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An Attention to Detail:
an Interview with
Larry Kwong of Minutia

written by Lisa DeBenedictis for Abstraks Magazine

Minutia: (noun) Minute or minor details
For artist and business owner Larry Kwong, it's those minor details - so small that it may take a second, longer look to notice - that matter most.

In fact, that's exactly what Kwong's wife, Jessie, told him one evening back in 2008 while the two sat at the kitchen table, commiserating about their not-so-great days at work.

"She (Jessie) was telling me that her co-worker had used the word 'minutia' to talk about excessive, unnecessary details. But then she paused and said, 'You know, in your field, it's the minutia that's the most important.' " From there, it was only a few quick domain name searches on godaddy, and they'd founded a company with the perfect name: Minutia.

Today, Minutia designs and often produces in-house handmade print apparel, skateboards, rolling trays, and other products. Kwong's style is tough to nail down: edgy, complex, intellectual, often dark. "I'm a big lover of nature and mythology," explained Kwong of his style. "I've always been a comic book nerd ever since growing up. There's a lot of Asian culture in there, too, which is part of my roots." He has worked with design his entire life, beginning in high school when he worked in a local sign shop and discovered the unexpected precision and beauty of typography. "When I was young, I was really into graffiti. Who knew that it was another form of typography and that one could potentially make a career out of it?" said Kwong, laughing.

He continued to pursue art and design for much of his early college life, until his father unexpectedly lost his job. Kwong dropped out and turned his attention to a heavy metal band he'd joined - as well as a slew of crappy full-time jobs to make ends meet. His band, Beyond the Sixth Seal, would later inspire much of his designs to be, in part, an homage to the subversive, darker imagery often associated with heavy metal. But when Kwong's father got a new job, they pushed for him to return to school.

He enrolled at New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University, but told parents his major was still "undecided". "My parents didn't want me to go to art school," he said, laughing. "I had two conservative Asian parents that wanted me to study law or medicine. Tuition was expensive, and for that kind of cash, I didn't blame them. But art and design was the only thing I knew and that I wanted to do."

Following graduation, Kwong worked in product design, which helped him rediscover digital illustration. And the rest, as they say, is history. In the span of two months following Larry and Jessie's eureka moment, he had already created 12 different designs for T-shirts. Among his first design was what he refers to as "Cthulhu," a brightly colored octopus whose tentacles simultaneously form the bones of a ribcage. "It was a creation by horror-fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft," said Kwong. "A demon god of the sea. I combined it with the ribcage. I must have had seven different versions of that."

Another signature design is his "Medusa," a tribute to one of his best friends, Greg Puricelli, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2007. "He had a huge backpiece of a Medusa, and I thought it would be a nice and subtle tribute to his life," said Kwong.

His Medusa is hauntingly beautiful. Cool blues are accented with golden yellow details which highlight the hissing snakes and the woman's empty eyes. A shock of pink offsets the black background.

In addition to these images, Kwong also doesn't shy away from creating designs and products that support causes he and his wife believe in, such as recycling and the legalization of medicinal marijuana.

Bowling, beers, and metal make us happy!
"Within the past 3 years, I lost two very close family members to cancer. I made them special brownies as often as I could.Seeing them go through chemotherapy was awful. If there was anything that could help ease the pain and temporarily just change the outlook on things, it was pot. It really helped them get through the last couple weeks of their lives", he said. "Our views are not 'politically' driven, but more 'cause' driven. I'm a firm believer that designers, artists, and writers do have the power to make positive changes in our society, and if done well and with tact, can ultimately change someone's perspective of certain issues."

But in addition to being an artist, Kwong has learned how to be a business owner. He built his own website, trademarked his brand name, developed a marketing campaign by creating designs for a skateboard team, and with the help of Jessie, frequently attends concerts and other events to promote his brand and sell his items.

"She's there for a lot of support and advice and does a lot of events with me. She's also my #1 sales person." said Kwong. He found that in order to create a successful business, he needed to recreate reproductions of his work on a higher scale. While some artists may scoff at reproduction, Kwong embraces it. "After all, it's still hand-made; and screen printing is an art of its own." He found that in order to create a successful business, he needed to recreate reproductions of his work on a higher scale. While some artists may scoff at reproduction, Kwong embraces it. After all, screen printing is an art of its own.

"I want to get my art out there, but make it accessible," he said. "Instead of spending endless hours on one painting and selling it for $1,000, I can spend endless hours on a piece of artwork, hand produce a limited number of screen printed tees, and get it out there for a reasonable price." What ultimately matters most, he says, is getting your work to reach as many people as possible. "Most people who are into this stuff don't have the money to go out and buy a piece of art for their apartment," said Kwong. "We need to be thoughtful of our customers and move with technology. If you can get your artwork out there to more people for less money, why not?"
minutia copyright 2009 Lawrence Kwong