A Word with Raime Cronkhite, KCAD’s 2020 Valedictorian
This year’s honoree, Raime Cronkhite (BFA Illustration) shares her insights on returning to college to pursue a life of creativity, the merits of delving deeper, and what it takes to succeed as a working artist.
You came to KCAD to pursue your second bachelor’s degree. How has your college experience been different as an older student?
There are some things classes can teach you. But having 10 years on some of the incoming students, I just have a different perspective and a different purpose. I had a specific reason to be back in school, and I wasn’t going to waste that time.
In what ways have you grown most as an artist?
My technical ability has really come a long way. I wasn’t awful to begin with, or else I wouldn’t have been able to get into art school. But it’s really been refined.
My conceptual side and storytelling have also grown. Before, I could look at something and draw it or paint it pretty accurately, but the ability to visually communicate abstract thoughts and come up with those things myself instead of having outside prompts was not strong at all. It grew a lot my second year.
"Dame Judi Dench" (oil) by Raime Cronkhite isn't just a remarkably realistic portrait of the famed actress; it's also a part of Dench's personal collection in London (image courtesy of the artist)
How did your experiences with other students shape you?
On both the Illustration floor and in the other fine art areas on campus, anybody is willing to give feedback. You just have to ask, “What do you think of the composition? Are there any elements I need to change? Is it coming across well?”
The true value for me in being at KCAD was being in the studio for hours. People were coming in and out all day to say hi or work for a while, so it was easy to get a lot of good feedback and have conversations about things that developed my work. I might say, “That torso isn’t reading right.” And one of my classmates would say, “I think you made it too small and you just need to bump it out an inch.” And that’s the thing that helps. You look to other people as outside, fresh perspectives to help you improve.
What are you proudest of from your time at KCAD?
There are two things. The first was a larger painting. I stretched the canvas myself, primed it using traditional methods, and booked a model. I wrote out a letter from a fictional character to get the model into her character, and seeing her responses and watching her lean into a very emotional place in the moment was a very rewarding experience. Being able to see the project develop from just an idea to a finished painting months later was very satisfying.
The second was a self-portrait I did in a single day just last week. I didn’t think it was going to be anything cool. I actually didn’t want to do a self-portrait, but I had no other bodies. Then while painting it, I saw more of what I didn’t usually see in myself–the reality of who I am and how much I’ve grown. I was also able to see the history of my family in it, realizing, holy cow, that looks like my aunt, that looks like my grandma. It was a very cool, happy accident that occurred.
(above): "Stranger of Galilee" (mixed media) and (below): "Self (Isolation) Portrait" (oil on panel) by Raime Cronkhite (images courtesy of the artist)
What has surprised you about your growth as an artist?
Making some of the pieces that are a bit darker. It’s not as easy and eye-catching. Any time I post something that’s a little more playful, everyone’s like, “Oh I like that!” But the stuff I like to make most is very personal and can be dark. It’s also understanding that the sadder parts amplify the joys of life, and that’s what we’re experiencing now, too.
"When the Dust Settles" (oil) by Raime Cronkhite (image courtesy of the artist)
Speaking of that, how has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your college experience?
It’s changed a lot. At first, I was able to bring some of my large pieces home to Grand Rapids. Then my boyfriend and I came up to Petoskey to be with family. My studio space went from small to even smaller, so that changed the scale of my work. I had to go from the 42” x 36” pieces I planned on doing for my thesis to new things that are much smaller. It forced me to put aside ideals, fly by the seat of my pants, and lean into my ability to create things on the fly and work in the moment.
I also had to embrace social media in terms of what it could do to get my work out there, even if it’s not how I’d hoped to at this point. You work for the physical gallery show and get everything prepared, and then you realize you’re going to show a digital representation of the piece. You just kind of have to let go and brave the uncharted territories.
"Lee Erck" (oil) by Raime Cronkhite (image courtesy of the artist)
Do you have advice for younger artists at KCAD?
Yes. You don’t just happen upon a creative career. It takes doing every single day. Just like people who want to be good at sports or become a concert pianist–the way you do it is to do it every day. You’re training your brain to see the world in a different way and take notice of things that the rest of the world typically doesn’t take notice of. So lean into that mindset and work ethic, and that’s how you become an artist and find a way to do it for the rest of your life.