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May 22, 2017

Second time around

Psych major makes his art-school dream happen at CIA

Second time around

Nicholas Ricchiuto talks over his designs with visitors to the 2017 CIA Industrial Design Spring Show. Photo by Robert Muller/CIA.

By John Campanelli

Nicholas Ricchiuto’s future as a designer wasn’t always as bright as it is today.

“My kindergarten art teacher told my mom I would never be anything in art because I only liked to use the black crayon,” says Ricchiuto, who just earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a major in industrial design.

Ricchiuto still has the excitement of a kindergartner, especially when he discusses his passion for making. Sitting at a table in the school library, he slides his backpack closer, remarks about how he did the stitching on it, and then opens one of the pockets. He pulls out a steel bottle opener he forged and heat-treated. From another compartment, he reveals metal containers, pointing out where he machined screw threads by hand in CIA’s fabrication studios.

Wiry and confident, Ricchiuto lovingly describes how he’s spent the past four years being a “shop rat” at CIA, taking advantage of the open access to materials, equipment and expertise — lathing chess pieces in the wood shop, casting ceramics, blowing chemistry glass, teaching himself industrial sewing and cutting perfect shapes with lasers.

It’s as if Ricchiuto has been a quest to use every crayon in CIA’s box of opportunities.

“When I originally toured the school, I thought that all the cross pollination going on here, the foundations and fundamentals that you learn, can be applied to other things in life,” he says. “I think that's what real intelligence is. It’s being able to take something that's totally unrelated and gain an understanding about something else that operates on the same fundamentals.”

Ricchiuto’s path to CIA began in a cubicle.

After graduating from John Carroll University with a psychology degree, Ricchiuto sold replacement windows door to door (“pretty rough”) and then worked as a talent recruiter. Being stuck at a computer all day wasn’t in his DNA.

“My grandfather was the tool guy. Our house is like a freaking Home Depot. My dad has two of every tool,” he says.

(In high school, Ricchiuto and pals began building components for a homemade distillery. He’s thankful his dad found the parts and shut down the budding bathtub gin mill: “I’d probably be blind.”)

Back in the cubicle, Ricchiuto began doing sketches on sticky notes, drawings of objects, including tools.

He’d always been a good artist. During high school, he’d had a wonderful experience in freshman art class and was floored by the “superhero power” of turning an idea into a reality on a piece of paper. But when it came time to think about college, he never considered studying art. “I had a misconception that you're not going to make any money in that field,” he says, “that it should be one of your hobbies rather than something you should pursue as a full-time profession.”

Psychology interested him. He wanted to understand what makes people think and behave in the ways they do. “My friends and I would go home at night and psychoanalyze people, our teachers, our classmates. ‘You think this guy's got this?’ ‘I think he might have a little of that,’” says Ricchiuto, laughing.

He liked analyzing objects, too — the thinking behind them and the emotions they elicited. He’d do that as he sketched away in his cubicle.

It didn’t take long for Ricchiuto to have a revelation. “I'm recruiting people who are the best in their field. I said, ‘I'm really good at this, and I could be the best of my field.’ ”

In addition to sketching, he began doing online research into art careers. “I found out that industrial designers basically invent new solutions and improve existing products and experiences,” Ricchiuto remembers. “I said, ‘Man, that sounds a lot like me.’

“I learned they actually go in the shop, make models and actually get to have other people hold this object,” he says, “That's the next level of buy-in. Now they're actually holding your dream in their hands. I just thought that that was so incredibly cool.”

Two things struck him during his first tour of CIA: the friendliness of the people and the vastness of the facilities. “I just immediately had this feeling that I'm in the right place,” he says.

He worked to put together a portfolio and applied.

“When I got the acceptance letter in the mail, I was like, ‘Charlie’s got the golden ticket,’ ” remembers Ricchiuto. “I was running around and just so excited to be a part of this.”

Once there, the 24-year-old not-so-fresh-man became a regular in the fabrication studios, taking advantage of the almost limitless options to create.

“There’s always a few students who put in extra effort, and Nick’s one of those people,” says Bob Dorsey, a fab studios technical specialist. “They come into the school wanting to make the most of it. They've come to a realization of what school is all about.”

Dorsey says he loved it that Nick wanted to learn as much as possible, including how to operate and master vintage milling and machining equipment. “He just pushed himself.”

Ricchiuto admits the adjustment to art school wasn’t easy. While his maturity and previous college experience gave him some advantages, he realized that the 18-year-olds had more raw talent and were just as driven and hardworking.

“I've been influenced by my younger classmates,” he says. “They have opened the my eyes as to how much work you really need to put in to be successful.”

The faculty helped with the adjustment too, he says. So used to drawing objects, Ricchiuto struggled with the human form. “I’d draw hands and they’d look like a bunch of chicken fingers, mutilated disproportionate body parts,” he says.

Kim Bissett, his figure drawing teacher, had her students roll paint on their bodies and then roll themselves on large sheets of paper. After the paint dried, students had to draw a skeleton on top of their body.

“It was the most impactful thing,” Ricchiuto remembers. “I was laughing, like, ‘This is so stupid,’ but afterward, something clicked. I knew exactly where the rib cage was, where the collarbone was, the shoulder joints.”

For his senior thesis project, he designed an all-in-one “Grill and Chill Cooler System” for barbecuing and tailgating. Everything you need, from charcoal to cheese, can be stored in containers that then are loaded onto a dolly. His thesis defense went well, he says. “They definitely thought the idea could be manipulated a little bit, but the core idea, they thought it definitely had promise. I’m so glad to have that out of the way. It was like a weight being lifted off me.”

Ricchiuto has freelance work lined up and is looking for a full-time job.

No cubicles this time.

“What’s the point of living an unhappy life?” he says. “You know the money's not going to be worth it. I want people to respect me for who I really am, and coming to this school helped me discover who I really am.”

To learn more about transferring to CIA, visit cia.edu/transfer, or contact an admissions counselor by email at admissions@cia.edu or phone at 216.421.7418.

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