Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”

Artists For Humanity
6 min readJan 22, 2020

Edition 09 — Junia Ryan, Graphic Designer

“Designed by Someone Like Me”

Junia Ryan notices the influence of art and design everywhere.

“When I explain I’m in advertising, I say, ‘You see that billboard? That’s designed by someone like me.

This label on your bottle of water that you’re drinking? That’s designed by someone like me.

The things that you see in the grocery store? Those were designed by someone like me.’”

Now that she is an art director and graphic designer, Junia Ryan sees design everywhere. But then again, she’s always been a creative person on multiple fronts. Her high school life involved dancing on the step team, singing the national anthem at pep rallies and, of course, working at Artists For Humanity.

Junia describes how the artistic energy of the Painting Studio immediately caught her interest.

Junia’s paintings from AFH. She attended Boston Latin Academy and

“The noise is great, it’s not an annoying noise. It’s vibrant! You walk in and see over 150 teens in this big room. You can hear the energy; their ideas growing and learning. There’s always music playing, you hear paint splattering, or something dropping on the ground. It just sounds like creativity.”

“I just loved the Painting Studio, learning the medium and growing my skills there. It helped me understand composition. I would always visit the other studios, walk around and disappear for a second, say hi to everyone, but I felt at home in the Painting Studio for sure.”

AFH Painting Studio (Photo by AFH).

Junia saw a career in architecture as the obvious next step after graduating from Boston Latin Academy. After all, she could combine her artistic side with her strengths in math and science. In terms of job prospects, it seemed like the most practical decision.

In 2012, Junia was accepted into Syracuse University’s architecture program on a full scholarship. Everything seemed to fall in place according to plan, except that Junia no longer felt excited by her work.

“Once I got into my architecture studies, I started to feel like I wasn’t able to be creative anymore. I was looking around in our studio and everyone’s building practically the same thing, using all these fancy words and justifications for why they were actually all different.”

Junia’s concept design for the Boston Marathon, made during college.

“Once I told my family I wanted to switch from architecture, no one got it. My sisters, my brothers, my parents just thought it was a phase. I lost my full-tuition scholarship and I didn’t know how much financial aid they were going to give me.”

“There was this fear of, ‘What’s going to happen now?’”

AFH had shown her what it was like to love her job. Even though the decision was lonely and risky, she knew that it was necessary.

“No one understood my decision so I had to have faith in myself that I was making the right choice. The creative freedom that I had experienced at AFH was where I pulled my strength from.”

Junia’s concept design for Scooperb, made during college.

Since switching from architecture to communication design, Junia has never once regretted her decision.

Now Junia works at TracyLocke as an Art Director and Graphic designer. Despite being there for only a year, her team’s designs for Diageo’s Bulleit Bourbon Tattoo Edition have won multiple advertising awards on the local and regional level.

One food writer from Wide Open Eats raves, “The New Bulleit Bourbon Tattoo Edition Bottles are Everything.”

Junia also worked on Crown Royal’s Mother’s Day program.

Designs for the Crown Royal Mother’s Day Program (Photo by TracyLocke).

“My team helped come up with the activation idea of how to honor mothers of military personnel by giving them a Medal similar to the ones that decorate their children; it was made by Vanguard Industries, the makers of the medal of honor and other military medals.”

She explains, “I sketched the idea for the medal’s design and worked with Vanguard to bring it to life for Crown Royal.”

Junia worked with Vanguard Industries to bring the medal’s design to life (Photo by TracyLocke).

Junia wants to show other first-generation children and artists of color that a creative career in design is not only viable but thriving.

“Growing up, my family being from the Carribean, everything needs to be practical. I feel when it comes to intercity students or for any first-generation student, art’s not a practical thing for people.”

At AFH, though, the idea of pursuing art for a living came as second nature.

“That was a cool part about AFH, there was so much diversity. You’re seeing people from all different backgrounds and places in the city there. The experience [as a designer of color] is a little bit different because you feel like you have something to prove.”

“You’re putting a lot of weight on your shoulders to represent your community well, to keep that opportunity, and open the door for someone behind you.”

Now that Junia has kickstarted her career as a creative professional, she feels a responsibility to support the arts as a transformative catalyst in other young people’s lives.

“I got involved in one of the internship programs that TracyLocke has for high school students. We hire high school interns for a 12-week program that is primarily for students of color. We show them that design is an actual career and that there’s a lot of jobs in it, whether it’s advertising, branding or packaging.”

Junia is able to draw from her own experiences as a teenage artist to guide the interns.

“It’s been pretty cool to get involved in that program here at my job, because it reminds me of my time at AFH and how that awareness was good for me.”

Junia at the ADDY awards ceremony, where the Bulleit Bourbon Art Direction campaign won a gold prize. (Photo by TracyLocke)

That one major decision to pursue design was invaluable to Junia. It shows that AFH promotes a passion for creativity in addition to business skills. As much as Junia learned about being a professional creative, she also challenged herself to take risks and create memories at AFH.

“Everything’s coming back to me now, every single thing that I can remember about AFH just warms my heart. I’m sitting here and I’m about to cry. I feel like we became a family. There’s something about the AFH experience and the AFH family that I’ll always feel grateful for. I love them, I love you guys.”

In a blog entry written on July 2, 2012, Junia Ryan writes about her excitement at being admitted to the architecture program at Syracuse University. The entry goes on to reveal her favorite project at AFH: painting a suitcase for the Grand Circle Travel Agency.

Eighteen-year-old Junia didn’t know she’d be making a life-changing decision by studying communication design.

“It was the first project I worked on in the Painting Studio that had a deadline for a client. It was so cool to paint on an actual object that isn’t typically used as a canvas.”

Junia’s current passion for graphic design resembles her favorite memories and projects from AFH. It confirms the fact that Junia’s riskiest decision yet was also her best, most life-changing one.

Photos of Junia and her artwork are courtesy of Junia Ryan.

Interviewed and written by Amy Chu.