From education to employment

Arts University Plymouth student shines light on diversity with ‘Pride Families’ illustrations

Pride Families book

Kaspa Clarke, a 19-year-old second-year BA (Hons) Illustration student at Arts University Plymouth, has championed diversity with his illustrations for LGBTQIA+ author Amie Taylor’s children’s book ‘Pride Families’, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

‘Pride Families’ is a vibrant and inclusive educational children’s book which explores what families look like with a focus on trans, non-binary, gay, lesbian and polyamorous family set ups. Covering themes such as pregnancy, donor conception and surrogacy alongside a guide for adults that helps explain terminology, this book celebrates what it means to be a Pride family with Kaspa’s illustrations featuring a meticulous attention to detail and inclusivity.

Kaspa said,

“I woke up to an illustration inquiry email. Half asleep, I checked my phone and I was so astonished. It came out of the blue, right between my pre-degree and undergraduate studies. I spent most of my first year at university working on the project. Initially I was a little worried; I hadn’t drawn people for a year as I’d been focussing on projects that involved drawing a lot of fish. When I read the manuscript, I realised how vital and exciting it was to be part of this project. It was a big learning curve for me, particularly in incorporating diversity into my work. I aimed to represent all families in the illustrations, encompassing different sexualities, backgrounds and abilities. It was challenging, but really important for developing that approach into the rest of my work.”

“I was very conscious when drawing trans and non-binary people, especially trying to avoid stereotypes. It was a struggle at first, but then I drew some non-binary people I follow on TikTok. When everyone has to be so different, I was running out of people to draw! It was really challenging, but it’s made me a much better artist. I really enjoyed it. I don’t default to the same faces anymore… but most of my characters do still end up with curly hair! One review of the book made me cry, it was a personalised message to me as the illustrator. They said they had finally seen themselves in a children’s book. I want everyone to be able to see themselves in illustrations so it made me so happy to see reviews that confirmed that.”

In addition to illustrating books, Kaspa has collaborated with several local clients, most notably the National Marine Aquarium, where Kaspa’s murals decorate the Great Barrier Reef exhibition.

Kaspa said,

“I’ve done three murals in total for the aquarium. During my time studying an Extended Diploma in Graphics, Illustration & Game Arts at Arts University Plymouth, I created a mock-up for a module. I had always wanted to put art on a wall in the aquarium, and thought, why not mock up a mural? I emailed the aquarium the proposal and sent them a specialised portfolio and didn’t think much of it. The very next day they emailed me back saying they wanted to do the murals! I love the ocean and researching it and this project made me realise I can write and illustrate books about fish without being a marine biologist. This led to me illustrating a 72-page-book about orcas for my Final Major Project during Pre-Degree. It was a passion project, but one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”

“The Great Barrier Reef tank at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth is the only one of its kind in the UK. I love watching children use the murals for educational purposes; all the fish have names on them so they can identify them in the tank. Seeing kids get excited about it is so great, it’s doing its job! When kids enjoy my work, it’s the best feeling ever. It’s who I illustrate for. I do a bit of it for tiny Kaspa, books I would have enjoyed as a kid. I wanted to do a book about orcas, so I did that. A lot of my self-run projects come from what tiny Kaspa would have wanted. If I wanted it, other kids out there might too.”

Originally from Exeter, and currently based in Plymouth, Kaspa’s journey into illustration started with Arts University Plymouth at Pre-Degree level when he studied an Extended Diploma in Graphics, Illustration & Game Arts, graduating in 2022 with a Distinction and winning the Board of Governors Award in recognition of his excellent communication skills and contribution to student morale during the pandemic. 

Kaspa said,

“Pre-Degree was great. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. It was an environment where you felt like anything was possible. It gave me the confidence to do so much, and the marine based non-fiction work I do now started then. It fundamentally changed my practice.”

“I love being on the Illustration degree here too. It’s pushed me so far. I’m planning on staying for a Masters; I’m not done learning yet. I don’t think I’ll ever be done learning. I enjoy being in an environment that pushes me to do better. It’s been amazing to be given free reign on passion projects. I almost didn’t go to university but came to an Open Day in a spur of the moment decision. I’m absolutely not ready to leave!”

Inspired by the likes of authors Owen Davey and Jon Klassen, Kaspa plans to continue creating specialised books and hopes to continue illustrating children’s publications.

Kaspa said,

“My advice to anyone trying to get into illustrating books, just shoot your shot! People don’t know you exist so poke them. Be confident. Go into Waterstones and grab some books, that place is such a bank of inspiration. Looking through there and seeing what others have done always really helps.”

BA (Hons) Illustration at Arts University Plymouth empowers students to make their mark in a competitive design discipline working on everything from indie publishing and children’s literature, through to comic books and commercial products. Students develop professional skills including creative problem-solving, project management, and working to briefs and deadlines. Throughout the course, students explore traditional and forward-looking image-making in different contexts, including editorial, publishing (book design and illustration, comics and graphic novels), surface pattern and print, moving image, graphic design and design-to-sell products (zines, toys, stationery, limited edition prints, and more). Students are also taught to develop a culturally curious attitude and be sensitive to the ethical responsibilities that illustration comes with.

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