T.L. Luke – Illustrator & Selling Prints – S06E09 Tom Rays Art Podcast

I’m Tom Ray and this is my art podcast on this episode of the podcast I get the
chance to meet, I’m T.L. Luke and I am a freelance illustrator. i’m from Palmyra
Wisconsin and that is the like southeastern tip of the Kettle Moraine
forest like literally an hour drive southeast of Madison oh like 60 minutes
population 1600 very small my family thinks like wire houses because we like
built on top of something we maybe shouldn’t have was this before after
seeing poltergeist maybe I actually never seen in the television the one
that I like don’t go into the lighting or whatever it is okay I have seen that
but I saw it like a year ago yes wasn’t that like we moved the cemetery but we
never moved the body what kind of think it is yeah like they
buried it or they they built the house just on top of it and then they never
told them I think it what was the kind of horrors that were happening in this
in this small town that you were in definitely like things moving at really
weird little happenings tables moving and come on yeah like cords moving and
just like these really I don’t know I have like a really funny story about
this weird event that happened in my bedroom I was just like the rose from my
ex-girlfriend like pushed off some like figurines off of a shelf that like hit
me in the head and I was and then I got up to turn off the radio that I was
listening to and then my iTunes turned on on my computer while I was away that
and it was playing a song called soul which was just funny and then I turned
that off and then all of a sudden it tells me do you want to leave sticky
keys on and like it was just like one thing after another that was just it was
so funny like when it was happening but it was definitely one of those like why
like this is weird like this is this is too weird
it just makes it sound like your ghost was an IT person yeah
yeah there’s just like I don’t know why I’m stuck in this girl’s bedroom
I don’t know so just like a bunch of weird little happenings and yeah how did
you or why did you end up leaving the town I never you know it was great for
like growing up as a kid being directly in front of a forest and that’s you know
a lot of my influence in my art right now comes from little girls wandering
forests and spirits or weird animals and like very ultra creative imagination
kind of realms went to college then moved as far as I was willing to move to
because I was helping my mom take care of my grandfather what college did you
end up going to UW whitewater for most of my undergrad career and then a
semester at UMass Amherst and what did you go to school for when you went yeah
so it was my bachelor of fine arts in painting oil painting mainly what was
the first foray into art work when you were in this town well I’ve like been
doodling and drawing ever since I could get a pencil in my hand and I think like
a lot of it was just trying to like I was an only child I had a single parent
and so it was just kind of like me alone in our house even and so it was just
kind of like what are some like fantastical things that I would like to
see or like oh I used to like pretend and draw like we’d had like an art class
which when I went to school it was just art 1 through 4 so there was no like
drawing and painting and stuff that I realized once I got to college that a
lot of my classmates had like very nice big art programs at their high school
and but when I was younger in school there was an assignment where was like
draw your house and your family in front of it kind of thing and I drew my mom me
a dad and a sister which I don’t have in front of like a house that I did not
live in like and I have a very like looking back my house is very cool
looking like my biological father built it when I was a baby and stuff so this
is very like weird architectural cathedral ceiling pointy house but I
drew this like blue house with the white porch and palm trees and for pens of
like just this like this house doesn’t exist and I do not have a sister it’s
funny you’re talking about it like you don’t remember doing it yeah it’s so
polite I think I maybe have a memory of going like yeah this is I’ll just lie
like this is this is my family like you guys don’t know that even though I had
friends that would come over like would know I like had trouble discerning like
oh I can lie and get away with it I see it more is like it seemed more
adventurous but yours was like oh before learning how to expand my imagination
it’s I’m going to just imagine that mine is like that family over there not like
you were doing it maliciously yeah I think it was a lot of just like all of
my friends have sisters or brothers all of my friends have this type of house
with a porch or whatever and like it wasn’t until late high school that I was
like my like life is really cool I like my house I like my my mom I love that
this is our life that we have together and stuff it wasn’t it should have been
something that I was celebrating more and because it is unique and nice and
whatever and it’s not like you were going I don’t want people to know that
my life isn’t like theirs you were just like oh what would be a cool thing and
that was it it’s like I got a sister you know which is fine but when did you
realize that you could go oh wait I’m flying in space all that kind of like
when did you realize like you could imagine that as well just cuz I’m really
fascinated by this where you realize you could kind of do escapism in the
drawings definitely pre undergrad was like I I liked illustration but I think
I drew like me a sailor moon or you know just that kind of fantastical I was very
into sci-fi so like a lot of spaceships a lot of Star Wars things and stuff so I
loved telling stories like that it’s like okay we have I don’t know I
can’t think of any of my little comics that I had off of the top of my head but
it you know like a girl astronaut talking with aliens and I used
to draw up like alien questionnaires to give my family members that would come
over check if they were an alien and like would draw little like pictures to
go with each question and do you wear a tube sock on your head and like draw you
know like just really my brain was like all over the place yeah so I like
telling stories like that and I liked that kind of imagination and showing it
via a very visual way that’s my genesis his illustration and that fantastical
element of storytelling and then once I got into undergrad I was shamed out of
it how so my undergrad and this is again like I love where I went to school and I
had very good mentors while I was there but there was the sense of like at least
in the 2d arts if you start to get super representational where it’s I’m trying
to say that war is wrong let’s say that and then it’s a person holding a sign
that says more as bad you know whatever like then that’s two illustrative that’s
too on the nose what’s the conceptual background of this
any time that we would hear oh that’s very illustrative in a critique that’s
too obvious that’s too Elementary that’s too amateur that’s not fine art and
that’s not they were right we were in a fine art program I had one of my friends
who I think it’s an incredible artist her senior exhibition she made her own
comic book and this is so this is a shout out to Maddie and where she kind
of big is she kept hearing those criticisms all throughout our entire BFA
career and was still just kept doing it so she made like her own comic book and
you know put up all of her pages that she did throughout the semester or
whatever and it was so critically kind of torn apart
by professors and students of just like what are you doing like I can’t believe
she did this and it was beautiful it was so well done but it it wasn’t it had
words it wasn’t you know like it was very illustrative and so there’s that
odd balance where my oil paintings are very like realistic and a lot of figures
and a lot of pulling from very kind of representational work but done in a more
like fine arty conceptual way and I I ended up having kind of comic book
panels too but they were like on birch and they were all you know like oil
painting already is very like fine art you know that’s like oh you’re an oil
painter so traditional like I started going back to illustration you know in a
way like looking back now is like oh man I was desperate to get back into
storytelling because mine was like the confrontation scene in Frankenstein kind
of film like it looked like a storyboard I don’t know it’s my biggest complaint
about academia when I was in high school I did painting a little bit I did
watercolor and I and it wasn’t I still don’t know how to properly do
watercolors I was just like messing around with watercolors like this is
nice and I went to like Chicago has the school of the Art Institute of Chicago
has portfolio days for like high school students to bring in their portfolios
and a bunch of art schools will be there professors from each art school will be
sitting at like a table and you can be like here’s my portfolio do you mind
looking at it I really want to go to Boston or like whatever and they’ll give
you a critique on the spot I went to a panel for a Boston School because I
really liked I really really really liked Massachusetts and she looked at my
watercolors and tore them apart was just like why would you ever use black on
this you never use black straight out of the tube that’s the first thing you need
to know about it was just it was like no positive
and I left that portfolio review and got in my car and like cried Eman when is
like well never be a painter I’ll don’t I don’t know if I can do this art thing
got yelled at by a stranger about these paintings that I thought were really
good because they were really good but you know it’s they’re gonna give you
critiques but ya you you at least want one or two good things like but I see
good things good things here and you didn’t get that now having gone through
five years of the art program now I know that’s just like that was a really bad
critique that woman should never have critiqued me like that that’s not how
you do a proper one it’s it is that exchange of here’s just some things that
I think are working and here are some things that I don’t think are working
have you tried this like that’s a nice critique not just like straight out the
gate this is bad and here’s why it’s like oh my god okay so when I started
undergrad I immediately was like I can’t do painting because I got torn apart at
that portfolio review for painting I am good at drawing good at doing really
representational drawing but I’m still getting pushed really hard you know to
improve which is a great thing you know but it’s just like don’t know what my
style is all of these crazy things and then I had to take painting for a
requirement like it was a required class and I like fell in love with oil
painting and I still love oil painting I just I don’t know how to apply it right
now to what I’m doing was gonna ask if you still paint yeah and well and what’s
funny too is like before undergrad I hated color all of my drawings were
black and white then I really got into color like I would consider myself like
a colorist I was obsessed with colors and how they interacted with each other
and oil painting allows you to blend colors just straight on the panel or
canvas because it just stays wet forever here you know there’s it’s an
unbelievable length of drying time that allowed me to experiment a lot and like
figure out really interesting beautiful ways to color skin or what have you and
then I graduated and did a few large-scale panel painting
that I started but didn’t finish tried to and like somewhat recently like this
was a few years ago I was doing a six-foot-tall
three two and a half foot panel like six by two and a half feet true to life-size
portrait of a friend of mine and could only I got like halfway and was just
like this is like I’m doing all the things that I really loved in school but
like how much of that was like me finding an outlet to like survive the
program now it’s like okay I can I don’t have to do that like I had like just
this realization like I don’t have to keep doing this some am I doing this for
if it’s not for myself and not for like a professor anymore and set it down and
I bought an iPad pro because that was like one of the best tablets on the
market for starting out and having its own processing system and operating
system like right in the tablet itself so it’s not connected to something and I
started doing black and white drawings again then it just kind of grew from
there when did you discover the step your style is actually a lot more
illustrative I know your style I know it when I see it so how did you find it in
undergrad I completely abandon illustration so my paintings do not have
that illustrative quality because again that was like a sin in the BFA world and
again I sorry to anybody that is like listening to this and going no no no
like that’s not true anymore cos like I’m shy I would be very happy if that
was not true so apologies to anybody that’s like a ho man this is not
accurate but it was when I was going to school between 2008 and 2013 so when I
got my iPad pro and I started playing around and I immediately started drawing
like I did when I was in high school a little anime like a little just like
this weird combination of a lot of artists that I really liked techniques
that I already knew so because I had completely abandoned illustration for
like five years in college and then the years or so out of college where I just
wasn’t drawing or doing anything for myself I was doing a lot of art
assistant stuff for the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art what does that
entail every time that there’s an incoming artist like a incoming
contemporary artist there are times where they need an assistant and I was
just the museum’s curatorial assistant but it was really I was the project
manager and artists assistant for those incoming artists so they always had a
painter on staff or you know like I kind of filled all of those roles one of the
biggest shows that I got to show my work and as an artist assistant was the Eric
and Heather chance exhibition that was in like 2014 I think was their
exhibition like February to May for the entire month of January I assisted the
artists in painting I think was eight massive huge scale murals in the museum
in the main galleries of the museum there was one full like back wall piece
and so it was me and I hired about 25 other female artists from around
Wisconsin how did you find them so I went back to my alma mater and went back
to UW whitewater and talked with BFA students there because what a great
intern upper to near like to actually be helping out in a museum and pulled some
people from there pulled some people from uw-madison and there were some
friends of some of the staff who were artists that were like in between
undergrad and grad school or like that kind of thing that I was overseeing and
working alongside the artists to make sure that the murals looked beautiful
and like I was color matching everything because it was basically they had
silkscreen prints that were huge like there were these big canvases and then
we continued the piece off the canvas onto the walls so it would be like a
physical piece in the center and then going out the side that’s one example of
and the biggest example where it was just like I was painting every single
day and like projecting and getting all of that mural stuff down which I loved
doing and hopefully 2020 is gonna be filled with murals for the business my
little shout out call me so I do have one fun project coming up in March that
is mural related but I can say that and I am waiting for my friend who’s also a
business owner to announce the opening of said shop that my mural is going into
more of the show after this break were you living in Madison when you
finish school or how did you end up here so I finished out school at whitewater
and then I was planning on getting the heck out of Wisconsin actually I applied
to University of Southern California for their film program because I was super
in love with film by the time like my senior exhibition again looked like film
stills I was like I want to get into storyboarding I want to get into
production design and I want to you know like there are a lot of film things that
I just adored and so I apply to that program did not get in but that worked
out for the best but I was still planning on like oh I’ll move to LA oh
you know like get me out of here and then my grandpa got really sick and
he raised me with my mom so I’m like I want to stick around I don’t want to
leave Wisconsin I think I’ll regret it for the rest of my life if I’m not here
when you die so I moved to Madison as the next best thing so then he passed
away and I was working at the Museum at the time that was the only reason I
stayed in Wisconsin so now I’m gonna leave like okay I’m gonna quit my job
and now I want to go to New Zealand because I visited New Zealand in 2013
and I loved it and I’ll just like get it they have the holiday working visa that
you can get it and just work there and do whatever I was like maybe I’ll get
like an artist residency or something like I don’t know and then I got a
promotion at the Museum when they heard that I wanted to leave and they’re like
be our exhibitions manager and I was like that sounds interesting and so I
stayed for that okay well now I feel like I’ve made my job obsolete I like
created the position essentially you mentioned that there’s no communication
between these departments or whatever and so I came in to kind of mend that
communication and help with logistics and all of that part of the museum then
that improved and I didn’t really I like worked myself out of my own job and I
was like okay I’ll leave now and also I like left too I wasn’t making it
artwork during that time and that was killing me and so it’s like okay I’ll
work for the state which is like good money and benefits but like maybe I’ll
be there for like a minute and then really leave for real this time
Madison you won’t he won’t keep me here I’m dying to find out if you leave and
then I met my now partner and just happened to move up the street that he
worked at and Here I am now I’m now we live in this nice place in Madison and
he is the person that builds my stand each time I am he’s a woodworker Andrew
Park he’s also for hire if you ever want like a nice like market stand he wants
to get into that more look up Andrew Park on Facebook I had sat down with
them when he had first kind of started talking about wanting to really get into
woodworking now that’s his career he’s a carpenter with a firm here in Wisconsin
was talking with him and I drew up the plans that I wanted I was like this is
the ideal stand that I would want moving forward can you build it and then he did
you weren’t doing displays or showing up in places like what was that transition
I saved up a bunch of money working at the state and then I quit once again I
was like okay this did the thing that I needed it to do and be for me for a year
and then I took off for three months and was like I want to try to start a
business I really want to do this I it’s killing me that I haven’t I was taking
classes at UW Madison maybe I’ll do art restoration business classes right not
business classes like so chemistry I was doing art history classes because that’s
all like conservation kind of things and then I actually took an interview at the
Met to be like an intern there in New York and was like this is very sterile
this is a way to be in art but like it’s still so far removed from actually
creating art I don’t know is even like I’ll take linguistics maybe I’ll just
change my field completely like this is something I’ve
always found fascinating like I’ll jump into this and so I played around a lot
and I was finally like no you gotta you have to sit down you have to try to make
this work for yourself and so took those three months off which I’m so happy I
did I ended up not really figuring a whole lot out like I had to take on part
time another part-time job this time at a cafe and which allowed me to keep
playing and it was like during that time while I was at the cafe and I just came
to the point where is like okay I’m getting somewhere but I I’m not like
living off of this yet and I was still do I was doing these illustrations that
were very like this is what I think people will like this is what I think
people will want to see this is something I think people will buy and it
was just you could tell that there wasn’t any passion in it and I wasn’t
having that much fun doing it and I was really sad that I wasn’t seeing a big
response to that art and then just one day like sat down I was like here’s what
I want to draw and it ended up being what’s now the witchy skateboarder which
is in my shop and it’s just like this weird punk girl who has a skateboard and
is surrounded by crystals in this weird dark starry area and there are like four
animals like spirits coming out of from perhaps inside of her that are like kind
of looming over her but it’s still super chill and kind of like I have since
adopted every time somebody asks to just like how I would describe my work it’s
always it’s dark and whimsical it is it has whimsy and it has darkness that’s my
goal like that’s what makes me really happy
and that was really well received and then I did another one that was that
same kind of that’s when I did like the Beltane gamble which is a girl gambling
with an oversized millipede and a bear and a bunny and in a weird field and
it’s just like what is happening like and
I have stories for all of these I like to think of them as they’re like one
frozen scene and like a much larger narrative and it’s not the end and it’s
not the beginning it’s like right kind of at like and it back to like kind of
things I’m just like oh oh what’s happening like oh man I don’t like I
want to know more I want to see the whole story but there is no there’s
nothing else you know it’s just that scene and so I just like started making
things that I really liked making and the fact that I had a story for it like
kept me going and the environments for all of that like it was just it was
everything I wanted to do and because of that it you can see that passion and you
can see the happiness that I was kind of pouring into these pieces that’s how I
found my style that’s how I was able to go full-time with this is because people
buy those prints this was the turning point for myself as an artist was get
weird do whatever the fuck you want like and that’s where that’s where your
audience will be it reminds me a lot of the story you were telling me about you
standing in front of the blue house with a sister and I mean you just were trying
to think of like what am I supposed to draw I’m just gonna make something up
when you did the the first one it sounded like what you were explaining in
the beginning is you were just trying to tell people like I think they would like
this and here’s you were just like well I have the ability to draw whatever I
want and you created your own story just out of nowhere I know that you said like
that’s how you started your business but like what does that I mean you don’t
just draw a picture and go now I’m a business how did it take off really well
I was still employed as a barista I was doing these things like on the side I
would maybe call it hobbyist more than like proper illustrator but like at that
point I had done my work and had a lot of like I’m feeling here and like okay
we’re gonna take a risk and just do whatever whatever you want so because
there was such a draw for this the first illustration was like a lot of people
going like oh man I would like a print of that or did you post it somewhere
work so I posted it on Instagram and Facebook
and so I posted it I got a good response and then I was like okay I’ll make
prints of these I got like 50 11 by 14 printed and then I came out with the
next illustration and that got a good response and then I got Princess those I
think I was doing at that point involved complex illustration like these ones are
one a week I was kind of turning these out pretty quickly and they weren’t
losing any quality that I wanted them to be at this was all happening November
through December or maybe December through January I suddenly had a store
like an online store with I think at that point I had like six six or seven
individual prints and then I had like little five by sevens that I was doing
too that were from like some of my old drawings that I had done where I was
just dinking around and didn’t really have an audience for but they still got
a lot of likes or whatever says like okay that’s like I’ll look at that kind
of as a as a reason to print these perhaps and then I want to be able to go
to markets I know from when I was younger I would go to like comic book
conventions and anime conventions and those have artists alleys in them so
people that are drawing themselves and selling their work and so it’s like
there are craft markets and Madison is full of markets there it’s incredible
and so yeah so I got into my first market and I did very well it was one of
my best markets of the year and but it also colored I was like oh this is what
I should expect it every market was like no no no and that’s okay like any profit
is good and so I applied to a ton of markets thinking I’ll only get into like
a quarter of these like maybe a half of them and I got into every single one of
the markets I applied to which was very cool but also like oh okay this is my
whole year that it ended up being 28 market
in 2019 and 34 market days because some of them are to day markets there are so
many people that I show it that are like this is my like 70th for the year like
in December so it’s like okay when do you sleep like it’s a lot so yeah so I
got into a bunch of these markets and then I had to quit my job part-time job
because I did not have time because at these markets people are seeing the work
that I’m doing that I really love doing and then they’re wanting to Commission
things that are similar to that which I like drawing things that are similar to
that so getting commissions that way is another reason why you should always put
out the stuff that you want to do and not the stuff that people might want
because people don’t know what they want until they see things that they like and
if if those two things go together of people wanting the things that you like
to do that’s the perfect business that’s how I’ve been full-time for since March
2019 what would you say is the hardest part about doing it full-time now
because I’m doing it full-time I feel like I need to take on a lot of
commissions and so in an ideal world I would like to keep doing my original
work yeah and the last like truly original piece that I did was in August
and that’s because I’ve had so many commissions and markets which is a
beautiful problem to have that is the reason that I can keep working and doing
this without having to get a part-time job ideally I would like to take on
bigger Commission’s that pay more that then give me a week or two weeks at a
time that I can just like do original stuff each month I just finished my last
Commission of like 2019 into 2020 I thought like the first week of January
I’m in this new stage of like oh okay I have no Commission’s right now and I’m
not taking any more until February so it’s like okay I can I can do this like
I can start making more original stuff again
I think the one thing that I would want to say to other illustrators starting
out is imposter syndrome is a real thing and I just want to cover it just because
I wish that I that I had been told that more that it was super valid and not to
let it just completely stop you from doing what you love because every
successful person has imposter syndrome we’re all kind of any any job that
you’re doing or any anything that you’re creating for yourself that includes risk
and isn’t comfortable and also includes putting yourself out there is going to
have impostor syndrome which is basically your brain falsely telling you
that you’re a fraud I’ve been feeling like that a lot recently my year was big
and like it closed off with holidays by the end of it I was just like oh my god
I’m so exhausted and burnt out and I feel like some of my stuff I don’t want
they suffered like some of my work kind of suffered towards the end because I
was just like I need to just crank these last few things out but I’m so tired and
I don’t know that I can do this but I I am paid and so I have to finish this and
this last week even I’ve just been like oh my gosh I need to find my style again
I need to do my original stuff again it’s okay for that to happen it’s okay
to remind yourself like hey you’re a professional or you’re going to be able
to do this it takes time you know nobody just figures it out instantly who ever
told you that they do is lying to you like to anybody starting out especially
in any creative career which is what this podcast is about it’s okay to to
feel like this but it’s also your responsibility to be relentless and push
through that and like just make your best shit and just be yourself and
that’s okay and it’s interesting too because you’re having that feeling but
yet you did your best year so it’s just it’s the whole thing like why can’t you
just enjoy it why is it like this is just a fluke and it’s all gonna go away
and everybody’s going who the hell do you think you are but
that’s not it at all I went somewhere the other day and I I went to a party
that there were artists there they were displaying their work and it was very
packed and all I felt like is everybody turned to me and was like what are you
doing here I felt like everybody else knew each
other and I was there and I walked in and I may as well have
been a narc you know like I was there to just arrest everybody but they weren’t
everybody was super nice to me everybody was I went up and would talk to people
or I’d look at something somebody who turned to me and say something it was me
thinking that I was projecting my stupid thoughts onto them these people were
nothing but nice to me and I don’t know what the hell that was and it was just
this I left going that was just the stupidest thing and I don’t understand
why that happens our brains are just like wired to are
wired to survive and sometimes the easiest way to do that is to kind of
assume that the best way to survive is to avoid situations like that there’s a
really funny reduct hrus article it’s like a quiz reductase is like a satire
feminist magazine kind of thing and the title of it was are you even good enough
to have impostor syndrome yeah but like as you said like I had the best year
I’ve ever had as an artist and you know that includes like kind of being the
in-house illustrator for a Room of One’s Own which is is so established in
Madison what an honor to I don’t know like there’s to have a downtown door
mural like like right off of State Street just all these things that just
like happen the last year that each time this would happen is just like oh my god
I’m so lucky I feel so like how did this happen like and then even during those
moments like oh my god oh no like why am i doing that why did like why did they
think of me to do this any illustration that I’ve done for businesses in town or
just like major things that people see a lot people are supportive and like to
support artists and I forget that I feel like we have always been told
like Oh pure starving artists or artists are only bohemian like they they’re like
lazy and they like can’t make it and stuff and it’s like oh yeah that’s right
we can like get back in their brain like you have no idea what you’re talking
about you like and it’s sad that we do that but it’s also a nice reminder – I
don’t know always also always tell artists that you really like and you’re
too nervous to maybe tell this to like please tell them that you like their
work it’ll make their day to learn more about TL Luke you can visit the website
at TL lucam the music for this episode is by my band Lorenzo’s music at
Lorenzo’s music com if you enjoy this show you can subscribe
to it at my website Tamra’s website comm or on Spotify or
wherever else you listen to podcasts just look forward Tom Rey’s art podcast
I’ll be back next week with another episode so until then so long

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