We had the good fortune of connecting with Ryan Downs and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ryan, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I started Black Zodiac Prints to bridge a gap I discovered in the ethnic representation in astrology. As a fan of the Zodiac, I’ve never been able to find much artwork portraying ethnic characters (fictional or otherwise) in alignment with their signs. I began the Black Zodiac series as a way to bring that artwork I wanted to see into the world, starting with some of my favorite past and contemporary R&B female singers and songwriters. I think it’s important for people of color to see themselves in all spaces, including artwork. The series is ever expanding to include more black authors, artists, superheroes, leaders, and more.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I use my artwork as a form of self-expression and as a sort of therapy. There is A LOT going on in the world right now to be unhappy about. My artwork helps me process some of that and I use it as an outlet to channel energy into. I’ve been drawing since a young age. My parents, noticing my interest, enrolled me in a Saturday art class on and off for years during my childhood. However, thinking art may not be a professionally viable option, I jumped into the adjacent field of graphic design and have been working professionally as a designer since graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2010. After years in graphic design, I felt like something was always just a little off. Over the past 3 years or so, I revived my passion for drawing and illustration and have been educating myself through online tutorials, figure drawing classes and personal challenges ever since. In fact, part of the compelling reason to get started with Black Zodiac Prints was to become a better portrait artist. I’ve learned a lot since starting Black Zodiac Prints. The biggest lesson is probably this: don’t wait for permission. If you think you’re onto something, try it! At worst, it won’t work and you’ll learn something. At best, you might just find great success and also learn something. But if you don’t take the chance or wait for the “right moment”, you’re going to miss out. So don’t wait. Be brave and take the leap!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
With the pandemic ongoing, going out has been tough. With that said, there are some really amazing hidden gems in the Austin area. These days, I prefer tranquil and quiet places to enjoy with small groups of friends and family. One my favorite things to do with my partner is pull up Google Maps of Austin, follow a greenbelt and find an entrance we’ve never been to before. That’s how I found one of my recent favorites — a greenbelt entrance right in my own neighborhood! Of course, being in Texas means Barbeque is a given. My favorite spots are all in Lockhart, Texas just about an hour or so outside of Austin. There are a good 4 or 5 to choose from and honestly, you really can’t go wrong with any of them!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to definitely give a big shout out to my partner Brent. He had to listen to me gripe about under representation in the arts for months and helped me workshop the concept of Black Zodiac into what it is today. He also art directed the photoshoot I use for the prints and was truly a saint in dealing with my overeagerness (i.e., my impatience) during the process. Plus, the photos are absolutely stunning! I want to thank my friends Kristine, John, Howard, Matt, Jasmine and Stan for giving me so many great suggestions for who to include in the initial 12 prints and a special thanks to all of the people who have supported my project through purchases, suggestions, or otherwise!