Tony Hong: The Rags-to-Riches Story

Tony Hong: The Rags-to-Riches Story
1 comment, 08/04/2013, by , in Entrepreneurship
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Photos by Eric Bothwell for ALIST Magazine

The “tree guy” is how most people know Tony Hong.

A Los Angeles-based ink artist known for his impressive body of artwork featuring trees, ALIST looked to find out more about the man responsible for the detailed trunks and tree branches gracing the covers of iPhones and iPods.

From school slacking to San Francisco’s SOMArts Gallery

Hong’s journey to becoming a successful artist was not an easy, nor a direct one.

Attending UCLA and majoring in psychology, Hong says he was not very motivated, having his friend take notes for him while he doodled.

“I should have taken time off,” he admits. “School wasn’t a priority.” Noticing this, his friends encouraged him to do something creative, but it wasn’t until he was 28 that he enrolled in art school and attended one short-lived year at Otis College of Art and Design.

Hong struggled with money. His lowest point came when he didn’t have enough money for a new car battery and had to set an alarm to go start his car every two hours to recharge it. He paid for gas with quarters. The lowest amount he ever paid? 49 cents.

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Photos by Eric Bothwell for ALIST Magazine

But art kept creeping back into his life. He looked into doing art therapy and accepted a job teaching high school math at New Covenant Academy, also luckily landing one period of art to teach.

Hong continued doing his own art as well, landing his first group show in San Francisco at the SOMArts Gallery.

“It’s funny how all these little pieces, you know, fit in,” Hong says. “You don’t know how or why at the time but it just works out…I feel grateful.”

Branching Out

Hong caught his first big commercial break when his work ended up in Target stores on iPod and iPhone cases, jokingly referring to his struggling period as his “sophomore slump.”

“It was the most random thing,” Hong remembers. A contact of his from Uncommon, a case-making company, asked for a few samples of his artwork, and the rest is case history. He also scored his first solo art show in Los Angeles in November 2010.

His dream gallery to be shown in is the David B. Smith Gallery in Colorado.

“Gregory Euclide, Josh Keyes [artists currently in the gallery]…they have their voice. They’re so good at what they do,” says Hong. “If I could get into that gallery, that would be my validation.”

On top of working to achieve new artistic heights, Hong also wants to branch out commercially, specifically into house wares. He additionally admires writing and wants to be a storyteller, perhaps creating a book that combines his art with meaningful stories relevant for today (A favorite book of his is Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree).

He does not want to simply be known as the “tree guy.”

Hong gives this advice to young artists deriving from his own experiences: “You don’t have it all figured out…you just have to be honest….and work your ass off.”

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Photos by Eric Bothwell for ALIST Magazine

To learn more about artist Tony Hong, visit his website at

About Elaine Wang

Elaine Wang
Elaine Wang is an ALIST founder and currently serves as our Entertainment Section Editor. In addition to ALIST, Elaine is an actress and writer living in Los Angeles. As such, she is extremely interested in entertainment trends and what they mean for Asian Americans, performers and non-performers. She is a native Texan, and sometimes that state worries her a lot.