Gentleman Scholar is a bicoastal U.S. creative production company drawn together by a love for design and an eagerness to push boundaries.
The company is proud to present this series of interviews with some of its amazing, emerging talents, in conversation with its LA-based production and marketing maven, CJ Sustello.
This week's piece is with Cristina Barna, born and raised in Concorezzo in northern Italy, she has been an art director for Gentleman Scholar in New York since 2016
Q> What is your earliest memory of something that inspired you artistically?
Cristina Barna> I couldn't have been more than 4 years old. I remember my grandfather sketching little characters on a brown notebook as he was telling me stories; one of those was Peter Pan. For some reason I have that specific drawing burnt in my memory. I think that was the first time I was impressed by illustration and what it could bring to a story.
Q> Where did you grow up and how do you think that affected your artistic development?
CB> I grew up in a small town in Northern Italy named Concorezzo, just outside of Milan. I think living in a country that has so much history and art at every corner definitely influenced my career. Seeing how artists and architects defined a culture to this day, after hundreds or even thousands of years, and their mark is still visible and inspiring. It really influenced the way I look at art as a whole.
Q> What led you to a career in art?
CB> Ever since I was little, I've always been into anything that would allow me to express an idea or feeling. Whether it was drawing, writing or making music. The possibility of connecting with people through art always fascinated me.
I've always thought of a career as something we choose to dedicate most of our time and lives to, so I knew from the start that it had to be something I loved. That, to me, meant two choices: becoming a pilot or being an artist. And since I'm blind as a bat, we all know which one I went for!
Q> You mentioned becoming a pilot, when did you start flying?
CB> Unfortunately I haven’t yet! It’s always been a dream of mine since I was little and sooner or later I’m gonna start the process of getting my license! I’m saving up to try an attend flying school asap.
Q> What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
CB> International Women's Day to me is a day to celebrate achievements in women's fight towards equality, just as much as bringing attention to the issues that are still very current. It's a day to be proud, and at the same time, a day for conversation about what's yet to be done. It's a reminder to make an effort as a society to assure we all have equal opportunities.
Q> If you could give aspiring artists who want to become art directors advice, what would it be?
CB> Work hard, have patience and, most of all, enjoy the journey. Like everyone in this field I've done pretty much every type of work to get to the position I wanted. From keying and roto, to assisting on set, to storyboarding, designing, pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Adding to your skills is never wasted time and your whole career is about constant, active learning.
Do or do not, there is no try. Yes, I just quoted Yoda.
Q> Is there a vital message you wish you could help to teach younger generations who aspire to be in this industry?
CB> I have found balance to be key. Respecting yourself first, makes people want to do the same. Believing in your own capabilities, makes people want to trust in them. Not basing your choices on pleasing others but valuing the important people in your life will help you let go of what is toxic. That all may sound like a collection of Pinterest quotes, but I try to live by these rules everyday.
Q> You love to sing, what is your favourite song and do you sing for others or only in private?
CB> For the press I'd say “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin. In the privacy of my home it would probably be something embarrassing from the 90’s stripped down to an even more depressing acoustic version.
I used to perform around with my band back in Italy and Minneapolis and have done a few open mics here and there, but it's been a little while. Competing with New York talent is not something I'm ready for (yet!). I still have my little music corner at home where I try to record some music for the pleasure of my neighbours.
Q> You also love to travel, where is the most exciting place you’ve gone and what is the toughest experience you’ve had while travelling?
CB> This is a hard one. I feel like every place I've been to has always had something unique to offer!
Some of my favorite places have been Greece, Iceland and a memorable road trip to the Southwest canyons with my father right after graduation.
Traveling always comes with so many stories. If I had to think about one of the toughest experiences, it would probably be spending a night on a gas station's floor with my then-partner after 6 hours traveling on a motorcycle, because the nearest campgrounds were 200 km in each direction and we weren't aware that gas stations in Greece closed at night with no self-service. Not so fun in the moment, but a good story to laugh about today.
Q> Do you set goals? If so, what is a goal you are trying to achieve currently?
I don't necessarily give myself New Year's resolutions or specific goals, but I try to always move forward at a steady pace and push myself to try more. Right now I'm focusing on becoming a more rounded artist and exploring different styles that I might not be the most comfortable with. I feel like I could keep on learning all my life without ever feeling like it's enough!
Q> As a talented AF art director, what is your biggest challenge day to day and what is you something you consistently handle like a boss?
I think one of the biggest challenges that I didn't realise when I was starting out on the job, is that a great part of being an Art Director, before the eye, before the technical knowledge, is about human relations. Understanding the team as people with different personalities and, ultimately, having to find the best way to approach each one of them. Some artists need more space, some need more hands-on direction, some shine under pressure, some just crush it like freight trains no matter what. I think it's also extremely important to realise artists are experts in their own skill and it's not about telling them how to do their job, but about making sure that they all come together under one vision.
Whether or not I successfully do all of that is really up to my team to decide, but I try my best!
Q> If there is one thing on this planet you could do right now what would it be?
CB> Getting that overdue pilot license and flying home to see my family!