One Degree, Two Schools: Undergrad Drawn to Penn and PAFA’s Coordinated Fine Arts Program

Jacquie Posey | jposey@upenn.edu | 215-898-6460
Friday, September 22, 2017
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Detail from Penn student Gianna Del Rossi's "Sagittarius and Aries" artwork created using graphite plus black and gold ink on watercolor paper. The figures were taken from a photograph.

Gianna Del Rossi wants to up the game in video gameplay through her art by enriching the cacophony of sounds and spectacular visual effects that attract her and her friends to gaming. She is pursuing a four-year bachelor of fine arts degree in a unique program offered by the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The coordinated B.F.A. program dates back to the 1930s.


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Gianna Del Rossi


Del Rossi ultimately wants to work as a video game concept artist, analyzing characters and scenery in games to assemble the right mix of visuals and sound, music, vocals and instrumentation.

Penn’s partnership with PAFA offers students an opportunity to explore artistic passions and intellectual pursuits simultaneously at an art school and at an Ivy League institution. Students design their own curriculum from more than 500 course offerings in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences and more than 300 courses within the College of Liberal and Professional Studies in more than 50 areas of study. 

At PAFA, they receive rigorous training in classic art disciplines of drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and illustration. PAFA students deepen their fine arts education through the school’s intensive studio training.

Del Rossi’s love of art began in elementary school. It eventually led the 20-year-old junior from Key Largo, Fla., to PAFA where she is studying drawing. A fascination with Greek mythology led her to the "Gods, Ghosts and Monsters" course taught online this summer by Justin McDaniel, professor of religious studies at the University.

As she begins her liberal arts studies at Penn, Del Rossi believes that what she’s learning will inform her creative work producing art for videogames.

She says, “I jumped into the course thinking I’m going to get a better understanding of all of these religions and hear a lot of stories.”

McDaniel says that every religious culture has some sort of belief in the metaphysical. His course explores man’s fascination with gods, ghosts, beasts, the attraction to centaurs and the popularity of vampires and zombies. The class explores psychological and emotional theories, material culture theory and psychological, sociological and biological theories concerning why some people like watching gore and being scared

The last third of the curriculum focuses on human beings’ attempt to contact gods, ghosts and monsters through science. The course takes students into the world of mediums, soothsayers, shamans, healers, ghost hunters and others who claim they can contact the metaphysical world or protect against it.

“We look at ancient alchemical manuals, codes and incantations in Africa and Europe, as well as Buddhist magic and the Vedas in Hinduism,” says McDaniel. His students enjoy learning about gods, ghosts and monsters for “speculative purposes,” to understand popular culture and classic literature and to begin to understand the nature of belief and ritual.

Over the summer, Del Rossi created illustrations to enliven her written work for the course.

For her Greek myth sketch titled "Demeter - Demophon, Hades - Persephone,"


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Demeter - Demophon, Hades - Persephone detail


Del Rossi drew on what she learned in one of the course lectures about Hades and Persephone; learning about their stories simultaneously, she created artwork that intertwined elements from both sides, perpetrator and victim, immortality and mortality.

For a painting of a centaur titled "Rest," Del Rossi used mixed media, oil, paint and charcoal on canvas. It was arduous. She says she struggled with the painting for weeks. She started with oil but It felt very chaotic.


"Rest" detail

"Rest" detail


Another one of her works of art titled "Sagittarius and Aries" was created using graphite plus black and gold ink on watercolor paper. Originally the piece was made for a digital photo reference class. When Del Rossi switched her major from illustration to drawing, she had to take a reference photo and use a camera, learning about lighting. The figures were taken from a photo and include two astrological signs with a lot of symbols and elements related to the zodiac signs.


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Sagittarius and Aries detail


While Del Rossi knew that there were intersections between what she learned at PAFA and what she was learning in McDaniel’s course, she was especially excited to find out just how large the intersection was.

It was a game changer when she started connecting the dots between her education at PAFA and Penn and her experiences playing a particular video game.

The game was visually rich. She says the game’s art direction was a major reason she was so captivated. Del Rossi learned that the game’s art director had also worked on another video game.

“So,” says Del Rossi, “I bought it. I played through the whole game. It was great. The soundtrack was incredible.”

After viewing and playing the game from the perspective of an artist, a second connection came later while taking the Penn religious studies course.

She says, “I was reading and thought, ‘Oh, this Babylonian creation story sounds really familiar. Why do these phrases sound so familiar?’ And then I remembered. I learned about them at Penn.”

Del Rossi plans to take summer courses at Penn until she finishes at PAFA where she is currently taking five classes mixed in with studio hours. The coordinated B.F.A. program she is in requires students to earn 90 credits at PAFA and complete 16 course units at Penn, including four in art history, and 12 course units in any combination of liberal arts electives to earn the degree.

"Penn offers students the flexibility to enroll full or part-time,” says Jen Kollar, associate director of B.A. and B.F.A. programs in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies. ”Students may complete Penn courses while enrolled at PAFA, during summers in between, or after having completed the studio arts component of the program."

When Del Rossi graduates with a certificate in drawing from PAFA and a B.F.A. from Penn, she hopes to bring her artistry to video games to make games of the future more entertaining on multiple levels.