The Layers & Characters of Bianca Pastel

Written by Nicole Misfitx

There’s nothing like childhood nostalgia. Remembering your favorite cartoons, movies, music, snacks, and the limitless time to explore your imagination. That freedom, joy, and warmth of adolescent wonder is something Chicago-based visual artist Bianca Pastel (she/they) captures in her artwork through her range of characters like Binky and $unny.

These characters were on full display at Bianca’s recent sold-out, first-ever solo show “The Desire to Communicate vs. The Desire to Hide” at Vertical Gallery. I had the privilege of chatting with Bianca and delving into her nostalgic inspiration, the connection between the characters, and the delightful world of Binky.

This interview has been edited for clarity and concision

Nicole:  A big influence on your art is ‘90s cartoons and media. So, firstly I wanted to get to know what you were into as a kid. What were your top five favorite cartoons as a kid?

Bianca Pastel: Five of my favorite cartoons, we got: Rugrats, Wild Thornberries, Rocket Power, and Hey Arnold! The animation at Nickelodeon was top-tier back then. You could also switch it over to PBS Kids with Arthur.

Binky – Art by Bianca Pastel

Nicole: I saw the posters you had done of ‘90s movies Juice and Set It Off; What were some of your favorite movies?

Pastel: Any coming-of-age movies, or about teenagers like Mean Girls, Save the Last Dance, Kids, and Juice; I had the biggest crush on Tupac. For some reason, it felt like there was a lot more Black content around that time. Set It Off is one of my favorites too. I think that being a millennial we got good exposure to content where it had Black people in it, but it wasn’t about race.

Nicole: Yeah, it was just about the human experience.

Pastel: I think about my work in that aspect when I’m making characters. Making it not just about this one main point, like race, but about the human experience with there being variables and different layers to an individual.

Nicole: As a child, you got into art and knew you wanted to be an artist. What were some of your hobbies?

Pastel: My grandma did photography and she would take me to a lot of art museums as a kid. She did stamp collecting. She introduced me to all these different mediums, so it was instinctive to always have art in my life. I didn’t really take it too seriously, but it was the only thing that I ended up being good at. This has always been the one thing that came naturally.

Art by Bianca Pastel

Nicole: What are some mediums you want to learn more about and explore? I’m guessing animation?

Pastel: It’s always going to be animation. For now, it’s always going to be that.

Nicole: I liked the little cartoon animation of Binky on your Instagram, where she’s dancing. That was so cute!

Pastel: Yeah, I have a lot of fun with her and animation. I want her to be the outlet I explore every medium with until she gets where she needs to be.

Nicole: Yeah, it shows, you can see her personality!

Pastel: She’s so silly.

Art by Bianca Pastel

Nicole: We kind of touched on it but, what are your thoughts on the representation of Black characters and cartoons in the ‘90s and early 2000s?

Pastel: I feel like the ‘90s shaped my view on Black content for sure, like I said it was not just about it being Black, it was a human show. It’s more stereotyped now with shows like Blackish or Black AF.

I want to have an outlet for Black animation and I think that it’s important I express that in Binky and Fern and all the other characters I’m going to have in the future. Every experience is different. There’s not just this one monolith of what being a Black girl or boy or any POC person is. I want it to be a human experience and relatable so Black kids see themselves not just as that, but as human beings. I think it starts with having a playground to be free, something like animation or fine art are the best forms of expression.

Nicole: Can you tell us a little more about Binky: her backstory, personality, and her relation to you?

Pastel: I started drawing Binky five years ago. I didn’t see Binky as a version of me when I started off. She was just this fun girl with hair all over her head that I kept drawing her over and over. Then I started building her character, making more stories about her, pulling from my own childhood.

Binky on Fire – Art by Bianca Pastel

She’s a rambunctious, free-spirited girl who is very blunt and says all her thoughts, and does what she feels and wants. It was my playground to be this free version of me as a child and I feel like the more I understood that character, the more I got to who I was before the world puts you in the school system and teaches you how to be.

Nicole: Can you tell me a bit more about the character of $unny?

Pastel: $unny is they/them and is my playground to unpack gender and keep people away from Binky. When I started to create Binky, I wanted it to be an animation and I had a situation with HBO Max where I was trying to make a cartoon and I still didn’t want people to touch her.

I want her to be protected. So $unny was like, you know, I’ll pull up! $unny is a young adult trying to figure themselves out in the system. They are who I like to use for the harder or heavier adult emotions that make you want to hide in yourself; especially if you’re discovering yourself as a queer person.

Art by Bianca Pastel

 Nicole: Going off that a lot of your pieces touch on mental health I saw some older pieces on your site related to that theme.

Pastel: Those were pieces I did when I was in Los Angeles. I was having full mental breakdowns because the climate was so hard and I was working more hours than my body could handle.

I remember starting to make art outside of work and starting to work off paper. Building my confidence that I could go back to paper because it was really hard to go between digital and fine art. That was just sort of the beginning of building my confidence back to working on pieces for myself.

Nicole: It sounds like the characters you create are a way of processing trauma and talking about mental health with people.

Pastel: Most of my work is very instinctual. Sometimes I won’t know what it means until other people are processing it. They explain to me what it means. And I’m like well, that’s even more valid than what I thought it meant. So yeah, it’s really connecting and healing for me.

Nicole: Could you tell me a little about the Vertical Gallery show you just had?

Pastel: Oh my God, yes, that was my first full solo fine art show where I had big pieces. I started painting those pieces when I moved into my crib May 2023. I didn’t have anything in there, but the first thing I saw was wall space.

Bianca Pastel

So, the first thing I did was unravel a canvas, before I even put my bed up or anything, I put a full canvas on the wall and started painting. Then I thought, I could have a show, I think I’m ready and confident enough So I just put up several canvases on the wall and started painting more.

I hit up Patrick [owner of Vertical Gallery] who I’ve worked with before. The show turned out great! Although, with painting, I’m used to digital art and fast validation. Painting all those pieces and not getting any sort of validation until the next year was just kind of crazy. But it was so rewarding and fulfilling in a way that I never thought it would be.

The turnout of how many people showed up for that – I’m on the Internet so much that until you do something in person, you don’t see how many people are actually rooting for you. How many people actually vibe with your work, and I just didn’t know. People were coming up to me in tears, talking about how meaningful some of the pieces were and how relatable some of the work was. All my friends were there, I have so many different groups of friends that all came together in one room and were just so happy to see and be around each other and me.

It was just very fulfilling to see everybody be able to see themselves in these characters; that we can all see ourselves in these very vulnerable spaces and have these real conversations; it felt very free. And yeah, you could see it in the clips of the videos of the show, how happy everybody looked; it was beautiful.

That narrowed down my path a lot and I was like, OK, I know what people like, I know what to do. I think all the Binky pieces sold. People are still learning about $unny, but I think the more I put Sonny out there, the more people will gravitate to them. Once I did the talk and people asked about $unny, they immediately wanted to buy the work because they wanted to hear the story. I have so many more characters to put out, so I’m just like, OK, I know where I can exist now.

Art by Bianca Pastel

Nicole: It sounds like it was reassuring that these characters you are making matter; they touch people.

Pastel: After so many nos, falls, and failures so finally getting a yes was like I can keep going.

Nicole: If Binky could go on an adventure with any ‘90s or 2000s character, who would you choose?

Pastel: That’s so hard. I think Binky and some of the Hey, Arnold! cast would get along great. Mainly Arnold because he needs to lighten up, he is so serious. And maybe Angelica and DW.

Nicole: What is coming up next for you? I can definitely see plushies since Binky is so cute.

Pastel: Yeah, I really want to do toys and plushie figures. So that’s what’s next. I also want to keep getting commissions, smaller original pieces, skateboard decks, big pieces, and a show.

Nicole Misfitx is a writer and photographer passionate about documenting art, graffiti, and street art in Chicago. Her love of writing led her to receive a degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from schooling at Columbia College Chicago and SNHU. She then combined her love of documenting art, photography, and writing to showcase various art, artists, and important social topics. Her drive for writing is to give exposure to lesser-known artists and the overall street art and graffiti scene in Chicago. In addition, she enjoys nature, travel, movies, all things spooky, and fashion.

Instagram: @misfitxphotos