SpotlightArtist Spotlight: Rich Tu [Part 1]
"...My dad is an architect, so he would draw all the time. His idea of bonding when I was a kid would be to show me some new drawings."What were your early inspirations? "I was always into comic books. I was also really into pop-culture in general. I've (always) loved movies, and I remember I used to go to Blockbuster Video when I was old enough to leave the house by myself... I'd spend hours there. I would just walk around - this weird 12 year old kid, and I would just literally walk the isles, looking at VHS box art. To me, that was cool.
"...I remember renting 'Clerks' one time - I rented it just because I saw it had an R rating and thought it would have breasts in it.""And then I would just rent a couple of movies and I'd stay up all night just watching random movies that I rent. I remember renting 'Clerks' one time - I rented it just because I saw it had an R rating and thought it would have breasts in it. Even now, it's still a lot of the same stuff, I just evolved now with magazines and fashion (as sources of inspiration)." Rich went to Rutgers majoring in Communications, as well as doing a minor in Psychology. "When I graduated, I had nothing to do with (them)," he explained. "(Communications) is such a broad major, that could do a lot of things, or you could do nothing. I know the feeling. "Exactly! ...So I was just wandering around for a little bit." How does a Communications Major land in your line of work? "Well, when I graduated, I knew I wanted to go to SVA. So by the time I was a second, third year at Rutgers, I was like 'Man, I should have done that earlier.' But in retrospect, I think I needed the time to mature, and you get there when you get there. "...And then I worked at the mall, I was (also) a substitute teacher, and I was a personal trainer for a little bit, too." What kind of work were you doing at the mall? "I sold XM Satellite Radio," he recalled, grinning. "I was that dude that stopped you in the hallway to sell you shit. (Laughs) And then I'd go to class at night, work in the day, and tried to build my portfolio in order to get some type of meeting with somebody. "So after a couple of years of doing that, my teacher said that I should talk to Steven Heller. He was the most senior art director at the New York Times, and a huge figure there. I heard that he would see new talent, regardless of who you were, so I got his number, called him, and he met with me... He was really nice, but he rips me to shreds! And I needed to hear it, too." How did you take the criticism? "I just stood there. I didn't really know how to process it. "Imagine someone suddenly putting you in a 'snaps' contest without you knowing, like someone just randomly insulting your mom - I was like, 'I need a minute to process.' But I was receptive - I wanted a professional's advice, and he was THE professional." (Rich goes on to say Heller liked two or three things, most of the time it was 'ehh.') "And then, he says, 'This is pretty good,' and he was talking about a piece I had done on 'The Wild Bunch,' a film by Sam Peckinpah. And in my head I'm thinking, 'a preference is happening.' He actually liked something.
[caption id="attachment_929" align="alignnone" width="259"] Rich's work on 'The Wild Bunch'[/caption]"So after he goes through the portfolio, he gets my contact info, and says 'If something comes down the pike that you're good for, I'll let you know.' The very next day, he emails me with two pieces for me for the New York Times. And I'm freaked out, like, 'Holy Shit, bucket list, boom, one check! "...I'd never done anything professional like that before, I didn't even know what my process was like yet. I didn't know how to sort shit out in my head... And, that was the week my sister was getting married - and I'm in the wedding! So the day that the finals were due, it was the day of the wedding. So all this shit was going on, and I'm in a tuxedo freaking out. I pull an all-nighter, send him the files that morning, pray there aren't any changes. "He says OK," Rich recalls, with a nostalgic sigh of relief. "...I was like, 'whew, in the clear!' So I go to church, watch my sister get married, and I just fall asleep in the limo. It was a huge relief, and one of the biggest names in the industry just approved of my work. It was also the first time I get paid for it." Rich doesn't quit his day job though. Not yet anyway. "I stayed a substitute-teacher for a while, for every grade. I was a babysitter," he smiles. "I did that for a year and a half, built up my portfolio and then apply to SVA, where I got my Masters Degree in Illustration in 2009." After SVA, Rich explains how he 'hit the ground running,' working with the Times, BusinessWeek, The New Yorker, and Extreme Makeover. He also built up his network, adding the credit of Art Director to his resume. Part 2 is available here.]