Artist and UNSW alum Samuel Luke Beatty’s work delves into the intimate, vulnerable realities of being transgender, exploring themes of transition, trans identity and sexuality, manhood, and his childhood memories. Through his celestial illustrations, Samuel articulates complex emotions and offers alternative forms of queer and trans representation to other gender explorers on similar journeys.
After completing high school overseas, I knew I wanted to return home to Sydney for university. I originally began my degree with studio majors in drawing and sculpture, but after an elective in printmaking in my second year, I very quickly switched it to one of my majors, in place of sculpture. The printmaking studios at UNSW were incredible, and I spent the majority of my time at UNSW there!
In the final semester of my third year of Undergrad, I was accepted into UNSW’s student exchange program and studied in Montréal, Canada, full-time for six months. I took on three printmaking studio classes and an art conservation class. The print courses in Concordia University were phenomenal and it was a much-needed breakthrough in my art practice during a time when my art style and content had seemed to plateau.
I went into my honours year immediately after my exchange program, and the Student Exchange experience greatly informed the practice-led research I did in that period. It was truly the most valuable year of my time at UNSW, in that it laid the foundation for my art practice, setting me up for my current career path. I created two graphic narratives during my honours year, with the strong determination to make books about being transgender from day one. Both my honours lecturers encouraged me to make work outside of the bound book format, but they both nurtured my vision and ambition for making those graphic narratives a reality. I am beyond grateful for their emotional and professional guidance during that formative year.
There are many professional and personal layers to my art career, and they both intersect and inform one another. My art practice is focused on creating art for and about the trans and gender diverse community, drawing from my personal experience of being transgender and queer.
On a freelance level, I tend to only take on projects that are beneficial for and supportive of, the trans and queer community. I sometimes illustrate stories that are not my own for clients, and I find that my lived experiences of being trans and/or queer can often help to bring a level of sensitivity and care whilst aiding my clients to bring their stories to life.
Exhibiting my art in solo or group shows is also incredibly rewarding. It’s a chance to work towards a goal and deadline, and then be able to enjoy my hard work through sharing it with others. I also share my work online via my Instagram page (@samuellukeart) and it has developed into a platform of community and support for me to share my work, but also where others can find comfort and solidarity.
On a personal level, it’s so rewarding to share my story and have myself reflected in my own art. It’s incredibly fulfilling to create the art I wish I had seen as a young person and be able to give young queer and trans people positive affirmations in who they are, and what their futures could look like too. I love sharing my work online and hearing when my work has articulated complex feelings others thought they were alone in feeling!
I have been very privileged and honoured to have worked with several major clients over the past few years. In 2020, I was one of the main illustrators for ACON Health’s TransHub online resource, producing over 50 illustrations for their website. TransHub is Australia’s largest online resource centre for trans and gender diverse people, their loved ones, allies, and medical professionals.
That year I also illustrated and directed the animation of an online graphic comic with ABC News Australia, on the story of a trans woman sent to a men’s prison, through reporting from Background Briefing podcast. The shift to more flexible working over the last two years has also fortunately enabled me to take on global clients and opportunities. I have partnered with Converse and even Adobe; creating collaborative projects that have forged long lasting connections in the global art scene.
You can never have enough positive trans representation in art and the media. Key word: positive. Trans people need to know they aren’t alone, that their stories matter, and that they have futures worth living. I didn’t have the language to know that I was transgender when I was young. One of the biggest reasons I create and share my art is because I never saw art like this growing up, or even in my teenage years.
It’s so important to me to share my experiences of being trans and queer, in the hopes that other people can feel connected through it and know they’re not alone. My work is almost entirely biographical; I create it to articulate complex and nuanced feelings, to ease both my gender transition and transition from adolescence to young adult.
I love being able to unpack my transgender experiences in my comics and illustrations, focusing on intimate moments not often spoken about. I find using minimal words and imagery is the most effective, and hits home the hardest, when creating new work. Every trans person’s story and journey is different. But I hope my art can provide positive queer and trans representation, as well as an awareness of trans issues.
Being a freelance illustrator comes with the constant balancing act of being resilient, while also finding time to rest. During my first couple of years of my art career, I took on every job and exhibition I was offered, as I didn’t know when the next opportunity would arise, or what each one could lead to.
Recently, to remain resilient, I’ve needed to step back and critically assess the opportunities which come my way, and only take on fulfilling projects that I have the capacity to complete. Resilience is often about the hustle, but it’s also about the rest that’s deeply needed to keep on going. Taking on less projects but with bigger clients and working on personal passion projects is ultimately how I’d like to continue my art career.
I’ve also needed and noticed a shift in my own work outside of commissions too. I’ve been illustrating digitally for a few years, and I’m yearning for more tactility from my comics now. Something that lives off the page and away from the screen, in some three-dimensional space. I’ve been transitioning my comics and storytelling into tactile works with embroidery and quilt making in the past year. I’ve made a few embroidered works, and I’m currently working on my first comic quilt! It’s the most excited I’ve been about creating new work in a very long time, and it will be exhibited in a group show in June for pride month.
By far, it was when I designed shoes for Converse ANZ in 2021! I created two patches for a custom pair of High Tops Chuck 70’s. The shoes were produced and released during pride month (June) of 2021, in celebration of the fluidity of gender and sexuality. Proceeds of the sales went to Minus18, to directly support queer young people throughout Australia.
One of the patches features a trans person with top surgery scars. From my knowledge, it’s the first time an illustration of a trans person has been represented on a Converse shoe. Working with Converse and being supported to create art about being queer and trans was such a dream.
It meant so much to me knowing my art was directly supporting queer youth and offered positive trans representation to queer futures. My partnership with Converse continues, and I’m so honoured to be a part of the Converse All Stars community.
As expected during the first two years of my undergraduate degree, the assessments had set themes, and were graded according to how precisely we met the brief and/or rubric. However, I would always bend the brief to fit my own ideas, and what I wanted to make my art about. No matter how abstract the assigned theme was, I would always steer it back to being trans. Making art about my gender was always so important to me for my entire time at UNSW. It’s all I wanted to do, and it’s all I did! This passion was fuelled by not seeing trans art when I needed it most.
I highly encourage current students to make the most of their time studying and being surrounded by art studios, peers and teachers with so much knowledge. But make the art you want to make and use the tools and resources you have around you to make it happen. Don’t focus too much about the project grade, but instead on how each project is gradually helping you develop your art practice and carve out your place in the art world.
Samuel Luke Beatty is a Freelance Illustrator & Artist
Degree and year of graduation: Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours), 2019
Links to projects mentioned:
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