Once in awhile you meet someone who is so impressively true to their nature that you can’t help but to be fascinated by them and the charismatic power of their sincerity. This is how we feel about Lera Pentelute, a Los Angeles based model, who also happens to be a USC graduate, a talented artist, and a really kind and thoughtful human soul. Originally from Ukraine, Lera moved to Los Angeles when she was 10 years old. Since then, she’s been mesmerizing and inspiring the world with her beauty and effortless style, hand-drawn illustrations, unabashed penchant for language, and all round thoughtful sincerity. She’s the real deal: beauty, brains and better grammar than you.
Story and Interview by Miwa Sakamoto
Hi Lera, how’s it going?
Not bad at all!
Let’s start with where you’re based. Where do you call home?
Los Angeles. I’ve lived in many parts, from Marina del Rey to West Adams. I’m now in Silverlake.
Since you’ve been living in LA, you’ve been working as a successful model. Can you describe some of that experience?
It’s difficult to talk about my experience as a model unambiguously without writing an essay on the subject. Earning a living outside the nine to five structure has been a luxury. But I just have to say, work is work, and that means doing a lot of stuff you don’t necessarily like to do. Every now and then, you get an amazing opportunity or have a really fun day that revives your faith in it all.
That was a really good summary of a job that is inherently so varied and so far from the normal “office scene.” But throughout your career as a model you also have been working on some of your own creative projects, for instance you recently re-launched your site lerapen.com. Can you talk about where the concept of lerapen.com came from and what you have planned for it?
I started lerapen.com with the intention of it being a creative diary, a platform to showcase things I already do, a refined vision of my day to day. And it serves that purpose, but it also motivates a type of content I wouldn’t create without having it as a platform. For example, I’ve always played with clothes, but now I have a reason to style outfits for mini photo-shoots. I’ve always created illustrations, but not animated gifs. So the project is self-sustaining, if that makes sense. But also, it is just a blog where I happen to share outfits, illustrations, recent modeling work, and life moments.
Being a model often means that you are helping to bring to life someone else’s creative vision rather than your own. How does your perspective as a model, influence your creativity and the direction of your site? Can you describe, in brief, your experience finding and establishing your own creative voice?
Well, it’s not exactly that models don’t have any type of creative role. Most working models have to have some personality and, I suppose, some acting skills in order for photo-shoots to work. Otherwise, the photos just come out dull and lifeless. And carrying out other people’s creative visions can be very rewarding, in that you’re expanding your own creative capacity to things that you yourself couldn’t imagine. This is the magical thing that happens when you work with great artists and is the fun part of modeling. But regularly partaking in concepts that you hate, or being put in clothes that you can’t relate to, or even having to wear makeup that makes you look hideous to yourself can all be soul sucking. So taking control of most of these elements in creating your own content is very rewarding. I think this is one reason so many models also get into photography.
Are the illustrations on your site yours? How long have you been drawing?
I’ve been drawing all my life, really. But I juggle many things, so there’s little consistency in how often I’ll sit down with a pencil. In these next couple months, you’ll be seeing more from me. That’s a promise to myself.
We can’t wait to see more! Where and when do you work the best? Any particular beats you like to groove to while working?
I have a drafting table at home that I love primarily because of it’s size. I like to think I’m into drawing in the daylight, but usually I end up starting late and going into the night. When traveling, I take my iPad around. And I really love working on airplanes with earbuds and a glass of wine. When I’m into what I’m creating, it’s a full body experience, and I want to feel the energy of the drawing, so the music that I listen to usually follows in the vibe of what I’m working on. But some of my go to’s are The Growlers, Fiona Apple, Santigold, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Azealia Banks, Mac DeMarco, King Krule, The Libertines, The Smiths.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working, either as a model or on your own projects?
Drinking coffee, drinking wine, spending time in good company, taking walks, practicing yoga, and I’m almost forgetting online shopping, particularly vintage hunting, which is not at all romantic but is true.
What’s your most prized possession? What’s its story?
I really value all jewelry that was handed down from my family. I also received a very special vintage guitar as a Christmas gift from my boyfriend. But we need more bonding time, the instrument and I.
Do you like to travel? Where was your last travel adventure and where’s the next place you’re itching to travel to?
I do love to travel, but I rarely travel actively, meaning I go wherever life happens to take me. My last trip was to Paris because my boyfriend Korey had press meetings for his new album there. He’ll be touring France with his band in late February, so it looks like I’ll be going right back. I’d love to explore more of Europe and parts of South America, but the one thing that always tops my list is visiting my grandmother in Ukraine.
You recently finished your undergrad at USC. Can you talk a bit about what you were studying and how you’re hoping to apply it in your life?
I finished Economics, and then Psychology. No plans yet to make use of either degree in the career sense. But I apply economic thinking to almost everything in my life. It's an exercise in rational decision making, weighing the costs and benefits. The Psychology major was an add-on I thought I would find interesting because I put a lot of thought into human behavior. But most of the classes were pretty uneventful. I still love searching journal articles in related fields as specific curiosities arise.
Do you like to read? What catches your eye/interest in a book? How do you feel about judging books by their covers? (literally and metaphorically)
I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t opened a book in a looong time. On the topic of casting any kind of judgement, I’ve come up with my own philosophy. It’s ok to judge, and we all do it. The important thing is to keep your mind open and be flexible to seeing things in a new light.
What’s your favorite Ukrainian saying and what is its English equivalent?
This is a good one: “Cколько волка ни корми, он всё в лес смотрит.” It translates to, no matter how much you feed the wolf, he’s still looking to the forest. This says a lot to me. It could be applied to the understanding that no matter how well-paying your job is, you will still have the desire to follow your true passion. Or to a situation where you try to change a person to no avail. Much more literally, the saying can be applied to tragic attempts to domesticate wild animals.
What’s your favorite book?
I have two: East of Eden, and The World According to Garp.
I can’t decide on this one! Never had a favorite in words, just love language.