The 2016 election changed the trajectory of her career. Before Donald Trump won the presidency, Emerald Pellot, 28, focused on her writing, but the election results angered her so much that she felt the need to start creating art.
“I started drawing stuff for the first time in my life,” she says. “I had always used Adobe Photoshop to kind of design blogs and stuff. But I wanted to do digital art, so I took a continuing education class at Baruch … in Adobe lllustrator and it sort of gave me a solid foundation on how to draw characters or just really use the program.”
She hasn’t abandoned her writing career, but art provides her an outlet for those frustrating feelings. With GRL TRBL (pronounced girl trouble), Pellot celebrates women of color through her powerful, colorful images. And it’s exactly what we need, a year into Trump’s tenure. In an election that found that WOC, particularly black women, voted against Trump, it’s especially important to center these voices and experiences. As an Afro Latinx of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, her art, which she describes as “kitschy,” is all about uplifting women of color. Using politics and pop culture as a reference – Congresswoman Maxine Waters, The Craft, and Beyoncé – she spreads feminist messages.
“I’m just one woman,” she says. “I don’t represent all women, but I do think [it’s necessary] for us to speak up loudly as much as we possibly can. I have an homage to Maxine waters and Beyoncé, to women of color who I feel are important and powerful. Most women of color don’t have enough people saying, ‘Look, she’s cool. You should know about her.’ I know that as someone who is Afro Latinx, I don’t see myself represented anywhere ever.”
That’s why she feels a personal responsibility to create images that celebrate melanin. Mostly that means finding women who inspire her and who she hopes others will also identify with, but it also means casting black women as characters typically considered white. Her Woke Beauty pins, for example, features an Afro Latina as Sleeping Beauty. “Aurorita might be bedridden, but that doesn’t mean she ‘sleep,” the product’s description reads. “Always waiting with one eye open and a dagger near her heart, she doesn’t need a prince to wake her up, and certainly not one who’s trying to do it without her consent.”
As a novice artist, Pellot has already seen some success, including working with clothing brand Wildfang and a subscription box. Despite her business quickly growing, Emerald’s laser focused on personal development. Currently, she’s challenging herself to draw at least three new illustrations on a weekly basis. She shares them on Instagram – a platform she credits as a crucial component to running her business – so she can easily keep tabs on her progress as an artist.
Her next step is to draw more inspiration from her experiences as a Latina – something she’s already started. She recently teamed up with fellow artist Krystal Quiles to design two pins: a Vejigante mask, which mixes African and Taíno cultures traditions and was created to benefit the people of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria; and a Latinx pin. But she hopes her next designs to be more representative of herself as an Afro Latina from New York.
“I’ve always felt … out of place as a Latin person, because I’m Afro-Latinx, and so I don’t read as Latino even to other Latinos even though so many of them look like me. It makes absolutely no sense. I think I’ve recently, I’ve just wanted to reclaim my heritage and learn more about it,” she says, “I also wanna do like, I grew up listening to a lot of alternative rock and grunge and stuff like that. I feel like there’s not a lot of alternative spaces for people of color. I wanna do kind of Afro-Latinx punk kind of themed collection that connects to my younger Hot Topic self. People used to think I worshipped the devil because I would wear black and skulls [in] high school.”
Additional reporting by Itzel Alejandra Martinez.