Ten Questions With Kevin Tong

Kevin Tong is not only an artist I feature here often, but also a very active contributor to the comments.  It was an absolute pleasure to sit down with him for Ten Questions.  Enjoy!!

Age/Location: I am 25 years of age and I live in Los Angeles,CA.

How You Got Into Doing Posters / First Poster / Years Doing Posters: I was working as a freelance illustrator long before I was doing posters (2005), working for companies making t-shirts and whatever. I was moderately interested in posters because one of my college teachers essentially used Jay Ryan’s book (100 Squirrels) as a design textbook and we’d go through gigposters.com as a class. When I first met Jay I told him that and he was thought it was a laugh riot. Being on the other side of that now, I guess it would be pretty funny.  I first got into making band posters when I went to Comic Con International in San Diego, CA. When I was there, I met Brian Ewing, a well established poster artist who was exhibiting there. I showed him my art and I had a long conversation with him about doing posters and the nature of the “industry”. He was nice enough to share his experiences with me and give me valuable pointers (please don’t email him asking for pointers, he’ll strike me).  Armed with the knowledge I had, I set out and snagged Built to Spill at the House of Blues San Diego as my first poster in September of 2007. I realized immediately that it was a great way to do what I wanted in art and get into the best shows for free. When I go to Flatstock 22 (Seattle) September, that will be about my two year mark doing posters.

Favorite Poster / Art Print You’ve Done: My favorite poster that I did was probably the Weezer posters I did, both of which I did at the same time.  Those aren’t my most popular or best selling posters, but damn did I have fun drawing them. I have loved Weezer (mainly their older work) before I loved girls (they still have cooties I think). Since then I have steadily listened to their music and just had such a strong visual vocabulary for Weezer.  As far as art prints, I really put a lot of myself into the “I Always Feel the Same” Series. It was a labor of love and I put truckloads of thought into it. I will never attempt a 20 color series again, the work was insane. People keep asking if they can buy just one, but only as a set do they tell the story.

Describe Your Creative Process a Bit: I think I spend more time thinking about the poster in my mind than I do actually drawing. When I get the poster job, I immediately think about the image. When I am buying groceries or working on another job, I am always thinking of it. I think about it until I can almost walk around and see all sides of the image. I resolve the concept and screen printing breakdown in my mind. The drawing is just the follow through and execution of the idea. I do listen to the music, but a considerable number of my posters were done for one band, but inspired by listening to another. I used to be pretty literal, like making posters that straight up depicted words in the songs, but these days I try to make a poster look as cool as possible. The bands like that better anyway, they don’t need rehashes of the songs they play continuously on tour. Fresh material is better.

All-time Favorite Poster / Art Print that Someone Else Did: I love Jay Ryan’s Decemberists poster with the purple foot in it. It is my favorite poster that I own (sorry if I said your poster was my favorite, I was only generalizing). For me, it is such a compelling image, an icon that speaks loudly. There is no excessive blending or noodling, just an idea. My favorite posters are the ones that are just what is needed, not extra. The scroll is what does it. The scroll goes around the image, through and above and under the frame and image. It really takes you for a ride. The colors are great; it is just a solid print.

Music Currently In Rotation: Recently, I have been way into Metric. Just some catchy songs and words buffeted by a lovely voice. I pretty much always have Weezer, the Pixies, Les Savy Fav, Modest Mouse and Neutral Milk hotel going in my rotation.

Last Print, Poster, or Toy Bought: I haven’t bought a poster in a while. I traded Daniel Danger a Goodbye Sky Harbor art print for one of his Mogwai posters (it’s fully awesome). Wait, scratch that, I bought Dan McCarthy’s “What Once Was” because it rules. I am not much of a toy guy, vinyls aren’t my thing. I bought a Dunny once for a friend, that is it.

Art Hanging On Your Walls: I don’t have any art on my walls right now because I have a huge pile of posters acquired during Flatstocks that I want to frame once I move into a new place soon. There’s a vintage drumstick ice cream ad on my wall.

Upcoming Stuff: I am hoping that have some time to do more art prints because I can really be myself with those and just let loose. I am planning to release a series of art prints in a style that no one really associates with me, at least not lately. I am also looking into t-shirts. I might make a resin toy because it would be fun. As usual, I’ll keep doing the process threads (taking suggestions).

Words of Wisdom: Right now I am still learning a lot of stuff by going to Flatstocks and all. That is a blast. For pretty much my entire pre-teen, teen, and adolescent life my parents owned and operated a successful restaurant in Northern California. They both had a set of principles they never broke and I know that is what set them apart. They are so basic, yet the hurly-burly, colorful distractions of life seem to cloud my vision from time to time, especially when I was starting out in illustration. The principles are as follows:
-Always do your best, no excuses.
-Always do the right thing, no matter how unpopular.
-Always be true to yourself and others.
These are not revelations, these are the fundamental aspects of living. Most people know and live by them, but we all occasionally lose sight of them, some more than others. Sometimes it’s tempting to try and take shortcuts, but the well worn road always pays off. Word.

Oh yeah, and being alone at Renegade Craft Fair and Flatstock was such a labor. I enjoyed it, but the inability to wander off to check out my friends’ posters and sabotage the competition, not to mention not being able to take bathroom breaks or get food or hauling that stuff into the tents and through airports really takes its toll on a guy with no arch support or upper body strength (I save that for screen printing). I think I need to enlist help or friends with spare time and/or get a girlfriend(s) who will do that stuff like how half of the poster artists there had one like that. I’m taking applications. Only serious applicants need apply. Just kidding. Later.

To see more of Kevin’s work, visit TragicSunshine.com.

10 Responses to “Ten Questions With Kevin Tong”

  1. “…being alone at Renegade Craft Fair and Flatstock was such a labor. I enjoyed it, but the inability to wander off to check out my friends’ posters and sabotage the competition, not to mention not being able to take bathroom breaks or get food or hauling that stuff into the tents and through airports…”

    Dude. Next time, get some fanboys from this site to haul that stuff and “pay” them with prints and bottled water. They would totally do it. I’m diggin’ that Weezer Robot print. There something iconic and graphical about those chunky vintagey looking robots. Great stuff.

  2. Love Kevin’s work and he is a really nice guy too! Cant wait to see more art prints from you dude!

  3. Met Kevin at the Renegrade Craft Fair in Los Angeles. Super nice guy and great artist. Also, sold me one of his last Mogwai’s, thanks Kevin!
    -Ryan

  4. Slick work my friend.

  5. Great interview!
    Kevin’s got one of the most unique voices in posters today. And I don’t mean ‘artistic voice’…I mean his deadpan delivery of every sentence Next time I want an audio interview!

    And MORE TONG!

  6. Kevin was a great guy to meet at Flatstock. Very open and friendly. I love his Mogwai poster and I regret not grabbing his Venture Bros print.

  7. Genuinely a good person & artist. I think there should be a concerted effort to get Kevin some more tinkle-time in Seattle for FS22. I will lead this front.

  8. Hell yeah Kevin! If you need to go to the bathroom I’ll watch your booth for you ;)

    great stuff, man. See you in Seattle!

  9. Kevin- Pee Bottle.
    It works for Rob Jones.

    …is he kidding? Is he serious? Eh? EH?

  10. has anyone seen kevin’s Lost poster, of locke at the hatch? it is the most beautiful poster i have ever laid my eyes upon. Too bad it sold out in like 15 minutes!

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