If you stop by a Trader Joe’s store in the Charlotte, N.C., vicinity, you may see work by one of Huntington University’s finest.
Sarah Clifford, a 2006 graduate of HU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in fine arts, found a niche for her creativity as a sign artist for the national neighborhood grocery store, Trader Joe’s.
“Instead of having ads or signs sent from corporate,” Sarah said, “we paint them on anything from a chalkboard to a piece of wood.”
Sarah’s work is all over the grocery store from produce to cheese to display signs. All the prices are handwritten, and anything in the store that has a sign was done by an artist, Sarah explained.
She began her work with Trader Joe’s in 2007, and though it has been an enjoyable experience, it has had its challenges. She has some creative and artistic freedom, but with multiple people giving instructions and assignments for specific sections of the store, information can be slow in coming, and deadlines can come quickly.
“You have to be fast sometimes,” said Sarah, a native of Russell, Pa. “Everyday it changes. We may have a plan, but it changes.”
Sarah said she felt prepared for the fast-paced atmosphere by her time at Huntington University. With painting classes requiring excellent work with good composition in short amounts of time, she knew how to create aesthetically-pleasing pieces that fit within the company’s guidelines. Sarah says her job requires that she understand how to use lines, and balance graphics and text, making the whole piece flow together.
“Through school, I sharpened my ability to paint,” she said. “The longer I’m in this job, the sharper and quicker I become at painting.”
Trader Joe’s is not the first company to employ Sarah for painting. Her first position was an internship in Atlanta, Ga., with a theater company, Synchronicity. Sarah found the internship with a referral from a friend, and the university’s Enterprise Resource Center helped set up the experience. With the experience Sarah gained through her internship, stepping into her role at Trader Joe’s was not a huge leap.
More than providing practical experience, her time at Huntington University played a significant in her development socially. Choosing a smaller university had advantages because it gave Sarah the opportunity get to know everybody, she said.
“You don’t feel intimidated,” Sarah said. “I got to talk to my professors whenever I needed to. I felt like they knew who I was and cared what I did and cared that I grew. I didn’t feel lost in the crowd.”
As a student at Huntington University, Sarah also became involved in the Theatre Arts Department, giving her another type of art to add to her repertoire. When working with theater design, she learned how to see things from a distance.
“When you are painting, you are looking at your work up close, but when you are painting signs, you need to be able to play with the eye,” she said.
These techniques now aid Sarah as she creates signs, so that she can make them stand out.
HU also affected Sarah’s spiritual life as her professors encouraged her to see her art as an ability given by God that can be used by God. She acknowledges that creating God-glorifying art in a secular world can be difficult.
“You have to know what you are doing your art for — for the glory of God, even if he is the only one who sees it,” she said.
Outside of the classroom, Sarah said her relationship with God grew by seeing how much people care. Bible studies with her residence hall floor, chapels and differing perspectives all molded Sarah’s personal faith.
Sarah recommends HU to any student that is looking for a small college with professors dedicated to their students and their students’ work.
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