By Michael DePietro
Interim Tribune Editor
North Tonawanda native and (now) Buffalo State College graduate Crista Sukennik was recently a finalist for Ad Age magazine’s “Young Creatives Cover Competition.” Sukennik was one of nine finalists selected out of over 350 submissions from professional artists and industry professionals all over the globe.
This year, the competition tasked artists with creating a cover that would highlight how creativity and ingenuity can help inspire and empower people through the coronavirus pandemic. Sukennik described her design as “the difficulty of not seeing others face to face, but staying creative, humorous and optimistic, nonetheless.”
Her submission was simple, striking and immediately recognizable to anyone who’s experienced a Zoom meeting since the pandemic began. Using the individual panes of a window to create what she calls the “Brady Bunch” look of a Zoom call, she drew different human figures, each dealing with quarantine life in a different way. Backdropped against an inviting outdoor backdrop, Sukennik’s photo is a poignant encapsulation of the period in which it was created.
The finalists were announced in June via livestream. During the announcement, Ad Age representatives had a lot of praise for Sukennik’s work. Creative Director Ann-Christine Diaz noted that Sukennik’s use of photography helped her work stand out amongst the applicants.
Creative Director Erik Spooner said he and other judges were taken with how much work she had put into really thinking about her concept and story.
“Was she demonstrating, like, a Zoom call or was she using this as a storyboard herself to tell a different story, or to tell a series of stories? It was just really fun to kind of look at it in any number of different ways – and we all came away with a slightly different take on it. But I thought being able to see through (the window) and see the outside and, you know, looking past it to a day when maybe we could all go back out again. … It was a nice, sorta take on the moment.” Spooner said
Although this year’s honors ultimately went to Arnel Villanueva, an associate creative director from Manila, Sukennik’s accomplishment is still incredibly impressive as she was the only college student among the finalists. In an interview for Buffalo State’s website, Diaz said, “Typically, the finalists and winners are employees at agencies or freelance graphic artists. … When reviewing this year’s submissions, I was quite surprised and pleased that Crista, as a student, made it into the final round. It’s a pretty remarkable feat.”
Sukennik said it was humbling just to be considered.
“It’s pretty amazing. I feel so honored that they chose my design and that it was judged as a competitor among some of the top professionals around the world,” she said. “For someone just starting out, you know, that gives a lot of credibility and it validates your abilities. These people are already with big agencies and they’re already so established, so it’s amazing to be alongside them.
Ad Age reps weren’t the only ones to praise Sukennik’s abilities. Buffalo State associate professor of graphic design Stan Friesen called Sukennik’s work “top shelf” and said that she was possibly in the top 5% of all the students he’s taught. To add more weight to that statement, in addition to teaching at Buff State since 2000, Friesen had spent several years previously teaching art in Pakistan to missionary and expat children, as well as a five-year stint at a liberal arts college in Kansas where he’s originally from.
Describing her as infinitely talented, yet humble and quiet, Friesen went on to highlight one of the points the Ad Age judges had mentioned.
“She’s all about concept. … If you can get a solid concept then what that enables you to do is to produce a broad range of work,” Friesen said. “If you just have single, narrow thoughts you might be able to come up with one good drawing, or one good advertisement or ad campaign … but if you’re overall concept is strong, then that takes on a life of its own and then you get a whole bunch of good stuff related to the same theme.
“I think that’s where one of (Sukennik’s) major strengths is. She can think well and look at a problem from a lot of different directions and then, when she gets started, she’s got several, avenues she can pursue. That’s what’s exciting to see.”
Speaking of her recent achievement, Friesen said, “I think it shows the level that she can jump in at. I think the fact that her work easily can stand with other professionals’ work, I think that’ll really help her in the job search and in the job market and it’s really kind of up to her where she takes it.
“I think she’s got the skills and the hutzpah or a personality to be able to present herself. Her work will lead her and then I think once she gets in (the industry) I think she’ll go far. It will be exciting.”
Fortunately, as Friesen noted, Sukennik has a great support system to help foster her abilities.
Sukennik said she’s been blessed with an encouraging family who has been instrumental in urging her to follow her childhood dreams to become an artist.
“I know they’re very proud of this accomplishment. My dad actually used to be in advertising back in the day so he kind of has an idea of this industry that I’m going into so he’s been very helpful with that just to give me some insight,” she said.
“Just to know that he’s got my back is really wonderful. My whole family is really supportive.”
Sukennik graduated from Buff State summa cum laude in May with a bachelor of fine arts degree. In addition, Sukennik was part of the Muriel A. Howard Honors Program, won the portfolio review and two silver awards from AAF Buffalo in 2020, and designed the winning designs for the honors program’s T-shirts in 2017 and 2019.
To see more of Sukennik’s art, visit www.cristasukennik.com.