 2019 Bloody Shiraz Gin. It felt wonderful that they trusted me enough to let me go completely wild on the packaging for one of their star products.

One of my favourite projects is the ongoing series of editorial food illustrations I am creating for Hour Detroit. The brief requires a monthly illustration to accompany a first-person essay about food. It involves lots of research about different foods and cultures, from Lunar New Year to Ramadan. I learn so much interesting stuff every month!.

Volunteering and donating my skills is important to me. As a commercial illustrator, it can sometimes feel like I’m not doing much to help the world. Every one or two years I’d like to try and initiate a charity fundraising project. For last Christmas and Valentine’s, I ran a fundraising drive in which I offered custom calligraphy for gift tags, cards and love letters. I then donated all of the sales to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. It was great to help a cause I care about, and it also provided me with a different creative outlet to my usual work.

One of my all-time favourite projects was the cover I created for a book about Joan of Arc. I got to draw all of my favourite things: blackletter typography, religious iconography, ornate details, flames and medieval references. I feel like this brief was tailor-made for me!

I really loved working on the book cover for His Name Was Walter, by legendary Australian children’s author Emily Rodda. I’ll always remember being banned from reading some of her books as a kid–so creating a cover for her as an adult felt very satisfying! In addition to the cover I got to create a full set of ornate drop caps as well as flourish-y chapter headings and patterned endpapers.

Here’s another piece I’m really proud of. It was created for the Sydney Opera House’s All About Women festival, to accompany an article entitled ‘More Realistic Female-Driven Film Treatments’. I got to create three animated illustrations—something I don’t get to do a lot. I loved the challenge of finding interesting but subtle ways to add movement to these images.

It’s really important to dedicate time to personal work because that’s how I develop my personal style and experiment with new ideas and techniques. I find it interesting that clients often hire me on the basis of my personal work, rather than my commercial projects.

Lately in my personal work I’ve been developing my portraiture skills and practicing self-portraits in particular. Self-portraiture used to be a big part of an artist’s practice, so I’m trying to bring that back.

I’m really excited to experiment more with this sketchy style of portraiture because it’s quick, fun, and enables me to get a likeness with loads of personality. I recently had a go at recreating some of the 2019 Met Gala looks, and I’m loving the results.

Most of my work starts with research and conceptualising, to make sure I get all of the details right and come up with as many different ideas or approaches as I can. Then I sketch out a few ideas in Procreate. Once a sketch is chosen for refinement, I’ll continue working on it in Procreate, or take it into Photoshop or Illustrator for final artwork. Sometimes I will create lines or textures by hand, or even paint whole artworks in brush and ink, and then I’ll scan them in and colour them digitally.

The illustration I created for Harper Collins Australia’s 130th anniversary is a good example of these steps. The logo was made from the names of different iconic Australian authors, and each name had to be drawn in a style that matched the year their work was published. I started by researching styles from different eras, and then I sketched the illustration digitally in Procreate. Once that was approved, I painted each name by hand. Then I scanned all the names in and coloured and edited them together in Photoshop to create the final image.

I’ve always wanted to work with a designer or luxury fashion label or homewares brand. I think something like this would look wonderful as a textile print or a wallpaper pattern. One day I’d love to have my illustrations on a range of silk scarves!

That’s me! If you want more, check out my full folio and Instagram. Got a brief? Contact me and the good folks at Jacky Winter.

With Jacky Winter you work directly with the artist alongside a hands-on producer—it’s a power-up for your artwork commission.

With Jacky Winter you work directly with the artist alongside a hands-on producer—it’s a power-up for your artwork commission.

With Jacky Winter you work directly with the artist alongside a hands-on producer—it’s a power-up for your artwork commission.