A Brief Introduction.
Hello. My name is Kaya Oldaker, an illustrator and animator from the UK. I am a creator of strange worlds and all of their weird inhabitants. I have become known for two things – my magical creatures and my strong lighting. I am inspired by the natural world and what it can teach us. I am also heavily into the “solarpunk” genre with my more recent work since I really like the idea of a zero carbon future where humans, technology and nature work in harmony.
The phoenix is a symbol for death and rebirth. My art journey involved the death of my old self and the birth of a new one.
My Art Journey - How I Went Off The Beaten Track.
Disclaimer: My views are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of any companies or people I have worked with or will work with.
You will sometimes hear artists talk about their art journey and the steps they took to becoming the artist they are today. I have my own journey, but it’s taken a very unusual turn in light of the current pandemonium.
My art journey began when I was a young child doodling in notebooks in my classroom. I was inspired by cartoons and video games at the time and my style reflected that: Very bug-eyed and wacky characters, many of them were snails or bug-like things since I loved insects. As I got older and entered my GSCE years, I started taking art more seriously. I also started meeting my idols around this time and I was aspiring to be an animation film director. The films of Studio Ghibli and the video game “Shadow of the Colossus” were two of my biggest media inspirations. As an autistic artist, I was aware of how competitive the animation industry was even back in my early teens. I knew that I would have to work disproportionately harder than my peers if I wanted a fighting chance at achieving my goals. I was also in denial of my queerness out of an irrational need to appear as “normal” as possible which heavily contributed to further mental health problems. This would be the beginning of a major struggle that I am dealing with to this day.
I started creating short films at the age of 15. “Tale of a Swiflingale” was my very first, followed by “The Rocket Crafters.” However, things didn’t go as planned. Eventually I developed panic attacks due to pushing myself too far and taking on more work than I could manage. I passed my GSCEs, but with a heavy cost to my mental wellbeing. I moved onto doing my art A-levels, after which I attended an art college for a foundation diploma. This is where I created “Journey to Precarious Rock”, which little did I know would eventually spawn the Flowerpunk universe in the future.
I then took an animation degree at university. This is where I started really buckling down and sharpening my skills. Alongside my degree, I followed a lot of online tutorials in my spare time. I also created “Love the Dogs” in my second year, one of my most well-known animations. This would be another key point in the development of the direction I would move in with my career. After finishing my undergrad course, I went on to do a master’s degree where I picked up important skills such as project management and 3D sculpting. By far the best project on this course was my dissertation on the use of virtual reality technology in character design. I learnt a significant amount about the principles of character and creature design during this time.
After university, I struggled to find any work with studios, so I jumped feet-first into freelancing. This was a time in my life where I would receive a very rude awakening about being a professional artist with a disability. Gone were all of the disability support systems and safety net of university, I was thrown in the deep end and it was either sink or swim. I have always been very open about the fact that my choice to become a freelance artist was never really a “choice.” Like the majority of disabled people living in the UK, self-employment was the only route I could realistically take. Working from home ensures that I have complete control over my environment and can avoid sensory overload that a conventional workplace may trigger.
I would also experience several events that would change the way I saw the world and my attitude towards art. I started learning about spirituality and the concept of “non-duality” - the idea that we are the universe observing itself. This allowed me to have a more holistic understanding of things. It also allowed me to start understanding intersectional politics more and thinking on a systemic level rather than on an individualistic one. Next came the IPCC climate report of 2019, the Global Pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests. 2020 was perhaps one of the worst years of my life, as it was for many people. Not a day went by where I didn’t suffer with severe anxiety and my work really suffered because of it. But at the same time, it woke me up. I began paying attention to what was going on around me and learning to understand it. I began exploring concepts such as decolonisation, restorative justice and mutual aid and I revolutionised the way I thought about how to solve such huge problems. I found like-minded people also eager to change the world and began joining communities. Eventually, they gave me the courage and support to publicly come out as queer.
This experience had a very interesting effect on my work. I came to understand that years of using self-flagellation, the “grindset” mentality and the “tough love” approach had been responsible for my panic attacks. When I started being more kind to myself and prioritising my mental health, my panic attacks almost disappeared and my art improved. But there was more. Previously, my work had not been going in the direction I had wanted it to go in, it has become all about the polish and the appeal to an audience. My art was no longer art to me, it was becoming purely a product, and “I” was being erased from my work. I knew I needed to fix that for the sake of my wellbeing.
Remember I mentioned “Flowerpunk”? The end of 2020 is when this idea would really start coming together. I had been developing the universe of “Journey To Precarious Rock” for some time. At one point, I even wrote a novel, “The Increasingly Absurd Endeavours of Gretchen Goosander.” Sadly I was 21 at the time and the novel was highly derivative and amateurish, so I scrapped the project. I tried to adapt it into a webcomic, but that too was eventually put to one side. There were a lot of concepts I liked from this idea, so I cut out all of the parts that didn’t work and kept what did.
2021 is where I found my real direction as an artist. I further developed the Flowerpunk universe that year. I started with a draft of the story for a short webcomic which soon spawned concept art, character and creature designs and test panels. Flowerpunk was an encapsulation of everything truly me; the weird creatures, oddball characters, cutesy imagery juxtaposed with brutal horror and bright (and in sometimes downright garish) colours. But the heart of Flowerpunk is its themes, most notably the concept of radical compassion and healing from trauma through collectivism. The concept of “the rot” was a catch-all for the multiple crises in our world, or I guess a visual metaphor for how Neoliberal Capitalism can take anything beautiful, wonderfully weird and magical and decay it to something hollow, hideous and soulless. Furthermore, Flowerpunk is an unapologetic celebration of weirdness and creativity, as well as a blueprint for a brighter future beyond Capitalism.
I was also approached by the charity, “C.A.G.E.D. Worldwide” to work on two animated short films, “Last Chance,” and “Last Chance 2.” They had seen the work I had done on “Love the Dogs” and thought I was the right fit for their project. Both films were extremely difficult to work on due to their graphic nature, but the feeling of knowing I was helping to make the world a better place was worth the struggle. And that, in a nutshell, is what encapsulates what my art is about today. I don’t want my art to just be another soulless product created purely for myself or someone else to make money. The “art as a product” mentality nearly killed my creativity and I have seen too many very good artists become thoroughly rotten people through thinking like this, even if they are very financially successful.
I suppose the moral of the story is this – “success” is highly subjective and we all need to make our own path in life. There is no definitive right way of being an artist, in fact the fun of being an artist is being a renegade and challenging norms. We are limited in how we can do this under our current system, but it is possible. I am still following my path through the wilderness, but instead of crying over being lost, I am observing the plants and talking with the animals.
Furthermore, please prioritise your mental health over your success as an artist. Relying on your art for your feelings of self worth will only hurt you more. Improve your art, but only because you want to tell your stories to the best of your ability, not because you want recognition and success. And above all else, learn about compassion. Learn to have compassion for yourself, because you will be so much better at giving compassion to others. Don’t switch off to the suffering you see all around you, confront it and challenge it. Don’t be scared to say, “No! This is not okay!”
Nobody really knows what the hell they’re doing, that’s why we have to look out for one another.
Nope, No Politics Here. (I Am Joking Of Course).
I don’t like it when people say to me “don’t get political, just stick to doing art.”
Art and politics are inextricably tied together and my existence as a queer disabled artist is automatically seen as political whether I’d like it to be or not. People often make the (very wrong) assumption that I don’t get involved in politics because of the fact that I draw cute forest creatures. But just as a reminder, my forest-y creatures exist because of my inspiration from nature itself, and nature is currently under siege. It is the main reason why I advocate so strongly for us to move away from Capitalism to a system that values all human, animal and plant happiness over profit and GDP. Personally, I have started taking an interest in re-wilding and permaculture as these are some of the best solutions to tackling the climate crisis.
The 12 principles of permaculture don’t just apply to how we grow food, it can apply to many things such as how we treat each other. I personally like the principle of “Use and Value diversity” and “produce no waste.” Disabled people are often seen as “waste” under Capitalism, but within a permaculture society, we are embraced as valuable for our different way of being.
The Autism Infinity Dragon - A symbol for the resilience and creativity of the autistic community.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. I’m autistic. I also suffer with severe anxiety and spacial agoraphobia (a type of vertigo triggered by open spaces rather than heights).
As a professional artist, I am often encouraged to hide my disability to increase my chances of being hired. But I would prefer not to as masking my disability has created significantly more issues for me than speaking about it openly. Furthermore, I hope that by embracing my autism rather than trying to hide it, I can encourage others to embrace their neurodivergence, too. The same could be applied to my queerness, and I hold to somewhat controversial opinion that neurodivergence is part of the “queer” umbrella since my autism has had a significant impact on my gender identity.
I work to dispel a lot of myths surrounding autism as well as encourage people to consider moving to the social model of disability over the current medical model. Impairment is not the responsibility of the disabled person to fix, it is the responsibility of the society to accommodate the person struggling with that impairment.
I personally believe my experience as an autistic person is heavily reflected in the work I do. I am an outside-the-box thinker and I have a highly developed visual memory. I am able to see my drawings as fully 3D objects in my head that I can move around. I can create entire films in my head just by sitting down and staring at a wall for a while. My daydreams are extremely rich and vivid, often made more-so with the aid of music. This is a phenomenon known as “immersive daydreaming.” Naturally I also create neurodivergent characters, sometimes explicitly so and sometimes they are autistic or ADHD coded.
In short, I am not the artist I am in spite of my autism. I’m the artist I am because of it. If you "cure" my autism, you'd also "cure" my art.
Love The Dogs and Greyhound Welfare.
Some of the activism that I am most well-known for is my work for the anti greyhound racing community. I started with “Love the Dogs”, inspired by my adopted greyhound.
Her name is Pippa, and she was a top-racer who won multiple races before her “retirement.” Despite this, she was left in a horrible condition. Her teeth were rotting and worn-down from chewing on her bars all day, plus she had kennel coat and sores, plus she was emaciated. Eventually she had to have all of her teeth removed, clocking up a bill of £2,000. The worst part? She was one of the lucky ones.
Greyhounds are subjected to some truly horrific abuse, ranging from neglect to having their ears hacked off to remove the tattoos and even being sent to countries with little to no animal welfare laws. The depth of greyhound abuse in the racing industry is horrendous and in this century, there is no place for this kind of activity. There is no possible way to reform this sport since exploitation of animals are baked into its DNA. It needs to end.
This is why a good portion of my work revolves around greyhound welfare. As previously mentioned, I worked on two short films in collaboration with C.A..G.E.D. Worldwide – “Last Chance” and “Last Chance 2”. Both films are loosely based on true events and cover two different stories – the first a failed racer from Ireland and the second a winning dog who is shipped abroad to become a stud dog. I have also created several free-to-use images for people to use in online campaign work.
You can find out more here on the C.A.G.E.D. website if you are interested in learning more.