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A picture of Kai Kwong

Kai Kwong

Freelance designer, illustrator

in designer, illustrator, windows

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hi! I'm Kai Kwong, aka dollgirls, a freelance designer and illustrator specializing in colorful, whimsical graphics of all kinds. My primary focus is branding and merchandise design for folks in food and beverage, but I occasionally branch out and take on projects in other industries including beauty, gaming, and stationery. I also moonlight as an art and apparel vendor at local craft markets under the moniker Slumptown Supply Co., which features shirts and totes screenprinted by me in my little garage studio, lovingly dubbed "The Fungeon Annex." Right now I'm in the middle of illustrating a children's book about consent and bodily autonomy titled Yes Means Yes! which received a successful Kickstarter campaign and is currently pending production.

What hardware do you use?

For concept sketches and loose idea drafting, all my work goes into a little yellow dot-grid notebook I got from Amazon. I'm a creature of habit and I only trust two writing utensils for this part of the process: a 0.5mm Pentel Graph Gear 1000 pencil for sketching, and a 0.38mm black Muji ball-point pen for writing notes. For store-related product photography I use a hand-me-down Nikon D40 and whatever I can find around the house as backgrounds/sets to stage my products.

My portable (digital) setup is split between a refurbished 9.7" 6th gen iPad/1st gen Apple Pencil and my college laptop, a 2012 Sony Vaio SVS13A190X which is somehow still functional despite being almost 10 years old! I usually use the iPad when I'm on the go or need to further develop a sketch into raster artwork. Any finalization, layout, or vector work gets taken care of on the laptop. Lastly, if I need to print anything out I now have a Canon PIXMA Pro-100, which saves me a lot of trouble when I'm doing last minute preparation for a show or market. It's also what I use to translate my digital artwork into films that I use during the screenprinting process.

As for my printing setup, it's an old Riley Hopkins 4 color 4 station press donated to me by a local artist who was moving and couldn't fit two multi-station presses into his new studio. One of its arms is a little wonky and I need to find new springs for it, but even with 3 functional stations it still does a great job. I use a 120v Ryonet flash dryer to cure the ink on freshly printed shirts so they don't fall apart in the wash. The other equipment that I use during the printing process (the washout booth, tabletop paper printing press, exposure unit, screen storage unit) were constructed with the help of my dad, who's a hobbyist woodworker. I also employ the help of a Sun Joe pressure washer to clean and expose my screens.

And what software?

On the iPad I primarily use Procreate and Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop & Illustrator) on the laptop. Currently looking into getting the Photoshop & Illustrator apps on my iPad now that those are a thing too!

What would be your dream setup?

I like my current setup for the most part, at least on the non-screenprinting side of things. I love being able to do most things at home and I take a lot of pride in managing to do all my work without having to use the newest top-of-the-line gear! That being said, I think there's a few cosmetic/ergonomic changes I could probably use going forward as I would like to stop doing all my work in the same room where I sleep. I'd say my dream setup for my design work would be a slightly modified version of what I already have, but condensed in a nice little office separate from my bedroom with a fancy checkered rug and a couch. Maybe even a desk chair with better lumbar support and a new battery for my laptop so I don't need to keep it plugged in all the time? Clearly I have my priorities straight!

My dream printing setup would involve actually going through with fixing my press and upgrading my ink curing station to something a little more reliable like a conveyor dryer, ideally a Vastex D-100, which is the most compact model available and would fit in my remaining garage space. Right now I have to constantly interrupt my printing process by individually checking every shirt to make sure the flash dryer is actually hitting the right temperature, which doubles the amount of time I have to spend in the studio and is a complete and total bummer.