As he prepares to graduate from the Salem State University art + design department this spring, graphic design student Clifmon Leroy ‘22 reflects on the things he will miss the most.
“I think the art department, and basically little community of artists that we have here at Salem State, has had a very positive effect on me overall,” he says. “I feel like the close-knit nature of the department has made it very easy to get to know my professors and peers on a 1:1 basis, to be able to communicate about projects and art in general much easier.”
Clifmon, a Harold T. and Alice M. McCarthy Memorial Scholarship recipient from Waltham, took full advantage of the many opportunities available at Salem State. Whether he was interning with a national advertising agency, showcasing his artwork at the Peabody Essex Museum, volunteering to register voters or with the Multicultural Student Association, or even performing in a university musical, Clifmon wasted no time learning, growing, and trying new things during his academic journey.
The McCarthy Scholarship, Clifmon says, was an enormous help. The full, four-year scholarship includes full tuition, fees, room and board, and books, and is awarded each year to a talented first-year student majoring in art + design.
“Finding out about this scholarship, then applying and actually receiving it, it was just kind of an amazing opportunity I couldn't pass up,” Clifmon says. “Being able to not have to worry about that financial aspect of education has also really been helpful with me focusing kind of on artistic endeavors and my personal projects as well. It's just a really amazing opportunity that Salem State provides for art students.”
Among his many achievements in the art + design program is a remote summer internship with Team One Creative Agency, a Los-Angeles based agency. Clifmon was invited to participate in the internship after he was nominated by former art professor Antwon Key to participate in a Creative Bootcamp competition that involved designing materials for an ad campaign. Clifmon and his team won the competition, and he found the internship that followed “a huge learning experience” on the workflow of a graphic design team in a professional setting.
During his sophomore year in the art + design program, he was invited to host a live drawing session at the Peabody Essex Museum during a Salem State alumni event.
“I had some of my artwork showcased next to me as well,” Clifmon says. “That was a really awesome opportunity because I had never had my work shown at a museum before.”
Clifmon's love for art began at an early age. He looked to his older sister, who works as a photographer, for inspiration growing up. In high school, Clifmon pursued his art interests more seriously by taking illustration and graphic design courses at Waltham High School.
He continued to learn and sharpen his design skills at Salem State while also exploring his interest in narrative storytelling through both art and writing–passions inspired by his favorite artist, Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese animator, director, manga artist, and co-founder of Studio Ghibli.
“[Miyazaki] was a big influence for me,” Clifmon says, adding, “I learned that I wanted to express more imaginative worlds and narratives through my art and focus on things like identity and representation.”
Clifmon chose to minor in media and communications in addition to his art + design major. He developed his techniques in art and writing with support from professors like Antwon Key and Brian Alves, who helped him identify career opportunities and pathways. Clifmon’s favorite courses include a portfolio class with Professor Alves and a “graphic design for publications” class he took with Professor Key, where he explored his interest in storytelling by creating a “zine.”
“I used some of my personal writing and essays that I've done on the subjects of politics and economic issues facing students specifically, and combined it with my hand-drawn illustrations, and I got to put into a booklet format and print it out,” Clifmon says. “I'm passionate about writing and combining that with art.”
In his portfolio class with Professor Alves, Clifmon is working on a campaign for a fun, fake brand he created, “Zuno FruitTeas,” a juice box tea product for children. The extensive project includes custom illustrations for juice boxes, promotional materials, animations, and more.
“It’s definitely one of my favorite projects I’ve done so far,” Clifmon says. “I’m really happy to put it in my portfolio.”
Beyond the world of art + design, Clifmon became involved on campus with various groups over his four years, including the Massachusetts Student Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) and the Multicultural Student Association. He helped in many ways, serving as treasurer to the MSA and running voter-registration events for MASSPIRG. He also applied his artistic skills to design flyers for their events.
In his junior year, Clifmon auditioned to perform in the ensemble for the spring musical. After participating in musical theatre during his high school years, he wanted to “try it out in a college setting.” He describes his one-time Salem State theatre performance as “a pretty fun experience.”
As he graduates, Clifmon feels ready to enter and explore the world of graphic design. He is interested in pursuing work with magazines, digital publications and books. He aspires to one day combine his passions by writing and illustrating his own children’s books.
“I'm really interested in fleshing out creative narratives,” he says. “I have a lot of my own personal stories and I've taken several English courses here at Salem State as well.”
While half of his Salem State experience occurred during the pandemic, Clifmon says the adjustment to remote learning was simple since many of his design courses had online components already. He does wish he could have studied abroad in Italy – something his McCarthy Scholarship would have covered – and missed in-person classroom collaboration while learning remotely. But overall, he says his experience as a Viking was a great one.
“I'm definitely happy that it's ending on a note where I can have in-person classes and see my classmates and professors and talk to them in person,” Clifmon says. “I think probably what I’ll miss the most is the community and conversations that I have with professors if I see them in the hallway, or just with other students in class.”
Congratulations to Clifmon on finishing his impressive academic journey in the Salem State art + design department!