If you know the American Academy of Art, you almost certainly know Rich Kryczka. 2017 marks 30 years that Rich has taught at the Academy. Three years after he started, he became Chair of the Illustration Department (1990). Rich has helped thousands of young artists find their style, develop a deeper level of appreciation for illustration and design, and evolve into working professionals.
Alex Ross, Loren Long, J. Anthony Kosar, Jason Seiler, Anthony Adcock… are just some of the dozens of famous artists Rich guided along their journey.
In addition to teaching all levels of Illustration, including: Concept Art, Advertising, Visual Storytelling and Art Direction, Rich is also a nationally exhibited illustrator, designer and award-winning painter.
His work has been represented by the Anne Loucks Gallery in Glencoe, Illinois; Dovetail Gallery in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin; and Morava Studios in Oak Park, Illinois. Rich’s work has also been in numerous national, solo and group exhibitions. He is a signature member of Illinois Watercolor Society and the Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers Society of Washington, D.C.
In addition to working with his own commercial clients, Rich has received COARA and NACA awards for his illustrations and designs.
Rich holds an A.A. in Illustration and Graphic Design from the American Academy of Art (1980) where he studied under the late Irving Shapiro, a B.F.A. (1982) in Painting and Drawing and an M.F.A. (1987) in Illustration, Painting and Drawing from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.
We could write 20 more pages about Rich, but thought it would be most fun to have you hear directly from the artist, teacher, mentor, friend, Cubs fan and what is now becoming…the legend 😉
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
Like everyone else, it happened when I was a kid. I drew, sketched and copied art (comic books and more) all the time. I loved logos, especially sports teams, and drew and colored them, made stickers, painted them on helmets, shirts and other hand-made stuff. In my head, they all looked like the real thing.
I had a terrific high school art experience. I had an inspiring teacher that really let me explore all types of media. When I attended the Academy, things became more focused on a job or commercial way of art for the purposes of making as a living.
When did you know you wanted to teach?
In grade school, because I really loved certain teachers’ art and writing, and the way their enthusiasm helped me feel like nothing could stop me from achieving what I wanted.
Becoming a teacher didn’t really become a passionate decision until after I finished my associate’s degree at the Academy. I worked in advertising while doing fine art in my free time; got my work in a gallery; and painted during the day and bartended at night. One of my friends went back to school, and I followed.
What three students stand out most for you?
- Obviously Alex Ross: The best comic book artist. Period. In my opinion, his painted comics have influenced every super-hero movie done today.
- Loren Long: He’s illustrated 35+ children’s books. He’s a best seller, has won many awards, has his own story series (Otis the Tractor), and has achieved so much.
- Anthony Kosar: A very talented, great guy and extremely humble.
What kind of teaching philosophy have you developed over the years?
I’m pretty spontaneous…I will stop in the middle of class and have a mini pop-up lecture about something relevant. I have my system in class, what I believe works. I meet with every student on every project. I love that. It helps me get to know them, what they do well and what they don’t. They get to know me better, too. It’s mini collaboration. I love process – all the steps that take place from beginning sloppy sketches to creating tighter drawings to arriving at finished art. Everyone should have a method to his or her madness.
What’s the most gratifying thing about teaching?
When students “find themselves”: When things click with students and they find their thing – whether it’s a style that falls into place or discovering that they are really good with concepts and finding the right visual solution.
Seeing students become working artists: It’s great to see when people find work and that leads to more creativity or more responsibility and/or better money. And then, before you realize it, they are a recognized artist with an award or something more. It’s also great when someone just finds a place within the art community, regardless if it’s illustrating. Being a working professional, using your artistic skills and degree to make a living and pay your bills with what you went to school for – that’s gratifying!
What lessons, values, and skills do you try to impart on your students?
Learn something from everything – good AND bad experiences. Every job you take is valuable. Something learnable comes from it. Build a portfolio you are proud of. That confidence will carry through in how you speak and in what you say. It will get you work or a job in a creative field. That confidence results because you work hard on your projects to create that honest pride.
What qualities do you see as most often shared by successful artists you’ve instructed?
Kind of cliché… but here’s my list:
- Working hard.
- Seizing opportunities. They take all sorts of jobs that come their way. Most things lead to bigger and better opportunities.
- Finding their niche. They find an area of art that they are good at and makes them happy.
What are the most important things you believe the Academy offers students?
- Strong drawing skills.
- Developing ideas.
- Learning the process of creating their own, unique work style.
- Leaning historically realistic work.
- Working closely with teachers and other students.
How many pieces do you create a year?
At one point a couple of years ago when I was working on smaller pieces, about 50 to 60. I’ve been in a bit of a lull, but my new work will be the opposite. LARGE.
BIG, BIG PIECES IN COLOR!
Which three artists inspire you the most and why?
Tom Torluemke. He never fails to amaze me. (We started at the Academy together in school, and actually started teaching at the Academy on the same day, ironic.)
My uncle. He painted as a hobby, and loved his work because his subjects were just everyday things that were interesting to him.
And: Van Gogh. John Marin. Gustav Klimt. Mark English. Bernie Fuchs. Gary Baseman. My all-time favorite illustrator is Marshall Arisman. While he creates the darkest images on the planet, he’s also the nicest guy in the world.
What are your one or two favorite:
- Meals: Sushi.
- Bands / singer-songwriters: Rolling Stones, Neil Young, David Bowie, Grateful Dead, Elton John nearly all jazz, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, all kinds of soundtracks, and much more.
- Places to vacation: Mexico with my family (I cannot wait to go there again).
- Places to visit in Chicago: Wrigley Field.
- Movies: Horror (good ones, bad ones, anything).
Anything else you’d like to share, Rich?
I am very proud of teaching for 30 years and proud of the Academy and its illustration program. It has never been a cookie-cutter program, where everyone’s art looks the same. Different styles are so important in illustration. No one’s work coming out of the Academy’s program looks the same. It’s all about developing your own style and work.