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Art Grad Succeeds Through ‘Dual Plan’ for Career: Fine Art & Medical Illustration

Kristin Piciacchia is the owner of Key Perspective Studios, which offers an array of services in fine art and medical illustration. Recently, she shared her thoughts on choosing Seton Hill for her B.F.A. in art (with a minor in biology), and how being a ‘practical dreamer’ helped her create a fulfilling career.

Why Did You Choose Seton Hill?

I knew I needed a school that was strong in both the arts and sciences. I did not want to attend a super large school. Also, being a Catholic, the school’s founding and ministry were strong selling points. I still remember the first time I went up the hill with all the trees. Or when I first saw the Chapel. And the art building still makes me smile. 

Why Did You Want to Major in Fine Art?

Art is my thing. It’s always been my thing. Since I could hold a writing utensil. I’ve said since I was five that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I went to an arts high school where I danced and acted and took part in stage crew - but my first and epic love was and always will be visual art. I loved it before I knew why. I chose “Fine Art” because I started oil painting lessons in 3rd grade and never found any other medium that could hold a candle to it for me. Though charcoal or graphite would be second. 

"I would not be the medical illustrator or fine artist I am today without all of my art teachers and professors during my many years in school."

How Did You Get Interested in Medical Illustration?

My goal was always to find a steady art profession and do my fine art business on the side. My family supported my art but they’re all engineers and nurses. They drilled it into me to be a practical dreamer. A high school art teacher briefly mentioned medical illustration one day as something they themselves considered. A seed was planted, and when I was looking into degrees and professions it made the list of potential options. I shadowed a medical illustrator for a day and was hooked. I knew it was something that would keep me financially stable, but at the same time wouldn’t destroy my love of fine art from the day-to-day work monotony. Once I chose medical illustration as my future career, I knew (from talking to graduate programs) I needed a fine art major and bio minor, or vice versa. 

Do You Use Things You Learned at SHU in Your Art Making & Medical Illustration Work Today?

Absolutely. My foundational knowledge in drawing and painting (Prof. David Stanger). Knowing my elements and principles (Prof. Patti Beachley). Referencing art history (Prof. Maureen Vissat-Kochanek) or art business (Prof. Brian Ferrel). All of those things are art basics, and they transcend markets or mediums. It’s like anything else. You must have a strong understanding of the basics no matter how fancy you get. 

How Do You Create Medical Illustrations?

My medical illustration is done on a computer. No, the computer does not do anything for me. It isn’t an AI. The only difference is I draw with a stylus instead of a pencil, and paint with digital colors instead of those in a tube. I sketch the anatomy, create the composition, assemble color schemes, render the values, and add in graphic elements. A shout out to Sr. Mary Kay for teaching me the basics of graphic design and typography! Most fine artists or illustrators don’t have that knowledge and it helps so much. I would not be the medical illustrator or fine artist I am today without all of my art teachers and professors during my many years in school.

While You Were at Seton Hill, You Also Came Up With Some Great Business Ideas - Even Winning the Wukich Center's Elevator Pitch Contest with One of Them.  How Did You Get Involved with the Center?

I honestly don’t remember how I came across it… I wasn’t in any business classes, so it wasn’t an assignment. Maybe a professor brought it up for extra credit? What I do remember is that as soon as I heard about it, I hit the ground running. Because I love public speaking. I know, weird. I was in Speech and Debate on the state and national level in high school and then went on to coach and judge the sport. Seton Hill didn’t have a forensics team so the Elevator Pitch Competition was a great creative speech outlet.  

Is There Anything You Would Want to Share About Being An Art Major, or Having an Art Career, with Someone Who is Considering Entering College for an Art Degree?

I don’t do well with professional artists who say to new bloomers, “Try new things! Follow your heart! You can do anything.” Especially when it’s said to those entering college. Yes, it’s never too late to find a new passion. To pursue a dream. To learn something new. But you must be able to support yourself to even go after that dream. Have a dual plan. Find something to pay the bills that won’t suck your soul dry, so that you have the means to fully go after whatever art profession you are called to do. So you have the finances to have a living space, food and companionship that support you mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. So you can afford the supplies and means to pursue the other goal. The ultimate passion.