When Chuck Pyle arrived at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University in 1972, he was an 18-year-old with big plans: Take a few classes at the Academy, then head off to New York, become a famous political cartoonist — and bring down Nixon.
Today, more than 40 years later, he is Director of the Academy’s School of Illustration (a post he’s held since 2003) and one of the university’s most beloved instructors. And though he never made it to New York (except for vacations and Society of Illustrator events), he has guided and inspired thousands of students and is revered for his patience, generosity and refusal to adhere to a one-size-fits-all method of teaching.
Pyle, 61, is known for his dapper appearance, dry wit and accessible style of teaching – as well as his popular Clothed Figure drawing classes that feature costumed live models and a strong emphasis on shape, lighting, and shadows. His passion for the art of storytelling through imagery is summed up in the advice he gives to students on a regular basis: “Look for new ways of saying things.”
A native of Southern California, Pyle resides in Petaluma, Calif., with his wife Tina. In addition to teaching and serving as Chair of the Society of Illustrators’ Educators Symposium, he worked as an apprentice under James Sanford and maintains a robust freelance illustration career to uphold “street cred” with his students. He is represented by Lindgren & Smith and his clients have included Microsoft, Safeway, Avis, Sun Microsystems, Reader’s Digest, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Atlantic Monthly, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, Penguin, Bantam, Houghton Mifflin, Seattle Opera, and the Chicago Museum of Science and Technology.
Yet Pyle is more inclined to boast about his students’ successes than his own.
In any given week, Pyle can be heard rattling off the latest achievements of alumni from the School of Illustration, with whom he keeps in touch through social media. He’s overwhelmingly proud of their diverse career paths in fields ranging from video game illustration to graphic novel and children’s book illustration.
“I don’t want cookie cutter graduates. I want strong individuals who are adapting and have a clear idea of who they are and where they’re going,” he said.
The testimonials of Pyle’s students highlight his dedication to his craft:
“I think part of Chuck Pyle’s genius as a teacher is that he never stopped being a student.There is something incredibly inspiring about a man who never stops trying to be better even though he appears to be the best.” – Dylan Vermeul, current student, School of Illustration
“He works tirelessly so inspire us, to challenge us, and to make sure we have every resource imaginable to be the best that we can be. Like, does he even sleep?” – Aubrey Williams, BFA Illustration 2014
“Chuck’s masterful talent as an illustrator matches his uncanny ability to fulfill the role of fatherly, nurturing professor to those students who respond best to that type of guidance; and vigilant, fiercely dedicated instructor to others, never shying from telling students what they needed to hear – not what they wanted hear – building them into far stronger artists in the process.” – Aaron John Gregory, BFA Illustration 2014
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Chuck Pyle’s support and guidance.” – Eda Kaban, BFA Illustration 2012
“Chuck Pyle has always been and always will be to me more than the genius director of the School of Illustration, more than an incredibly passionate and patient teacher, more than an amazingly talented draftsman and lover of the folds, gestures and lines. He has been to me what professor Dumbledore is to Harry.” – Valerio Fabbretti, BFA Illustration 2014.
Pyle likes to think his students will “pay forward” the wisdom he has imparted – part of a cycle he has perpetuated – thanks to the impact of his own mentor, the late Academy of Art instructor Barbara Bradley. It was Bradley who advised the 18-year-old aspiring political cartoonist: “Try illustration, you might like it.” Years later, she invited him to teach alongside her. And after a 35-year friendship, it was Pyle who wrote a tribute to Bradley when she won the Society of Illustrators Distinguished Educator in the Arts award in 2007, the year before she died.
This year, as Pyle receives his own honor, he is reluctant to dwell on his personal achievements. As always, he’s sharing the latest illustrations from his graduates, beaming like a proud parent.
“My students are doing better art than I can do. That means I’ve totally done my job.”