Behind the Scenes with Erstwilder Designer Jess Racklyeft

Hello dear Erstwildians,

My name is Jess Racklyeft and I have been lucky enough to design for Erstwilder for a few years now, one of my absolute favourite jobs in the world. I also create children’s books, card designs, portraits and various client projects – one day at work is never the same. I used to work in publishing but after having my daughter almost five years ago, I’ve been freelancing in illustration since – a long time dream for me.

I thought I’d share a bit of a look at the process for us designers working with Ertswilder and more particularly this Rock Cats collection, which was very dear to my heart.

A few months ago when my cat designs came out, we were thrilled with the response to ‘Rebel, Rebel’ and with the whole team being big music lovers we thought it would be so much fun to build a range of some of the most iconic music makers from our lifetime. We weren’t sure of the best way to create the range. Should we create a range of animals, such as a Kiss styled panda? A Prince who was going to turn into one when kissed? Here are some very quick early sketches of some animal/music pairings… (Excuse the roughness of these early quick doodles)…


Jess Racklyeft Erstwilder Designer Rough Sketches for Rock Cats 

Or would it be better to stick with a collection of cats? A tabby who played the tambourine? I sketched up different breeds and positions and tried some different rock styling to the kitties (very early sketches!):


Jess Racklyeft Erstwilder Designer Rock Cats Sketches 

After reviewing a few different sketched out options we decided there was something so striking in the simplicity of the shape of ‘Rebel Rebel’s’ and that strong cat expression of the stare – something cats – and rock stars – do so well! By keeping the shape fairly consistent the collection would be based on those little elements (or big in some characters) that make each musician so iconic – eg the turn of the collar, the gold necklace, or the incredible guitar and we wanted to build a collector club of rockstars. We selected a small range of artists (yes, we know we missed some special ones – perhaps there will have to be a rock dogs on the horizon!) and knuckled down into what symbols / clothing / look could translate well into the resins. The Rock Cats were beginning to take shape.


 Jess Racklyeft Erstwilder Design Rock Cats Sketches


I then created line art in Illustrator, slowly choosing the best resins for each item of clothing and the ear and tail etc. We stuck with a white face and chest and kept the focus on the extras each cat had, like head scarves or glasses. The wider Erstwilder design team (a gang of amazing people who are inspiration to me!) also share a Facebook group to ask questions and get feedback, and I checked in with their team on their thoughts on certain hairstyles and colouring. For example, I wasn’t sure about adding a hairdo to our Prince cat so I ran some options past the team. Below are samples of resins, the red lines representing either uncoloured carvings into the design or the tiny gold features:


 Erstwilder Prince Cat Hair Styles

Every round we look at what we can do a little bit differently, and for this one I was looking at the back of the previous designs I had done and noticed how the gold logo was imprinted onto the back of the resin. We decided to try bringing the gold into the clothing of some of the Rock Cats and it made appearances on many of the characters, particularly showing up well on the black jacket.


Jess Racklyeft Erstwilder Designer with Michael Jackson Cat Brooch


Once my files were sent off, it’s usually pretty quiet from my end. The Erstwilder in-house team receive a first round of samples and sometimes make some tweaks, but I don’t usually see them in the flesh usually until around a week before launch. It’s an exciting and nerve-wracking experience opening the parcel from the office of the final products, and then a really long week waiting to be able to wear them with pride!


Jess Racklyeft Erstwilder Designer with Axl Rose Rock Cat


Opening my package I was thrilled with the result – the Rock Cats met my hopes of a really fun, and special collection for me. Like most of us, music has played a special part in my life – John Lennon’s words and philosophy shaping my childhood with parents who worshipped him, Prince being the musician who blew my mind playing in Melbourne just a month before our bub was born! Madonna was on high rotation for me at school dancing with my pals to Vogue. And so on – each character is like a little memory I can wear – and I’m so excited to wear these brooches to suit my music mood each day.

I hope you liked the range and enjoyed a look at the process. More of my work can  be seen at www.jessesmess.com and I’ll be watching the #erstwilder tag on Instagram to see you wearing this collection and all the other Erstwilder designs! (I’m @jessesmess on there). Thank you for reading, and happy brooch wearing! xx

Oh - and I'll leave you with a question...

If you could see any musician, artist or historical figure immortalised as an Erstwilder design, who would it be?

Tell us your thoughts in the comments below :)


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