Discover the fantastical, reflective worlds behind the art of T.L. Luke

The shutdown of markets and craft fairs last year didn’t keep this creator from innovating through art.
T.l. Luke
"Do what you love, you're going to feel like an imposter sometimes, be patient with yourself," says T.L. Luke. "I promise you will find reprieve from the doubt the more you grow. You got this."

Upon first glance at the illustrations by local creator T.L. Luke, the words that may come to mind are “really cool.” But after a deeper dive into her craft and inspiration, the correct description may fall along the lines of “thoughtful” and “bold.”

Luke has spent the past year scrambling to make up for missed market sales — which racked up to about 80% of her income in 2019 — due to COVID-19 cancellations. In its place, she’s created projects centered around sustainability, mental health, queer pride and invisible disabilities.

Last summer, Luke wrote and illustrated a choose-your-own-future video game inspired by the pandemic called “WTF: What’s the Future” with producer UnderBelly Creative. “The entire project was a dream to make, even if it was my most labor-intensive job to date,” Luke says. “I was working with such an amazing team of creatives and I got to flex my dystopian-themed skills, which I rarely get to share.”

The winter months brought a different project: an ambitious idea of a sustainability scavenger hunt. In February, Luke had pulled off the We Are Seeds event. Using her passion for activism and help from other passionate creatives and business owners, Luke created posters with sustainable action items for folks to find around the downtown area.

Luke’s posters covered sustainable topics such as keeping the lakes clean, riding a bike and supporting small businesses.

“I loved being able to bring sustainable action items we as Madisonians can do on a really local level,” she says. “A lot of sustainability efforts are with global impact in mind. … We rarely get the opportunity to discuss how we can help our own cities in the face of climate change.”

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Most recently, Luke fulfilled her dream of getting a book deal. There’s not much Luke can tell us about the book, other than that she illustrated it and is over-the-moon about the opportunity.

Entitled “How to Be a Difficult Bitch: Claim Your Power, Ditch the Haters, and Feel Good Doing It,” Luke brought the words of Halley Bondy, Mary C. Fernandez, Sharon Lynn Pruitt-Young and Zara Hanawalt to life in a humor-filled exploratory novel for kids ages 14 to 18. The book is available for preorder and will be released on Oct. 5, 2021.

“This has been a dream project and I hope it results in many more book illustration opportunities in the future,” Luke says.

The duality of imposter syndrome, chronic pain and the pressures of the art world can mount on top of one another, Luke says.

“I talk about having imposter syndrome a lot because I think it’s essential to be transparent with my fans that being really unsure of your abilities is normal, but we shouldn’t let that self-doubt become a real barrier in your growing process,” she says. “If you’re feeling like a phony doing a thing you genuinely love to do, like making art, that’s just your brain being a f*cking bully.”

Some of Luke’s most anticipated projects over the next few months happen to be centered around invisible illnesses like endometriosis, which she has had since she was 9 years old.

“I’ve had endometriosis since I was 9, so I don’t actually remember what it’s like to be healthy,” she says. “That’s why it’s honestly so refreshing to be a full-time illustrator and owner of my own business, because it allows for as many sick days as I need.”

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Luke says having an invisible disability can be “quite isolating,” as folks struggling with hidden pains, illnesses and the like are often disbelieved by their peers, loved ones and sometimes even medical staff. Because of this she wanted to create a community through a disability product line called Ghost Punk Summer Camp.

Up next for Luke is collaborating with longtime friend and creator Eli Watson to write and illustrate a webcomic about a “young, autistic, queer woman’s journey with depression and healing from childhood traumas set in a sci-fi universe.”

“We’re currently at the script and storyboarding stage, but our goal is to have the first chapter out this summer,” she says. “[The comic is] inspired by our own lived experiences and mutual desire to provide a genuinely helpful guide for others who may be experiencing similar generational traumas.”

To stay up-to-date on all of Luke’s projects, follow her on Instagram or support her on Patreon.

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