A Fine Art School for a Digital Career

For a traditional fine arts school, Kaisha Dukes (BFA ’20) wasn’t expecting much when it came to digital offerings and classes at PAFA.

“I thought we were just going to talk about what it meant to photograph your work correctly and learn how to fix it up a little bit in Photoshop, and that would be the end of the conversation,” she said.

The third-year Illustration student said she was pleasantly surprised when she visited PAFA on a class trip in high school.

“The 3-D program PAFA has, I was like, ‘Wow, I have that to utilize,’ it was really cool,” Dukes said. “I did not expect teachers to come in and teach us how to use Illustrator.”

Her first year, the foundation year, gave Dukes the opportunity to take classes in every discipline. But she was drawn to the Illustration department, in part because of her love of gaming.

“I’ve always wanted to do digital art because I play video games,” she said. “Beforehand I was doing a lot of cartoony stuff, traditionally by hand and now I can do art like that.”

She hopes to one-day work for a video game company like Nintendo or Ubisoft, designing characters for the games she likes to play. Studying at PAFA is getting Dukes ready for a commercial art career.

Illustration department chair Jessica Abel strives to create a learning environment that not only gives students artistic skills but business acumen too.

“In my business class we were talking about taxes and I had learned more than I had learned taking an economics class in high school,” Dukes said.

In her Illustration II class with Abel, Dukes is learning about editorial illustrations. Students are choosing published articles on the topic of their choice and then reaching out to the author for feedback on their illustration the student makes.

“This year all of my illustration classes with Jessica Abel are more about the commercial end of making art and I love it,” she said. “I love doing all of the fancy storytelling and conceptual stuff, but the to the point, editorial work is something I absolutely adore.”

Seeing the art her teachers make is also a learning opportunity for Dukes.

“If a teacher shows me their art I already know I can learn from them if a teacher never shows me their art I cannot learn anything from them,” she said. “I want to know what are you doing in your practice that you can show me, what can I take from your work and put it into mine.”

For Dukes, Abel and the other teachers in the illustration department have been role models for her to model a career off of.

“I was looking at the teachers who teach us and they have all of their requirements to teach and do illustrative practices,” Dukes said. “I want to have my life together like that, I want to be a put together working artist just like that.”

Kaisha Dukes (BFA '20) in the gang studio.
Kaisha Dukes (BFA '20) in the gang studio.
Drawing by Kaisha Dukes (BFA '20).
Drawing by Kaisha Dukes (BFA '20).

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.