Artist Bianca Pastel has already collaborated with the likes of Nike, Disney, and the Chicago Bears. She’s illustrated a children’s book. But she has even bigger ambitions. “I want to be the Walt Disney or Miyazaki of my world and bring Black animation to life,” Pastel, 30, says. “These are my dreams, and I am fully capable of them.”

Pastel, who grew up in Country Club Hills and lives in Pilsen, got her start interning for Hebru Brantley after graduating from Columbia College. Once labeled Brantley’s protégé, she has since made a name for herself as an illustrator, animator, and graphic designer. Her style of pop art, inspired by the ’90s cartoons Rugrats and Hey Arnold!, employs similar whimsical settings not just to evoke nostalgia but also to push back against the omission of Black people in feel-good animated content. 

Pastel spent the first year of the pandemic imagining the high jinks of her characters Binky, Fern, and Ashley, three Black elementary school girls. She would routinely upload drawings of their adventures to Instagram. A year later, she and Brantley started pitching Yo, Binky, an animated series featuring the trio. She’s still shopping it, but she’s had discussions with major studios.

Creating art has helped Pastel, who is nonbinary, deal with mental health struggles and reconnect with her inner child. “I use art to figure out who I was before the world was forced on me,” she says. It’s given her a mission, too. “I’m working on a cartoon about a Black girl where I get to discuss mental health and be free in a way that my parents and my grandparents weren’t able to be.”