The Q&A: Rich Tu

By Peggy Roalf   Monday September 21, 2015

Q: Originally from New Jersey, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in Brooklyn?

A: Brooklyn is such a vibrant part of New York, and there’s a communal sense of ownership about everything here. A bodega becomes “our bodega,” or a stoop becomes “our stoop.” I feel very invigorated just by walking around the streets.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus in the computer?

A: I used to keep a sketchbook religiously, but haven’t the past couple of years. It’s because I hate to carry bags or have stuff in my pockets. Now I write ideas down in my phone that are loose descriptions so I don’t forget.

When I’m actually working, it usually begins in digital. Often I’ll re-craft a digital piece as a physical drawing/painting, because that aesthetic is difficult to fake. 

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: Because of my advertising and commercial work, I work in a lot of different environments when not at my home studio. When I’m at home, my favorite things are my books, because I can dig in and get a mental refresh. When I’m in a foreign environment, it’s my iPhone.

Mural for XXL Magazine’s Freshman Class

Q: What do you like best about your workspace? Do you think it needs improvement, if so, what would you change?

A: I have a wooden desk with a dark brown finish and a leather top. It’s very simple and looks like it’s from 60’s era Mad Men. It’s my favorite thing in my studio. The only thing I would change is adding a long dinner table to eat at like Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne in Batman ‘89. 

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: Usually when the deadline hits. Otherwise I know I’m finished when I can’t stare at it anymore.

Q: What makes you happy?

A: Going to Coney Island with my fiancé Allie B. and eating seafood at Nathan’s. Also the Ain’t 2 Proud To Brunch party at Sons of Essex.


Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A:  didn’t have a favorite, but I know that my least favorite was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. It was the epitome of who-gives-a-shit first world problems. Also I read it twice. 

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: Spark for the Fire by Ian Wharton.

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: An infinite supply of Sharpies and naked bodies.

Q: If you could time travel to any era, any place, where would you go?

A: I want to drop by the Walled City of Kowloon and see what’s up.


Q: What is preoccupying you at the moment?

A: Straight Outta Compton has reinvigorated my faith in truth-seeking. Also I’m deeply invested in Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars

Q: What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?

A: Lately, I’ve been digging the photography of Maurizio Cattelan and Toilet PaperLove and Rockets is always an inspiration. The Japanese illustrative genre of Ero Guru is pretty crazy, in that “I can’t look, yet I must” type of way.

Like I said earlier, I love to just explore Brooklyn. I live near a bunch of great places, so often I’ll take a walk to the arcade or stop by Desert Island Comics. I do my best work when I’m not thinking about work.

Left: Illustration for Converse; right: NPR’s 2014 calendar cover

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your
 approach to art?

A: I tend to watch a select few movies over and over again, sort like hypnotizing myself to put me in the zone. In my lean years I was obsessed with the films Basquiat with Jeffrey Wright and American Splendor with Paul Giamatti. I will always relate to the mentality of the suffering and beleaguered artist, which I have no intention of shedding because it makes me hungry.

A few years ago I saw the Lombardi documentary on HBO. It changed my life, and I obsessed over that instead. It made me want to shape something greater than myself, and made me realize that if you want something in life you’ll have to take it because no one will help you.

Lately I’ve been watching the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Bad Boys, about the Detroit Pistons in the 80’s. It’s a great story about outsiders clawing their way to victory.

Bang Boom Pow, collaboration with photographer Andy Lin and Kids With Candy

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Wolf of Wallstreet.

Rich Tu is an award-winning artist based in New York City. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts’ prestigious Illustration as Visual Essay program and received the elusive “Young Guns” award from the Art Directors Club. He has exhibited at galleries and festivals in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, as well as the SCOPE Miami festival, during Miami’s Art Basel week.

His commercial clients include The New York Times, The New Yorker, Business Week, Alfa Romeo, Bombay Sapphire, G-Shock, Converse, NPR, NorthFace Purple Label, Coca-Cola, Verizon, American Express, Skype, Fuse TV, and Bravo TV, among others. Twitter/Instagram: @Rich_Tu

Rich Tu is a Featured Speaker at this year’s Adobe MAX festival taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center from October 3 – 7. His workshop is titled “Unleash Your Creative Weirdo,” and is a back-to-basics creative workshop with tons of surprises including a special collaboration with Bucketfeet shoes.