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Giving a voice through visuals – Meet Arts University Plymouth graduate Blue Skye

Blue was among the first cohort of graduates to move into Arts University Plymouth’s Workroom, a creative business incubation space in Eat Work Art’s Light Studios.
<p dir="ltr"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">Blue Skye</a>, an illustrator and communicator with experience live-scribing events for a range of organisations across the South West, graduated from <a href="">BA (Hons) Illustration</a> at Arts University Plymouth in the summer of 2023. Blue was among the first cohort of graduates to move into Arts University Plymouth’s <a href="">Workroom</a>, a creative business incubation space in <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">Eat Work Art</a>’s Light Studios supporting recent graduates to grow the next generation of creative entrepreneur start-ups.</p> <p dir="ltr">Blue Skye moved into Workroom with plans to widen her commercial services and establish the professional networks needed to ensure that her skills are more widely visible to potential clients. Professionally and personally her practice has progressed quickly this year, finding ways to make business messages more accessible and easy to understand, as well as finding a new focus on using her skills to give a voice to people who’ve faced challenges communicating their stories. <br /></p>
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Blue Skye at the Green Minds Conference 2023

<p dir="ltr">We sat down with Blue to talk about her career to date, including what it feels like to become a full-time illustrator so soon after university, why she feels atypical communication techniques like live scribing can be so valuable to young people living in care, and how she’s found a home working with businesses in the South West.<br /></p>
<p dir="ltr">I’m so grateful for the opportunities that were offered to me during my time in Workroom. Within three months I was able to leave my retail job and make the transition to become a full-time illustrator. Things have moved much faster than I expected.<br /></p>
<p dir="ltr">I grew up in Essex and was taken into foster care during Year 6 when I was 10 or 11, which complicated my journey, but I’ve been creative all of my life and I always knew that my goal was to get to university and reach a level of education that could prepare me for my career.</p> <p dir="ltr">After leaving the foster system, and moving from pillar to post for a few years, I eventually made my way down to Plymouth for a fresh start to study English Literature with creative writing at university. I loved poetry and thought that studying English would make me happy, but I quit my first degree after half a year. It felt like poetry was such a personal and subjective way to express myself and I found myself uncomfortable with people trying to grade something so intimate and meaningful to me. I knew I wasn’t ready to give up on University though so it was time to pivot.<br /></p>
Blue Skye Ancient Egyptians

'Ancient Egyptians' by Blue Skye

<p dir="ltr">During the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, I started drawing regularly and I realised that illustration isn’t like poetry, your goal is to communicate with people in such a way that they can see what you see. Any feedback or criticism of my illustration feels like a way to hone that process and get closer towards a shared goal, so I realised that illustration was a skill I’d be happy to study further. After looking at options for which course to swap to, I found myself drawn to the BA (Hons) Illustration degree at Arts University Plymouth instead as that looked like the course that offered the broadest scope to pursue my interests, so I applied and joined in September that same year.<br /></p>
<p dir="ltr">I loved studying illustration at Arts University Plymouth. Throughout the course I worked on lots of live briefs and created work for a range of clients. I thrived in the professional practice modules of the course. Discovering that my favourite parts of my degree were the ones working with different clients helped to show me that this was the area I wanted to pursue professionally.</p> <p dir="ltr">I created a series of murals on Union Street for The Zone, a Plymouth-based charity that provides free confidential information and support to young people around issues including housing, sexual health and mental health. I also worked on a number of projects for Plymouth City Council, including helping to map and capture green and blue assets around the city. I loved working with local organisations, particularly when I was able to contribute to projects that benefited local communities.</p>
<p dir="ltr">In the third year of my degree there was an opportunity to do live scribing for British Art Show 9 (BAS9), the largest touring exhibition of contemporary art in the UK, and it was such an incredible experience that it changed my entire creative practice. Together with students from two universities I worked as a visual scribe throughout the debates and discussions at the BAS9 Symposium. We created graphic representations that helped participants to reflect on what was being said and recorded the outcomes for use after the event. It was a fantastic experience that showed me how I could use my skills to give a voice to others.</p> <p dir="ltr">For my final major project at Arts University Plymouth, inspired by the live scribing experience, I used my love of Greek mythology as a starting point and committed to researching Egyptian mythology and creating a huge 4-foot by 6-foot representation of what I learned. I really threw myself into that project and when I discovered the link between the phrase live scribing and the origins of the scribe in ancient Egypt, it felt like my practice had come full circle.<br /></p>
L t R Hanna C Megan T Blue S Sam G Elinor Eaton Molly M Dawn Melville Natalia L

Workroom residents from left to right - Hannah Cade, Megan Trapnell, Blue Skye, Sam Grotzke, Elinor Eaton, Molly Erin McCarthy, Dawn Melville & Natalia Lombardi

<p dir="ltr">Towards the end of my degree I heard about Arts University Plymouth’s Workroom, a new creative business incubation space for graduates. By that point I knew that I wanted to pursue illustration professionally, focusing on things that I was good at like live scribing and working with local organisations, but I wasn’t sure yet how my business could look in practice.</p> <p dir="ltr">The thought of joining a new creative community with a dedicated space to work and a programme of business development training really appealed to me, so I put in an application. I think it helped that around the same time I had recently finished a commission <a href="">working at the Green Minds Conference</a>, so I was already making inroads in networking with the sorts of organisations I wanted to work with.<br /></p>
<p dir="ltr">I was really grateful for the opportunity to join Workroom and move into the space. There was a great community of different people at different stages in their lives and careers there. One of the benefits with the most impact for me was that we received one-to-one mentoring with industry and enterprise specialists Micronomy, who offer practical business support covering lots of different areas.</p> <p dir="ltr">That was how I met Dawn Melville and Elinor Eaton from Micronomy. They brought in various guests each week to speak to us and give business advice, which was incredible. Each week I connected to a new guest speaker and used my illustrations to try to capture the essence of their talks and learn as much as I could from them.<br /></p>

British Art Show 9 symposium live-scribing by Blue Skye, Sam Holland and Danielle Glover

<p dir="ltr">The first speaker, Chris Bentley, was incredible. He’s a former rugby player who works in design, marketing and sales at Smithkin Baker now. He came in with so much energy and his talk covered so many subjects that I felt inspired to live scribe everything that he said. We caught up afterwards and he liked the illustration that I created so much that he bought it and has it framed at his house now.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another guest speaker was Stuart Elford, the CEO of Devon &amp; Plymouth Chamber of Commerce. He’s done an amazing amount of fundraising for St Lukes Hospice. Following his talk I was invited to meet members of the Chamber to discuss ideas for how they could better support small businesses. I went with Dawn from Micronomy and we shared ideas about networking events and how the Chamber could better support us, because creative freelancers make up such an important part of Plymouth.</p> <p dir="ltr">Meeting with Stuart again in the Chamber gave me an opportunity to share with him the visual representation of his talk that I’d created and then gifted to him, which took me around 12 hours to complete because there was so much information to include. He was really happy with it and a couple of days later I was commissioned to work on visuals for the Chamber’s end of year Impact Report for 2023, taking their analytics and making them easier to understand in a visual way.<br /></p>
Green Minds conference 2023 l to r Zara Mc Dermott Archie Mc Kenzie Blue Skye jpg

Green Minds conference 2023 from left to right: Zara Mc Dermott, Archie McKenzie and Blue Skye

<p dir="ltr">I’m passionate about exploring atypical and novel communication methods, such as live scribing, and how they can benefit people who experience communication challenges. Illustration is such a visual communication technique and I strongly believe that it can benefit people who are neurodivergent or who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.</p> <p dir="ltr">I’m Autistic and have ADHD, and I know that live scribing has helped me to organise and express my thoughts more effectively. This is a very personal example, but when I was taken into care with one of my siblings, we were handed something that they called a Life Book, filled with photos of our parents and information from our past. It was an awful experience, we felt like our voices had been stolen and our pasts were being rewritten. I don’t want any other child to go through that experience, I want children in care to feel heard and supported so that they have control over their own stories. Illustration is one facet of handing control back to those young people.</p> <p dir="ltr">With that in mind, I'm currently designing workshops that use illustration and live scribing as tools to teach participants how to better express and organise their thoughts. In the future I see my professional practice as likely being a combination of work with local businesses and organisations, alongside community engagement projects and collaborations with charities to empower people whose voices are at risk of not being heard.<br /></p>
Blue Skye Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift by Blue Skye

<p dir="ltr">Well, I completed my placement at Workroom and now I’m continuing working with Dawn and Elinor from Micronomy, who are acting as agents and business mentors to help me with practical things like acquiring new clients and managing invoices and business finance. They’re both amazing and are supporting me in planning the structure of my business and what my plans for the next five years will look like.</p> <p dir="ltr">I feel like I have the creative know-how that a lot of businesses and organisations need, and Dawn and Elinor helping me to develop the business know-how that I need to succeed independently. None of this would have happened without having Workroom to help me transition from being a student to running my own business.<br /></p>
<p dir="ltr">I’ve faced a lot of challenges in my personal life growing up and I feel fortunate now to be doing the things I love full-time, so soon after graduating from Arts University Plymouth. I want to use the art of illustration to give something back to people who might also be struggling. I want to share what I’ve learned and find ways to work with families and young people, to offer mentorship and give back to the community.</p> <p dir="ltr">There’s a period of research ahead of me, trialling ways to put atypical communication methods into practice and finding organisations who’ll be a good fit to collaborate with. But I’m also enjoying immersing myself in the culture of local businesses in the South West, so I see myself progressing my relationships with organisations like Devon &amp; Plymouth Chamber of Commerce and Real Ideas CIC.<br /></p>

<p>Building on the successes of its inaugural year, Arts University Plymouth is inviting ambitious creative graduates who are ready to take their creative businesses to the next level to apply online for highly-subsidised positions in creative business incubation space <a href="">Workroom</a>.<br /><br /><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">If you are an Arts University Plymouth graduate with a new creative business idea or a creative business that you are ready to take to the next level, fill in our form online to apply for a place in Workroom.</a></p>