Meet Leonard Peng. He is a current student at the Maryland Institute College of Art pursuing a degree in Illustration with a focus on Book Arts. His unique illustrative style and interesting concepts have allowed him to be featured on Juxtapoz.com and in many shows at MICA. Leonard enjoys illustrating narrative based work, especially for children, but adding his own fun conceptual twist. Leonard is one of the artists in the You Can Do It, Put Your Back Into It exhibition, and will be displaying work again with us this August, in the In Place Exhibition.
Where did you grow up, and where do you currently reside?
I grew up in sunny California and I currently reside in Baltimore pursuing an illustration degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
What are some hobbies you have outside of art?
There are only two things that I like more than art and that is swimming and watching movies. I have grown up near the ocean so swimming has been something important throughout my life. As for watching movies, I love the idea of escaping into another world and experiencing emotions and thoughts of other people in film. Also both activities help with my creative process. When I'm swimming, I clear my thoughts of distractions and think clearly. While watching movies I am able to feel motivation and find inspiration.
What materials do you typically work with, and what is your favorite medium?
For the bulk of my work, I use acrylic paint and add highlights or details with either graphite or color pencil. In "Reach For The Stars", I used half acrylic painting and half digital and it worked out better than I thought, so that's something I'm working with now. I like using traditional mediums especially acrylic because of how versatile it is. You could use acrylics for washes or for dry brushing and also I find that using traditional mediums come with more variety of control. Sometimes surprises and mistakes can make a piece far more interesting than what I was expecting.
Detail of "Reach for the Stars" by Leonard Peng
What is your favorite historical art period?
My all time favorite historical art period is a tie between the golden age and the 1910's - 1930's lifestyle illustrations. The illustrators that influence me the most are Erté, Kai Nielsen, and Jon Bauer. The illustrations during these times all had beautiful and smart shapes that were integrated well as design elements – not to mention the figures are very elegant.
What are your favorite subjects to draw?
My favorite subject to draw is people. It's extremely satisfying to capture moments in time of someone's reaction or pose. Through drawing people, I get a sense of personal intimacy with that person. Sometimes this helps me jumpstart new ideas that I want to work with for future projects.
Illustration by Leonard Peng
What is your favorite aspect of working with type?
Finding the right type is difficult but once you find one that fits the illustration, it feels like a real accomplishment. I don't have much experience with type so it was hard choosing which typeface to use. I always feel that choosing the right type either makes or breaks a piece, so my favorite part is meeting the illustration halfway to complete it.
What do you like about illustrating different types of stories? Like fables, folk tales, and children’s books.
What I love about illustration is its narrative properties. Ideally, I would work as a children's book illustrator so working with stories is what I look forward to. I love the fact that an illustration can represent an entire story from beginning to end. It's magical in its storytelling qualities and pleases people with its aesthetics.
What inspired you to depict the quote “Reach for the stars”?
After bouncing off ideas with my friend we came up with "Reach for the stars, and never look back". I quickly became inspired and motivated to create something fantastical and imaginary. I ended up only using the first half of the quote because I felt it was so applicable to everything you do and that looking back isn't always a bad thing. In "Reach For the Stars", I combined two elements that I loved as a child, aquatic animals and space. I am enamored by both subjects because of how mysterious they are. It's interesting how vast the ocean is and how much unexplored territory and new creatures have yet to be found. I thought it would be appropriate to have a futuristic space like fantasy setting along with these weird fish like creatures.
"Reach for the Stars" by Leonard Peng 2013
Are there any quotes/mottos you live your life by, or feel strongly about?
I don't have any mottos that I live by but there is one quote by Maurice Sendak has said that I feel strongly about. In an interview on what being an illustrator means, Maurice Sendak said that he felt being an illustrator was the closest he could get to being a writer. In a way I felt that was applicable to me because as an illustrator you are giving life to sentence, you're supposed to make a simple sentence into a fantastical story. And that's part of the magic of being an illustrator!
What do you like most about being an art student?
My favorite part of being an art student is being in a community filled with artists. I think it's important to be in a place where other artists can help critique, motivate, and inspire you. Even though at times being an art student isn't as glorified as people believe it to be, I think it was worth it just to meet the people. It's also nice to have the security of being in school!
You can see more of Leonard Peng's artwork here
You can also check out his poster on the online shop and the entire collection of work on the Light Grey You Can Do It, Put Your Back Into It Gallery Collection