Penelope Gaylord: The Art Advocating Change

Penelope “Peng-Peng” Gaylord and her empowering representation of women has been cresting in this industry for the past 13 years. She talks about how she works on art that has an ‘emotional connection’ with the audience and leaves an impact. The zealous fellow aims for more experience in children’s books and creating change in ‘representation’.

A freelance character designer and illustrator based in Los Angeles, Penelope Gaylord co-founded Identity Comics Studios and has worked with various renowned companies including Imagine Entertainment, Penguin Random House, Crunchyroll, and DC Comics. Her sole focus on the character, upshots into the creation of an illustration that stands out. Not letting, not attending a formal art school become a disability, Penelope turned observation into experience, clearly visible in her work!

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Q. Could you describe your primary illustration style? What do you specialize in?

Penelope: I love putting fun and positivity into my art. I work to make my art have an emotional connection with the audience, even if it’s just a small one. I take a lot of influences from current and past animated movies, especially Disney and Anime.

Q. With over 13 years of experience, could you tell us a bit about your core skills and relevant expertise?

Penelope: I’ve had to teach myself and learn from peers and art professionals with regards to my art. It’s been a long and slow road, but it’s what I’ve had to do since art school wasn’t an option for me years ago. So when I get asked technical questions about art, I’m kind of a dummy on it. I know what I like to see so that is what I bring out in my work. It has taken me years to figure that out for myself, and I’m always constantly learning. Having said that, I guess my core skills are character concepts, and I try to bring personality and life into every one of them.

Q. Tell us about your process when creating illustrations. How do you approach concept development?

Penelope: When I’m trying to come up with an illustration, I usually start with what kind of emotion am I trying to evoke between my illustration and the audience it’s meant for. I try to tell a quick story with it so it’s a lot of internal processing before my pen touches the screen. My art is very character-driven so my focus is always on the character first, then everything else afterwards.

Q. How do you develop work when catering to a project outside your signature style?

Penelope: So far I’ve been very blessed with projects that approach me because they want to see my take on their characters/stories. A lot of the projects I’ve worked on recently have been extremely generous in letting me play in their sandbox, so to speak. But early on I’ve had to adapt to existing styles and nothing gets you there better than practice. Lots and lots of practice.

Q. Where do you draw inspiration from when creating work with no source material?

Penelope: Since I wasn’t fortunate enough to attend any formal art schools/colleges, I’ve had to learn from animated movies and shows, comics, and other artists around me. These things are a constant source of inspiration for me when I’m creating things with no source material. I know what visuals appeal to me so I draw from those to create what I would want to see. And then, of course, good ol’-fashioned research is a must when creating characters that have never existed before.

Q. Tell us a bit about Identity Comics Studio and the work it produces.

Penelope: ID Studios is a small, tight-knit group of creators that consists of myself, Jerry Gaylord who is my husband, and Bryan Turner who is a great friend and collaborator. We started this back when we all used to live in Maryland, born out of a need to find like-minded creatives in an area that wasn’t particularly artsy.

Our work has somewhat evolved since we got together some 15 years ago, starting with producing our comics to now all being in animation. But the one constant that has been our main goal since its inception is to create characters and stories that reflect the diversity that we see in our faces and the lack thereof in the media that we grew up with.

We have all since moved out to LA to work in animation and we are still creating and pitching stories with diverse casts and stories that reflect our own experiences. It has been said before, but we do want to be the change in representation that we wanted to see when we were young, that kids now can have an even more colorful future. That’s not just on-screen, but also behind the scenes in lead roles.

“There are so many diverse faces around us all the time, but the media we consume rarely reflects that for us. It’s hugely important to us that people can see themselves in roles of leadership and power and strength — be the hero in stories instead of constantly being a sidekick, or worse the oppressed or the villain. And the older I’ve got, the more I’ve been focused on looking at the people behind the scenes producing the content. It’s rare to see people in charge that look like me and I think that needs to be changed.”

Q. As the co-founder of Identity Comics Studio, what are your insights on providing value to your clients?

Penelope: Whatever work that our crew puts together, you can pretty much bet that it’s gonna have a little piece of us in it. Our faces will likely be part of the characters, our cultures will likely make it into our stories. We can’t help it, our cultures are part of our identity and we bring it to every project we do. It’s our unique experiences and diverse perspective that we bring to the table, along with our dope art skills of course. Eyyy!!

Q. What are your thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and representation within the pop culture art space? Do you think an artist has the responsibility to influence social causes?

Penelope: I think we all have a responsibility to use whatever platforms we have to bring about positive changes. It doesn’t matter if you’re an artist, an administrative assistant, or an executive — you should be the positive shift that you’re looking for. Representation is something that I harp on all the time, as do the rest of my ID Studios crew.

There are so many diverse faces around us all the time, but the media we consume rarely reflects that for us. It’s hugely important to us that people can see themselves in roles of leadership and power and strength — be the hero in stories instead of constantly being a sidekick, or worse the oppressed or the villain.

And the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve been focused on looking at the people behind the scenes producing the content. It’s rare to see people in charge who look like me, which needs to be changed.

Q. Having worked on a few extremely popular franchises, which projects stand out for you the most from your career?

Penelope: Having the opportunity to draw a Captain Marvel Little Golden Book is probably my proudest project to date. I can see how much a book with a female superhero lead meant to small children. I also see how important it was for parents to be able to share that with their kids because the parents are from my generation or a little bit afterwards.

We didn’t have these types of books when we were small, especially for us little girls. We never saw ourselves as superheroes saving the planet or stopping the bad guys. But when the parents would show me how excited their kids are to read the book or tell me how they’ve read it so many times that the book has fallen apart, that let me know I was doing something right.

Q. Are there any other areas outside of comics and animation where you would like to apply your creative skills?

Penelope: I enjoyed drawing children’s books, I’d love to someday make my own. I’ve dreamed of drawing covers for some new crop of Babysitters Club books in my art style. And I’ve gotten a little taste of doing some toy designs, I think it would be fun to design more toys — see kids play with my dolls and figures.

Q. Bonus — You’re a superhero for 72 hours. Who do you pick and why?

Penelope: An existing one? Wonder Woman — no doubt, no question. Go around to heads of governments and tell them to get along and protect their fellow humankind. Haha!

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