John Ritter visits Edinboro University

Art by John Ritter
John Ritter started his career by designing T-shirts. Throughout the years he has designed for many famous organizations such as The New Yorker and Time Magazine.
John Ritter visited Edinboro campus

By Tracy Geibel
Campus Life Editor/Spectator

A famous American pop artist visited Edinboro University last week to be a juror for this year’s Senior Show, where he reviewed students’ artwork and awarded the students with the best work.

John Ritter began his career designing T-shirts, but has made a name for himself because of his creativity, use of color and, the most crucial reason for his success, his hard work.  Ritter has designed pieces for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time Magazine and numerous other publications and organizations.

On Wednesday, April 8, however, the evening before the senior show, Ritter, spoke to illustrators and other art students in Compton Hall, in an event set up by senior, graphic design student, Ashley Olinger. Ritter presented a PowerPoint with examples of his art and explained the stories behind each piece and the process he went through in its creation.

“The reason I’m here is not for fun — though it is fun to come and do this — and I’m not here for financial reasons,” he said. “So my reason for being here is to try to give you a little bit of a sense of how things can go in your career… I’m going to tell you a little about my story and how I got from point A to B.”

At this event Ritter talked about his successes, showing students’ artwork that was published in publications like The New Yorker, but he didn’t leave out the artwork from the beginning of his career. He explained how the connections he made, the relationships he built with people and the impressions he left on them, helped him to advance, as he gradually worked towards reaching his full potential.

“It was refreshing to hear about the struggles that he had to endure,” Olinger said. “Usually people just talk about their successes.”

Ritter wasn’t sure what he wanted to do as a career.  He was passionate about art, music and skateboarding. At age 10, he cut magazine pictures out of skateboarders and enjoyed skateboarding himself. Looking back on his life, he says that his marriage, his career path, the jobs he held and more are based on skateboarding.

“It’s all connected to skateboarding, the energy of skateboarding, the rebellious nature of skateboarding, the motion and the general vibe,” Ritter said. “But the message I was getting was that you can’t really be a skateboarder; you can’t get paid for this, as this was before the commercialization of skateboarding.”

Nonetheless, despite what he was told, Ritter chose to do what he loved, incorporating his passion for skateboarding into his illustration and graphic design career.

“Think about what your passions are. I’m sure you’ve all heard to follow what your passions are, and it’s true,” he said. “It’s not all about that, there’s other elements that factor in, but if you can figure out what your passion is, you’ll really see that it’s the right direction.”

Ritter hadn’t completed college yet when a woman gave him the contact information for a man called “The Dad” in California. He had allowed this woman to bring her children to skateboard at a ramp, leaving a lasting impression, so much so that she referred Ritter to this man in California. Ritter wasn’t sure what to do at the time and contemplated his decision. 

“But, I called him, and he flew me out for the summer,” he said. “There’s the dot. I could’ve not called the guy…[Yet] those are the dots you have to connect, and you don’t really know they are dots while they are happening, but once you do it you do.”

He didn’t realize it, but the connection he made with that woman helped him progress in his field.  He came back to Pennsylvania after his summer designing T-shirts in California to finish college, but then returned. He continued working there, but continually looked for ways to advance.

He applied for an internship at Adobe, but without his persistence, he wouldn’t have had the chances he did. He wasn’t the first, second or even third most qualified candidate, but he begged for the position, asking for a month to show what he could do.

It wasn’t easy for him, as he spent the first few days simply learning basic computer skills, but he didn’t give up and was able to impress the people who gave him the chance. Following the internship, he would mention Adobe when dropping off his resume, which got him more attention from potential employers, at a time in his career when his portfolio couldn’t stand on its own.

One opportunity led to another. Ritter explained it by saying his life has been a series of connecting dots. Connecting the right dots, whether he knew he was doing so or not at the time, helped him to become a recognized professional in illustration. 

Paige Morford, who attended the Wednesday evening event, studies graphic design and takes extra illustration classes. She appreciated the advice Ritter gave about knowing your own capabilities and about working hard.

“I think I want to move west or move north towards Canada,” Morford said, “but I’m willing go anywhere where there’s a creative field.”  

Tracy Geibel is the campus life editor for the Spectator. She can be reached by