Jamie Beard is an illustrator based in Belfast. His work has often focused on exploring notions of LGBTQ+ identity, telling stories and platforming voices through this lens. His illustration featured in the 2019 book Encounter/تلاقي’. (a collaboration between Outburst Arts, al-Jumhuriya, the British Council. As part of our LGBTQ+ publishing project, The Rainbow Library, James will work with author James Hudson to facilitate six creative writing workshops with young LGBTQ+ people based in Ireland. The results of these will be published by Pop Up Projects.
Tell us about your background. How and when did you first realise that you wanted to be an illustrator?
Thinking back, I was always very creatively minded in my youth and forever developing new, seemingly unending projects and ideas which mostly came to life through drawings, comics and ‘cartoons’. This really held prominence throughout my education too, and eventually I would go on to embark on a BDes Graphic Design and Illustration degree at Belfast School of Art, graduating in 2015 with a malleable, but specific ambition of developing a career in illustration. I was and remain fascinated by the idea of sharing your own unique take on the world we find ourselves in.
Who are your artistic influences?
Stylistically, I guess my work is a venn diagram between folk art, kitsch, and queer. This in turn is a reflection of a diverse range of influences. For instance I adore the ‘aesthetic’ of medieval art, and much of the iconography inherent to 20th century pop culture, and these sources pour into my work in different ways. Key influences also include the work of illustrators including Laura Carlin, Katie Skelly, further back to Tove Jansson, and expressionist painters like Marc Chagall. Their visual reflections of the world, core themes and and notions of world-building and storytelling, continue to astound me.
What does the Rainbow Library project mean to you?
I have long admired the wide reaching work Pop Up does to bring literature and illustration to young people across the country, and the difference this makes to many lives. The Rainbow Library feels like a fitting continuation, and a truly special, groundbreaking project for LGBTQ+ young people. To think that those involved with it have the opportunity to develop their creative talents and ultimately have some form of their work published, is truly incredible and I feel honoured to be able to play some role in this process. I wish such a project had existed when I was starting out!
What would you like to see more of in the literature world, particularly children’s/YA literature?
I definitely feel that there could and should be more scope for collaborative endeavours such as what we are doing via The Rainbow Library, where children and young people are actively given the microphone and the opportunity to platform and amplify their voices and ideas. This could prove particularly powerful when considered through the lens of LGBTQ+ identity, and the often overlapping experiences specific to gender, race, class background that shape young peoples’ outlooks on the world.
What advice would you give to young LGBTQ+ people who are interested in creative writing or illustration?
I would recommend trying to trust your creative instincts and not shying away from what you feel passionate about. Whether actively intended or more nuanced, the work you produce will be at its most distilled, and strong when your own voice/experiences are given central space to shine. What you have to say is so important and yours alone, and there’s beauty and power in being able to communicate that, whether through creative writing or illustration (my experience stems from the latter). Remain open to opportunities, but don’t be afraid to say no if one doesn’t feel true to you!