A seasoned greeting card veteran, Kong-Yew Wong is the creative mind behind a plethora of Ohh Deer designs, the latest of which is this month’s Papergang box. We spoke with Kong ahead of its release to find out about his freelance career, his childhood and, of course, his inspirations.
Hello Kong! You already answered a lot of great questions for us awhile back so we’ll try not to repeat ourselves. Could you tell us what are some of your earliest memories of creating as a child?
Lying on my belly in front of the telly with a sketchpad and a box of colouring pencils with the three T’s playing... and in case you didn’t know the 3 T’s are Thundercats, Turtles and Transformers. I’d lay there for hours drawing Lion-O, Leonardo and Optimus Prime. Sometimes, I’d pause the tape and try to capture the pose, making out as much as I could from the fuzzy flickering screen.
And at what point did you realise or decide you wanted to have a career as a creative?
From a young age, I knew I wanted to grow up to be a person who draws for a living. Whether it was drawing buildings, landscapes, people or characters, I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. Back in school, I’d always favour the creative subjects and prioritise my DT (Design Technology) and Art homework. I remember bunking off lessons in favour of staying in the tech workshops and, quite often, would be greeted by the not-so-happy headteacher who’d drag me back to class.
You previously told us you started working as a freelancer in 2016 but have also worked in-house as a greeting card designer. Is there anything you’d change or have done differently about your journey to where you are now?
Everyone has those moments of reflection and it’s natural to think “what if I worked that little bit harder, what if I put that extra hour in, or what if I’d started freelancing a year earlier” etc, etc… But I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made and ultimately thankful I can make a living from something I genuinely enjoy, and with a great degree of freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked my socks off (and still do!) but it hasn’t been an easy ride by any measure. While freelancing does have its struggles, I’m at a point where I feel comfortable; my work-life balance has settled to a pleasing equilibrium.
Working in-house at the beginning of my career was invaluable, as with any fledgling embarking on their chosen profession. I felt that it laid solid foundations and gave me the plethora of skills necessary to succeed as a freelancer, and not just creatively. At the end of the day, you want to create art that sells and being under the umbrella of an industry leader gives you the insight and commercial awareness that would otherwise be hard to attain.
How do you manage your time as a freelancer – do you plan far ahead or take a more easy-going approach?
It varies. I have periods where I have projects lined up months in advance and periods where I have a string of projects that turn up on your doorstep and need completing yesterday. Generally, I like to make sure I always have at least a month’s worth of work ahead. My work-plan is mostly flexible but somewhat dictated by my clients; creating good working relationships with clients is important for managing workloads. Keeping in touch with clients allows my work to be planned in advance and avoid bottleneck situations, which can affect end results and create unnecessarily stressful situations. Things don’t always go as planned and sometimes I find myself working nights and squeezing in an hour here and there to get the work completed, all in the effort to keep my clients happy.
In my industry, as with most, there are busy and quiet periods. Although, you want to keep yourself busy at all times with paid work because – let’s face it – those bills ain’t gonna pay themselves! You get sucked into the frantic pace the industry sets and generally, this doesn’t marry well with creativity. This is where the quiet periods are a blessing in disguise; they give me time to experiment and create at a slower, more comfortable pace. It’s these times where creativity truly flourishes and makes room for a bit of self-indulgence!
Do you still prefer to work with the iPad and Apple Pencil combo or is there a new medium you’ve come to use more? And we have to know if you’ve managed to branch out and experiment with painting yet?
I still work with the iPad and Apple Pencil and don’t think I’ll be changing up anytime soon. If Apple decides to release a mammoth iPad then I’ll be first in line, but what I have is fine for now.
You know what, I still haven’t branched out with painting... I should really take my own advice and use those quiet periods to pick up a paintbrush! I blame it on my wife, who is a tremendously talented illustrator and would put me to shame every time.
We love the wintery theme of your box! What do you love the most about the winter season?
Why thank you very much! :-)
I love the snow! I just love how it transforms landscapes, spreading a soft, albeit cold blanket across everything in sight. Everything looks bright, clean and sparkly, for a day… Then it becomes a sorry dirty black mess and you wish it would just leave already... but yes, I love the snow.
And as a slight disclaimer, we understand you didn’t design this box in the winter (gasp!). I imagine as a designer you have to work off-season quite a bit. Is it difficult to create things like this under those kinds of circumstance, and how did you go about getting your inspiration for it?
Haha, yes. Unfortunately, the Papergang box wasn’t the view from outside my studio window. When I first started in the industry, it felt strange working on Christmas in the middle of Spring, but you get used to it. I have to admit, it does slowly deplete the bit of Christmas spirit I once had. But when it comes to inspiration, in particular for winter products, luckily I’m an avid snowboarder and most winters I like to hit the slopes, so my inspiration is constantly topped up. Although, saying that, my friends’ Google and Pinterest help a lot.
And finally, could you share any advice on how to become a successful freelance designer?
‘Successful?!’, you’re too kind! Hmm... apart from the pointers in this interview so far, I would say find your style. And if you have already, then great. But try to adapt your style in a way that makes it commercial. Success can be measured by the weight of your wallet or the weight of reward from someone sharing the same joy you get from producing the artwork. The aim is to hit both with the right balance and if you can fine tune your style then you’re onto a winner.
I’ll finish off with one last bit of advice... always keep things fresh!
Thank you for chatting with us Kong, and for sharing your wisdom! Till’ we next meet!
You can find Kong and more of his work on his Instagram: @kong_yo.