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University of Dubuque Alumnus Dillon Leffler Wins National ADDY Award

By Stacey Ortman

DUBUQUE, Iowa - University of Dubuque alumnus Dillon Leffler (C'24) won gold for his illustration Playing for Keeps in the student competition at the 2024 American Advertising Awards, hosted by the American Advertising Federation (AAF) on May 31, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

A digital art and design major, Leffler received a National Student Gold ADDY Award in the Elements of Advertising, Student Illustration - Single category. A Gold ADDY is recognition of the highest level of creative excellence and is judged to be superior to all other entries in the category per the AAF's website.

"I want to thank my professors Sheila Sabers and Jean Holdener for growing my art skills and being the best guides I could ever ask for as a digital art and design student," Leffler said. "They pushed me to strive for excellence and improve every day through my graphic design and illustration work. I'm also grateful to them for submitting my art piece."

Earlier this year, Leffler won silver at the District 9 AAF's Student Advertising Competition and gold at the local AAF-Dubuque Chapter Student Advertising Competition for Playing for Keeps.

"We are immensely proud of Dillon for achieving the prestigious Gold ADDY award at the national level," said Sheila Sabers, MAC, head of the Department of Digital Art and Design and assistant professor of digital art and design. "His innovation in composition and color use, creativity of storytelling, and exceptional talent in Photoshop digital painting have consistently impressed the faculty and peers alike. This accolade is well-deserved and highlights his hard work and passion, and we are excited to see his future contributions to the digital design industry."

Leffler created Playing for Keeps as a student for UD's "The Edge Show," a fine art exhibit held annually in the spring for digital art and design students to step away from the classroom's client-driven projects and showcase their creativity with individual artwork. It was March 2023 and Leffler was struggling to come up with an idea.

"I had been playing some games that involved the subject of pirates and I had been doing some research and listening to a lot of pirate music," Leffler said. "This got me thinking of drawing something that had to do with pirates. My love for drawing skeletons was already in the mix, so I came up with the idea of drawing pirate-like skeletons gambling with some folks. Now that I had the idea, I wanted to make it kind of appalling in a way so I decided to go with a more darker tone of colors with a hint of light. I looked through numerous books, art pieces online, and references for colors, positions, and clothing references to get just the right atmosphere. After sketching out where I wanted everything to go, I immediately got into Photoshop and started painting away."

After five days with many hours spent steadily painting, Leffler finished Playing for Keeps. It was named Best of Show at the 2023 "The Edge Show" and is currently on display in the Jackaline Baldwin Dunlap Technology Center on campus.

"The original story and meaning behind my art piece was to depict two individuals playing cards for their souls in Davy Jones' Locker," Leffler said. "I aimed to evoke a scary and uneasy feeling in the viewer through the way I drew the skeletons and the use of colors and scenery. My intention wasn't to convey a specific takeaway but rather to encourage viewers to examine the piece and draw their own conclusions about its meaning."

He will never forget the day he learned he had received a national ADDY award.

"I messaged Sheila Sabers, my DART professor and mentor whom I greatly admire, about printing a copy of a recent art piece I had created for my senior seminar class," Leffler said. "She texted back during the day, letting me know it was printed and asked if she could talk to me about something quickly. I hurried over right after work. When I arrived to pick up the print, we chatted a bit, and then she told me the incredible news: my art piece had won a national ADDY award. My heart sank, and I couldn't comprehend how I had won such a prestigious award. The fact that it was a national ADDY made me so happy and proud. It was the most surreal experience I've ever had as an artist."