The Very Long String: New artist Jess Wojcicki’s first illustrated children’s book

Leicester-based designer Jess Wojcicki is recharging her creativity by entering the world of children’s illustration. She is launching her first book on Crowdfunder, with part of the print run going to children’s charities.

For many artists, change is essential to keeping things fresh. After graduating from Nottingham Trent with a degree in Graphic Design, Jess Wojcicki went to London to work in the hustle-and-bustle world of film, television, and theatre. Creating props, she was progressing well in the industry, but her work-life balance left something to be desired. So, she moved back to the East Midlands to fulfil a long-held desire to create and publish an illustrated picture book.

The Very Long String is the book’s title, and it actually began as a self-directed student project. Re-artworking the book image-by-image, Jess is now releasing it via Crowdfunder with the pre-release limited run of 500 copies at £23 each. The book will come signed with a personal note from the artist. By ordering, customers will help fund the production and distribution of the bookshop edition and contribute to the social causes Jess is supporting.

The story is beautifully simple. A little girl finds a bundle of string, unravels it, then holds one end and goes off on an adventure. Just when she thinks… Well, we won’t spoil it for you. However, Jess trained as a graphic designer, so it’s not surprising that the narrative – simple though it may be – has a powerful and meaningful concept behind it.

Jess explains: “Much of my research at the time was around mother-daughter relationships. My mum has always instilled ‘talking’ into me and my brother as kids. When I was little, I’d sit on the floor in the kitchen with my bunny and talk to her all the time. Flash forward to university, and she was always on the other end of the phone. It was that golden creative lightbulb moment of, ‘Hey, I’ve got it!’ How do I translate a supportive relationship into a children’s book? I took the idea of a telephone line and translated it into a simple string concept.”

Naturally, the little girl character is based on Jess as a child – complete with wild, curly blonde hair. Originally, she was a scribble of pen and watercolour, but now Jess is redrawing the story using Procreate, sketching the basic forms, scribbling and splattering in layers of texture, and playing with negative space to establish her own unique visual language.

“I’m obsessed with what space on a page can offer, empty backgrounds playing around with sizes and distances. When the character feels all alone, she’s suddenly very small, vulnerable and isolated on a page. Adding jungles and chaos removes the impact for me. Children’s books are often so over-stimulating, and a few parents have said that they like them; it’s calming and simple,” says Jess.

Book publishing today is rarely about one standalone story – booksellers are looking for a franchise. Jess is already on the case and has envisaged three toys based on the characters. She has also started drawing a sister publication entitled The Very Big Box, which will explore themes of grief and loss.

For Jess, the aim is wider than simply to establish herself as a children’s illustrator. As part of self-publishing, she will donate printed copies of The Very Long String to hospitals, including the cancer ward at Leeds Children’s Hospital. Jess volunteers for the charity Embrace, providing emotional support to children who are the victims or witnesses of violent crime. It will provide copies to its toy bank and its counsellors.

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