Content Warning: The following text mentions mental illness and suicide, which can be disturbing or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.

Everything about Peyton Patchouli feels colorful. Vaguely 70s–inspired hair with the ends dyed pink. A blue–green printed scarf tied around their neck. Big glittery earrings hanging from their ears. A shirred peasant top with baggy sleeves, which they show off by waving an arm around, lilac tulle trailing behind. 

The artist, who goes by the pseudonym Unruly Patchouli, was told by their tenth grade art teacher that their color palette was “acidic pastels.” But they have a bit longer of an explanation for their aesthetic, which shows up across the many mediums they work with—tattoos, earrings, graphic design, and photography. 

“I like pulling in these bright neons but also having a pastel kitschiness to it,” Peyton says. “I feel like a lot of that comes from the 1960s aesthetic with the kitsch and the revival of Art Nouveau in the 70s, as well as more 80s like punk aesthetics with a little bit of y2k sprinkled in.” 

Their art is almost as vivid and electric as this description, drawing you into what feels like a parallel universe created in the mind of a child. And, in a way, it was. Many of the characters featured in Peyton's art now—lambs, bunnies, troll dolls—came from their childhood dreamscapes. “These characters were my friends,” they say. 

Peyton originally created these characters and worlds as a way to cope with a painful reality.  “Growing up fat and queer, [I was] bullied to the point where I was 11 years old and attempting suicide,” Peyton explains. “One day I just like told myself, ‘Other people do not get to determine how I live my life and the pleasure that I get to experience, and I refuse to conform my body and my way of being to whatever society deems is respectable.’”

Their father was closeted for most of Peyton’s childhood, and as a queer person themself, growing up in that environment was difficult. “It was really painful to see him not be able to express himself in that way, coming from a rural area that was really religious,” Peyton says. “My father ended up taking his own life because of that.” 

As a way to cope with the pain of this loss, Peyton would lock themself away in their room and create alternative realities—almost like they were the Alice of their own Wonderland—through art. “I used art as a form of escapism when I couldn't deal with the realities of going to school and being bullied and then coming home to a pretty abusive household,” they explain. 

Now, Peyton hopes that their art—which unapologetically features queerness and fatness—can help others cope with similar situations. “My art is a reflection of my realities, showcasing them in a way that gives you a pinhole view of another existence that’s possible,” they say. “I want to show the magic behind these things, and that there is beauty in what people deem to be ugly.”

Peyton works on their art full–time, which to them means doing something different every day. “Yesterday, I was tattooing someone, today I'm going to start making jewelry,” they say, lifting up a colorful shrimp made of resin that will eventually hang from someone’s ear. It’s bright and a little odd, just like everything else they make.

When asked what inspires these interesting figures, a faint voice in the background—which Peyton later explained was their roommate—yells “shrimp phone!” Without hesitation, Peyton launches into a story about the first night of lockdown. They were originally supposed to go to an event with a friend, but they decided to have a little party at home instead. 

“We ordered a shrimp platter, and we're just goofing around with it, setting [it] up to take photos,” they say. “And we built a full installation in the corner of my apartment.” Peyton and their friend quickly realized that the shrimp tray looked eerily similar to a 60s rotary phone, and brought it into the installation. The concept snowballed into "a phone booth in hell"—and Peyton and their friend entered into the scene as the devil's assistants.

When the short lockdown turned into many months of quarantine, this idea created on a night when it felt like the world was ending turned into a recurring motif in their art. A quick scroll through Peyton’s instagram will reveal multiple pieces featuring phones and shrimp as an homage to this moment.

Truly a creative in all aspects, Peyton also plays with fashion, creating fun outfits to match the aesthetic of their art. They pair colorful pants with t–shirts featuring their own designs, or layer shimmery fabrics over bright colors to create interesting contrasts.

But these outfits aren't easy to create. Finding clothing in their size, let alone clothing that isn’t either extremely boring or hyperfeminine, is a daunting task. “No store in person sells my size,” they explain. “Even if I'm going to specially plus–size stores like Torrid or Lane Bryant, they stop at a [size] 24 or 26. So I cannot physically walk into a store and buy a T-shirt.”

Another part of the problem is that, even online and in specialty plus–size stores, there are very few gender–neutral options that still feel fun. Peyton describes the three types of clothing these companies make: “sexy, for babies, or for grandmas.” And they all feel hyperfeminine to Peyton.

One of Peyton's quarantine goals has been solving this problem by creating a clothing line that centers fat, gender non–conforming people. "I want to create silhouettes that embrace the diversity of size and shape without making [them] overtly feminine," they say. While they're still in the very early stages of brainstorming the designs, they identify a few specific concepts that they want to incorporate into the pieces.

The collection will be inspired by a variety of eras, but mainly Baroque fashion, which features big umbrella–like skirts and ornate patterns and jewelry. Of course, the clothing line will also be fun and colorful like everything else Peyton makes, undoubtedly featuring the same psychedelic aesthetic that permeates the rest of their work.

Another goal Peyton has is to start doing their pop–up shops again. “Before COVID[–19], I was doing two or three markets a weekend, where I’d pop up at different venues, consignment shops, outdoor markets, whatnot, and sell art and jewelry.” They’d also bring a tattoo bed and do flash designs at some of the locations, so keep an eye on their social media to know where (and when) to find them. Check out their tattoos on Instagram @patchoulitattoos, their art and jewelry, and their personal account @unrulypatchouli. And if you just can’t wait for their first post–pandemic pop–up appearance, you can shop their online store too. 

Campus Resources:  

The HELP Line: 215-898-HELP: A 24–hour–a–day phone number for members of the Penn community who seek help in navigating Penn's resources for health and wellness.

Counseling and Psychological Services: 215-898-7021 (active 24/7): The counseling center for the University of Pennsylvania.

Student Health Service: 215-746-3535: Student Health Service can provide medical evaluations and treatment to victims/survivors of eating disorders, regardless of whether they make a report or seek additional resources. 

Reach–A–Peer Hotline: 215-573-2727 (every day from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., texting available 24/7): A peer hotline to provide peer support, information, and referrals to Penn students.