Impressive examples of alumni at work
We love hearing from alumni about how they are putting their artistic skills into practice. Many are already making a name for themselves in their various artistic disciplines.
Apart from those who land a job upon graduation, some alums choose, instead, to continue their education. Our statistics show that 10 percent of our graduates pursue an M.F.A. degree immediately following KCAI, while 35 percent get their master’s degree within five years of getting their B.F.A.
We have so many successful alumni that we can’t possibly share all of their stories but you can read about a few KCAI grads we’ve chosen to spotlight here.
Ellen Carey ('75, Printmaking) - Photographer
Experimental photographer and educator Ellen Carey, who is celebrated for her avant-garde approach to materials, found her calling when she was a student at KCAI in the 70s. She knew she was creative, but she couldn’t paint, draw or throw clay. She was in the KCAI Freshman Foundation program, which requires every student to explore numerous art mediums when she picked up a camera and the magic happened.
“I fell in love with everything about photography – the camera, the film, and the processing. I loved the freedom and the autonomy that went along with it,” she said.
Since graduating from KCAI, she has had 55 solo exhibitions, 400 group exhibitions, site-specific installations, books, lectures and more. Her unique work has broken ground in the art world, especially her abstract, minimalist Polaroid Pulls & Rollbacks. In 2017 a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation was awarded to the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, N.Y. to support a retrospective Picture Nothing: The Experimental Photography of Ellen Carey 1977-2017.
Myles Thompson ('16 graphic design) - Salesforce
Myles Thompson credits the design thinking he learned at KCAI for his success at Salesforce, the world’s largest customer relationship management software company. “Once I understood that design is not about the tools you use, but about solution based thinking, I realized I can transfer it to any medium.” He works with animation, motion graphics and other vehicles to create personalized experiences for customers.
Myles was hired by Salesforce after a three-month summer internship between his junior and senior year and thinks every KCAI student should pursue an internship. “It’s kind of like taking Foundations in your freshman year when you dive into lots of mediums. It’s a great way to see if you really like something before you commit.”
He also wants to remind students that their most important asset is themselves. “It’s not just about focusing on your work. It’s about how you evangelize it. Work on your portfolio. Work on your brand and figure out who you are before your senior year, so you can make your senior thesis relative.”
Myles is loving his job at Salesforce so much right now that he isn’t really thinking about where his career will go next. But, he knows one thing for sure. “I want to grow as a designer, keep creating and making, and show the world my perspective.”
Paul Briggs ('96 illustration) - Disney
When he was a senior at KCAI, Paul Briggs learned from his department chair that Disney was accepting portfolios for an internship. The Texas native scrambled, submitted a drawing portfolio, got the job and started animating on “Mulan.” Except for stints at Warner Bros. and Nickelodeon, he has been with Disney ever since.
He was story supervisor on “Frozen,” the Oscar winning, crowd-pleasing fairytale and Big Hero 6, the animated superhero comedy. Being head of story, or story supervisor, means he managed a team of story artists working together to get the director’s vision onto the screen, he said.
Asked how KCAI prepared him for his career at Disney, Briggs mentioned the strong foundation he gained in art training and the support system he experienced with other students. He also said that college is a time when a student can try new things, experience failure and learn from it.
“You develop a better sense of what your strengths are, and you focus on improving and developing yourself,” he said. “KCAI gave me the opportunity to try a lot of different things. Even though I was in illustration/design, I was very into sculpting, ceramics and drawing. Some of my figure- and anatomy-drawing classes were crucial to my getting an internship at Disney. Plus there’s a great support system through other students. You’re all going through the same thing, but on different paths, so you have friends who push and challenge your individual work.”
Cameron Calder ('06 painting) - IBM
Cameron Calder (’06 painting) works at IBM Austin in a state-of-the-art product design studio that is focusing on how a new era of software will be designed, developed and consumed by organizations around the globe.
Before joining IBM and moving to Texas, Calder was a creative director at Propaganda3 in Kansas City, Mo. He also has experience as a freelance designer of digital applications. From an early age he was interested in games. “I played all the typical Nintendo games and spent a lot of time with Lemmings and MechWarrior,” he said. “Before I was able to get a handheld like Game Boy, I would glue cardboard together, draw a game interface on the front and pretend to play it on the way to school.” The game he is proudest of designing is Burn the Lot, which he co-created with Dan Long at Propaganda3.
How does earning a B.F.A. degree in painting prepare someone for a career in digital design? “I learned a great deal from my painting degree that still applies today,” Calder said. “I started out doing paintings on canvas, transitioned to screen prints on vinyl and ended my senior year with a core focus on animation and storytelling through interactive flash projects.
“KCAI also had a real impact on me regarding what it meant to focus on my craft and always keep pushing. The other thing that has stuck is collaboration. Although I was in the painting department, we would always bounce ideas off each other and discuss how we could lean on each other to push our work collectively forward.”
For high school students interested in majoring in art or design in college, he has this advice: “You get out of school exactly what you put in to it. Hard work combined with a great education will get you a long way.”
Nick Cave ('82 fiber) - SAIC
In addition to teaching at the college level at SAIC in Chicago, Nick Cave is a performer and fashion designer. He creates Soundsuits, which are elaborately designed assemblages of unexpected materials that emit sound as the person wearing them moves. His work has been featured in Vogue magazine and displayed in art museums across the United States.
“The Soundsuit is a combination of a number of things,” Nick said. “I’m looking at historical dress, costume, ceremonial, performance, carnival and celebration pieces from around the world.” He made his first Soundsuit out of twigs and continues to find himself connecting back to the whole idea of recycling.
Nick realized he wanted to be an artist when he was in high school in Columbia, Mo. A brother was already a student at KCAI, so Nick applied and was accepted. Once enrolled, Nick also explored the dance program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
“At KCAI, I learned the importance of being able to allow myself to explore the possibilities and to know that if I were to fall I would still have the support of my professors,” he said. “My professors challenged me, which allowed me to build trust in myself and to have a point of view — to have the confidence and the belief that I could turn this into a serious career. The school was a pivotal moment in my career.”
ROSIE RUZICKA ('15 illustration) - Sprint
Being one of the first graphic designers hired for an in-house ad agency responsible for shaping the creative vision of a 32 billion dollar mobile company is exciting and a little bit daunting, especially for a recent college graduate. Yet when Sprint’s new internal agency Yellow Fan offered Rosie Ruzicka (’15 illustration) a job, she didn’t hesitate. Her education at KCAI gave her the confidence and skills she needed to work in a start-up agency.
“When I graduated from KCAI, I felt I had a leg-up because of the experience I had. I was really well prepared because the core focus of the curriculum is to work fast, be a producer and have a good attitude. We learned teamwork and how it’s more about successful collaboration than your individual style,” said Ruzicka.
She also learned the art of the quick turnaround, a vital skill in the fast-paced agency world. Her instructors would send her home with an assignment and give her six hours to come up with an image that worked for the project. “A lot of the students would get frustrated because they thought no one would ever ask them to do a design that quickly. But now, my boss will come in at 9 AM and want me to finish a project by noon. That’s the way agencies tend to run.”
Learning to draw in her illustration classes also gave Rosie her an advantage in getting hired. According to Rosie, “Not every designer can illustrate. Employers want to see that you have a point of view and coming in with a distinct style made me more valuable. Because I had developed the ability to draw, it set me apart from the other applicants.” She loves seeing her work out in the world. “I want everyone to know that you really can be an artist and have a lucrative career.”
Lance Flores (‘11 graphic design) - Baldwin
Lance Flores is living the millennial dream. He does social content for the uber hip denim brand Baldwin and travels from Kansas City to New York and the City of Angels for photo shoots with stunning models.
In his spare time, he taught himself photography and started an Instagram account that’s attracted over 68,000 followers and caused Nike and Cole Haan to give him a call. The crazy thing is, he didn’t really set out to brand himself. He just wanted to share his point of view.
“For me it’s more about curiosity of the mind, not advertising. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but over five years of shaping my eye and putting my work out there, people started following me and brands started asking me to collaborate.”
When it comes to sharing artwork with the world, Lance believes it’s important to curate. “Always put your best work on your website and social media. If you don’t want to do a specific kind of project anymore, don’t put it on your site. Show the work that’s representative of the way you think, who you are and how you can take an idea and push it further.”