Zaid Kirdsey’s Journey from Streetwear to Digital Art
Zaid Kirdsey is an artist who simply cannot be tied down to any single medium. He’s a colorful and exciting digital artist as well as a master of oil, spray, and acrylic painting. Zaid recently designed a shoe for Nike, reaching a longtime goal of his. He is an important member of Austin’s art community and is known for his manta, “Creators Run the World.” In this interview, we dive into Zaid’s inspirations, his relationship to streetwear, and his artistic process. Please note, this conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What was your first memory of getting into art?
ZAID: I have two. I have one from before I came to the States, because I was born in Mexico and I came to the US when I was in second grade. When I lived in Mexico, I clearly remember that one of my aunts, and my mom as well, would draw out scenes for me. They’d draw scenes just on regular notebook paper with a regular pen or whatever, and I would color them. It was almost like they were making a coloring book for me, in a way. One of my cousins was around the same age as me, and he happened to like drawing too, so we would always be showing each other our drawings. At that time it was mostly redrawing Dragon Ball Z characters and stuff like that, you know, Bugs Bunny. Just known cartoons.
Then when I came to the States– it’s crazy now that we’re talking about it, because maybe this is why I remember– in second grade, they put me in Spanish classes because I didn’t know English. Every day when we would come to class, the teacher would have us draw what we did the day before. I still have this journal somewhere, I have all these Crayola drawings of just stick figures and the houses and stuff, and kind of scenery. It’s kind of what my mom and my aunt used to draw for me when I was in Mexico, and then I started doing that on my own when it came to those assignments. Yeah, it’s weird to think about now, actually. That’s actually kind of a little breakthrough I just had.
Q: If you removed all the colors out of your pieces, which I think you show sometimes in your Twitter as you show the progress, it’s still reminiscent of what you were doing when you were a kid. What was the process of becoming a more professional artist like for you?
ZAID: I didn’t really draw all through high school. Freshman and sophomore years I was more into skateboarding and just being a troublemaker. When I became a junior, I met one of my best friends in science class. I would see him drawing, I’d be like, “Hey, let me see. Let me see what you got going on there.” And sure enough I was like, “Man, that’s cool. I draw too.” So then we would start passing each other our worksheets, and instead of doing the work, we would just draw on them. That kind of sparked my interest in art again. Then, when I graduated, I knew that I wasn’t going to go to college. I got accepted into Texas State, which is, I mean it’s okay, but I didn’t get the full scholarship or whatever, I would still have to pay a lot. So that kind of scared me. If I’m being honest with myself, school is just, I’m not really interested in school. So I worked some construction jobs with my dad, and some retail jobs, which retail is horrible, especially in holiday seasons. So I just kind of got fed up with that. Then that’s when I was like, “Man, I need to do something with my art.”
I was looking at a lot of these brands and like, it's a simple logo, but it looks cool–I can do that.
Q: What was your next move? How did you transition from construction and retail into becoming a full time creator?
ZAID: I started pursuing graphic design just because I wanted to make logos. I was already into streetwear art, like Supreme, and Crooks & Castles when it first came out back in 2005-ish, 2008. I was looking at a lot of these brands and like, it’s a simple logo, but it looks cool–I can do that. Everybody would always hype me up like, “Oh your work’s cool. You should make T-shirts. You should make this, and that.” So I was like, “Man, yeah, I’m going to teach myself how to.” That’s when I professionally started pursuing art and just trying to sell my work, doing logos for friends for their T-shirt brands, and album covers for my friends that rap. So I think around 2011, 2012, that’s when I really hit this gear, only because of graphic design.. I wanted to make my own stickers, I wanted to make T-shirts, and this and that. So that’s when, I guess, the professional aspect of it kind of kicked in.
Q: What exactly is RuffHouseArts?
ZAID: RuffHouseArts is a name I derived from a record company called Ruffhouse. Just a hip hop label from back in the day, and I’ve always been a big hiphop head. So I like that name, Ruffhouse. I called it a “house” because, in my mind, every character I ever drew was under this house, right? Even though some of them look rough, with the mean looking grins, those sinister looking eyes, and smiles, it’s kind of just a bunch of troublemaker characters in this so-called rough house. It was a very teenage kind of idea, and I just kind of kept running with it, until maybe a couple years ago where I decided to switch my actual name to my art identification name too, my artist name. I still have the RuffHouseArts, that’s my LLC company. I kind of wanted to still keep it going, but kind of actually put my actual name out there to define me and my art.
Q: How do you think about the balance between your personal brand, as Zaid, and then letting your art speak for itself? Anonymity is a big conversation in Cryptoland, so how did you think about those topics?
ZAID: It’s weird because I switch thinking a lot on these things. Sometimes I wish I would’ve stayed completely anonymous and then sometimes I’m like, “Oh, it’s cool that people kind of know what you look like, here and there.” I think it’s just, that’s a very personal question that depends on every artist. For me, it is a balance.
I try not to post a lot of pictures of myself. I do it every once in a while. If you were to follow me today, you would really have to scroll through my media to see a picture of me. I don’t think I’ve posted something recently. It’s like you won’t find a lot of those selfies on my Twitter media. On my Instagram, and I have had my Instagram since, jeez, I think around 2011-ish, and I didn’t post my face reveal there until, I think, maybe a year-and-a-half ago, two years. For me, personally, it’s like I’m not completely anonymous, but I also don’t like to overshare my face because I just think it’s kind of disgusting to overshare stuff like that. I don’t know, it’s weird. It’s weird how I think.
It's crazy how everything almost starts off of that. If you go look at, say, something I'm working on, if you really go pay attention to it, it's just a lot of simple shapes.
Q: What is your artistic process today? What mediums are you using? People can kind of see a bit of your artistic process online when you’re posting about it, but for someone who’s unfamiliar, what does that process look like?
ZAID: As far as mediums right now, I’ve just been sticking to digital, mostly Procreate. Mostly that, and then Adobe Illustrator whenever I need to do something that I’m going to resize multiple ways and shape and forms, to do logos and whatnot. But mostly Procreate. My process to start a piece, there’s nothing glamorous about it. I always think about printing physicals, so I set my canvases to what I’m going to print in real life, especially in Procreate because it’s a roster program, so you can’t resize things without the lines getting distorted. So I always set my canvas to the actual physical size that I’ll be printing first.
If I have an idea, I start sketching based on that idea. Sometimes I draw random scribbles and start making random shapes, and then I look at it for a while and then I start thinking like, “Oh, okay, this could be the side of this face.” Then I start fleshing it out that way. That’s really it, to be honest. There are times, of course, where I know I want to draw a cat, so I start drawing shapes that are going to eventually turn into this cat. But shape is really where it starts, and it’s always almost like a circle/oval. It’s crazy how everything almost starts off of that. If you go look at, say, something I’m working on, if you really go pay attention to it, it’s just a lot of simple shapes. Some, I don’t want to say most of it, but you could kind of tell where it originates from a simple shape.