Stop! Collaborate and Listen!
Ice is back with my brand new invention…
Okay, I am probably alienating half my audience with a bad 1990s Vanilla Ice song reference but I’m too giddy to care! I finally got around to interviewing Jess Leach, owner of The Ricketty Desk. Not only is she a wonderful friend, fellow cake addict, business cheerleader, and trusted advisor. She is also the brains behind our collaboration, Sketchography.
Let’s dive in, shall we? Oh, and I should mention the images in this blog are from Jess’s most recent photoshoot with me. With her added magical illustrations.
Tell me how The Ricketty Desk came to exist?
The Ricketty Desk first evolved in 2006 as a concept but didn’t materialise as a business until summer, 2011 when I chose not to return to my uninspiring job in retail after maternity leave. I created a job where I could stay at home and work around my 1yr old’s busy social calendar! I already had a few clients and had crafted my own wedding stationery, word quickly spread that I was now making stationery and illustrating as a profession and things grew from there.
What does The Ricketty Desk do?
The Ricketty Desk creates illustrations for homes, businesses, and children’s book authors.
I draw people, places, and items in ways that can’t be captured in a photo, such as story portraits and illustrated nameplates, giving clients a unique piece of art to treasure or gift. I work alongside this incredible photographer (aw, shucks!) combining art and photography to deliver full portrait experiences that result in 21stthcentury heirloom works of art. Not only do these pieces capture people, but they capture a moment.
Alongside this, I also have a range of everyday cards and prints to brighten up interiors and encourage people to send post (I’m a major advocate of snail mail)! To date, some of my favourite pieces include a portrait of a childminder and the children she looked after for 14 years, the lifelong timeline of a health worker as a retirement gift, and a card I designed for BookBlock to help raise funds for the NHS during the pandemic.
I create engaging, scroll-stopping illustrations for use in marketing and publications. Whether it’s in-house or customer-facing, illustrations can go a long way to helping make the often mundane engaging. From storyboards for staff training to live illustrating at events and conferences, I have helped a wide variety of clients, such as Russell and Bromley, Florence and George, Firewalk Scotland, and Dunfermline Heritage Partnership Fund, reach wider audiences and get their message delivered. I’m currently experimenting with window illustrations and am loving having the support (and window!) of Happy Earth Place to allow me to practice this.
I illustrate what isn’t written. I take imaginary worlds and make the impossible visible, bringing them into reality. My style is whimsical and intricate with a nostalgic nod to the vintage styles of children’s books from the 80’s. Latest publications include Granny’s Big Secret by Katie Pavey and a client’s personal publication called ‘Peter Pootletron’.
What type of business or individual can benefit from your services as an illustrator?
People who don’t want stock image art on their walls or to promote their businesses. Those who value the power of uniqueness and imagination in any setting, home, or work. I’m an idea’s person who has a knack for seeing things from a different perspective.
Tell me about your process, favourite medium to work in, and how you blend drawing and digital?
If I told you, I’d have to kill you! Actually, not true. I’m very old-fashioned and everything I draw is first and foremost physically created on paper. Each illustration starts life as a pencil sketch which is then reworked in ink (my favourite medium) and the pencil markings rubbed out. I then photograph the drawing and transfer it to my laptop for ‘colouring in’. I often photograph different surfaces and patterns I’ve drawn or created to use as textures on the piece, for example, a yellow ruler could become a seagull’s leg! Large pieces, such as street scenes, are created by layering several of these drawings together to create the composition. This means if there is an item a client would like reworked or moved I can do this without starting over, saving on time and costs.
What are the tools you use the most?
A standard black and yellow old school Staedler HB pencil, Staedtler eraser, my set of Pigma Micron and Uni pin fineliners, and my Grandpa’s drafting brush (for removing eraser shavings). Oh, and paper, lots and lots of paper. I prefer to draw on 250gsm mixed media paper but will and have been known to, draw on anything, even bananas.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The variety in tasks, one day I can be drawing shoes and fairies the next day aliens and cake.
Where do you get your inspiration?
You should spend an hour in this brain, it’s tiring! Everywhere sounds corny but I really can find inspiration in the most unexpected places. A lot of my ideas stem from experiences and conversations with children. Not so long ago a 7-year-old on the school run told me that to reveal a fairy door on a mushroom you must first tap the spots in a secret order – who knew!
You are the brains behind Sketchography, tell me how the concept came about and why you picked me to be your photographer?
I used to co-run a business called Fife for Kids and when this launched I created an image of our children on swings with an illustrated background. This re-sparked an old idea of teaming illustration with photography and the possibilities within that. Placing people into storybook settings and capturing moments that can’t be necessarily photographed, like your imaginary friend at age 5.
I knew in order to build this I had to team up with someone who doesn’t just see a box, they imagine what they can do with the box. It needed to be a fun-loving, people person with awesome photography skills and childlike imagination, you couldn’t have fit the brief more perfectly! ( 🙂 )
You have many strings to your bow and you recently added becoming a plastic-free champion to your many super powers, can you share more about the movement and what you do?
I became a Plastic Free Champion at the start of 2021 having eliminated over three items of single-use plastic from my business. Working towards being more sustainable and environmentally conscious is really important to me; the last thing I want is for my products to contribute to damaging the planet further. This award is accredited by Surfers Against Sewage, a nationwide charity raising awareness about the plastic crisis. I decided that becoming a champion wasn’t where this story ended and joined Plastic Free Dunfermline, our local plastic warrior group, in February 2021 as a committee member. I look after the memberships for the group and built a fully illustrated membership pack which launched at the end of last year. The pack is full of tips on how to reduce single-use plastics in your life, how much plastic you can save by doing so, lists of local places to shop plastic-free, and vouchers too!
What’s next for the Ricketty Desk?
Books, books, and more books! I’m currently penning four of my own books, one is called ‘There’s an Alien in My Lunchbox’. Which came from a series of post-it notes that I made and popped in my youngest son’s lunch when he returned to school after the first lockdown. Another, you’re part of, is called Best Foot Forward and celebrates the power that women can feel from wearing the right shoes.
I’m also looking to grow the corporate side of my illustration offerings showing businesses how they can utilise this art form in their marketing and print to stand out from the crowd. Including a brand new Sketchography product for businesses too!
What advice would you give anyone wanting to be an illustrator when they grow up?
Draw, experiment, and draw some more.
Try out all the materials and all tools.
Learn to walk before you run, and learn the basics of drawing before contemplating experimenting with digital art.
Make mistakes, but keep everything you create, as a tutor once said, ‘You’re never in exactly the same mind frame therefore you will never create the same piece of art more than once.’
Be inspired, fill sketchbooks, and take a pen and paper everywhere you go.
Listen and talk to other creatives.
Thanks, Jess, that was amazing! Here are all the places you can find Jess and her Ricketty Desk.