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Tech Heads: The Man behind CAPiTA's Graphics

15:51 27th November 2012 by Youri Barneoud
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Capita’s Designer, Ephraim Chui.

CAPiTA Snowboards has undoubtedly impressed core media and shredders around the globe for the quality of their boards, but also most definitely for the awesome graphics they’ve been throwing into the global mix for over a decade now.

For this first outing of a new series on our site, Tech Heads, we wanted to investigate the graphic mystery behind CAPiTA. So we sat down with the man in charge, art director Ephraim Chui, to ask him a few questions…

What’s your exact title at CAPiTA and Union, and what is your background, personal, artistic and professional? Pretty wide question I know…

On my card it says Art Director, but I haven’t handed out a business card in years! I usually only work with Union when there’s a direct collab between the two brands. And when that happens, I’m still really designing for CAPiTA.

I was born in Hong Kong. My parents immigrated to Canada when I was 7 and I grew up in Vancouver. 4 years ago I moved to Japan, first to Osaka, then Tokyo. In the August of 2011 I moved back to Hong Kong. Full circle.

Growing up, all I wanted to do was go to art school. The fact I got rejected from art school might have been the best thing that could’ve happened. I was super bummed at the time and decided to quit art and apprentice under a Japanese chef. It was tough. Basically lived at the restaurant but Mr. Fukuyama whipped me into shape as a person. Taught me a lot about work ethic, paying attention to details and a love and respect for food.

When did you join CAPiTA and what did you have in mind about the brand’s image?

In the summer of 2000, I met Jason Brown [CAPiTA founder] through his website. He encouraged me to keep painting, went with me to get my first Mac and hooked me up with all the software. A month after I got my computer he called me up and said “Hey, I need a graphic for a board called The Black Snowboard of Death. Tomorrow.” At that point I hardly knew how to draw a circle in Illustrator. The result was terrible, but we’re still using that skull. I credit JB 100% for getting me into design.

Where do you find your inspiration season after season? How are the decisions made at CAPiTA regarding graphics?

This question comes up in every interview and usually I make up something about procrastination and panic. But honestly I don’t know where the inspiration comes from. I could be taking a shit or walking my dog or snoozing on the couch, I’ll suddenly know what I have to do and I just go do it. What I know doesn’t work, is sitting in front of the computer staring at the screen telling yourself, give me an idea. Everybody is influenced and inspired by (for better or for worse) everything they let into their heads. Every time we experience anything, it changes us a little bit. Maybe inspiration comes from that? Maybe that’s why I have a need to travel and “try anything once”.

Blue [Montgomery - CAPiTA boss] and I have been working together for 12 years. There use to be a lot of arguments and heated emails etc. but in the end, I have the much easier job of producing work that’s interesting and beautiful to me. He has the much tougher one of facing the public, explaining it to reps and shop buyers, and being responsible when angry moms call. He’s also pretty stubborn and once he makes a decision, it’s almost impossible to change his mind. Some times he’ll pretend to let me “win one”. But Blue is one of the most intelligent people I know and even though I might not be happy with the decisions he makes 100% of the time, I do trust him with making the right decision 100%. It also helps that he’s been extremely supportive and will defend my work without question if he believes in it.

Who are the artists that you worked with and came up with iconic designs, like the Ultrafear or the Black Snowboard Of Death?

We’ve always tried to work with designers and artists that we’re somehow connected to and who understand and are interested in the brand. CAPiTA is such a complicated and undefined beast, that it’s difficult to ask someone unfamiliar with it to come up with something emotionally relevant. On very rare occasions, ie. with Skinner Davis, do we find someone that doesn’t know the brand, but can produce work that fits. Everything about his attitude, his art, and thought process clicked perfectly. It’s like having a one night stand and finding your soul mate instead.

Artists like TJ Schneider and Corey Smith both rode for CAPiTA and had a huge hand in shaping the company on and off snow. How they felt, the things they created, became a part of CAPiTA’s permanent identity and enriched our story. But we’ve also been working with newer folks that are hyped on us, who understand where we are coming from, and they’ve injected new blood and energy to CAPiTA. High fives to Jari, Jacob, Jono and Tyler.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though there are a lot of amazing artists out there, what Blue and I are the most concerned with is that the people we work with from our artists to our manufacturer and reps, all have an emotional connection with CAPiTA. This is something that can’t be expressed in a brief and that no amount of money can buy.

Iconic graphics from left to right: Black Snowboard Of Death, Ultrafear, Dan Brisse PM, Scott Stevens PM.

What would be for you the most iconic CAPiTA design, and can you tell us the story behind it?

The Metaphor and the Merchant of Death skull is probably the most iconic. Both have been with us since the beginning. I personally don’t think there’s a specific board design that’s iconic in my mind. I’m so deep in this shit that I have a hard time separating one year from the next. So the better question would be for you to answer what you think the most iconic CAPiTA design is, and why. I’m really curious about what other people who are not immersed in it every day thinks.

How much say to the riders have? Did they bring some artists in? 

TJ and Corey who’ve both consistently designed a series or two each year, have as much say as I do when it comes to graphics. Meaning, Blue gets the final ok. I think I tend to fight harder on work that’s not my own, because I want to see their vision realized. More recently with Scott Stevens and Dan Brisse’s boards, it was very important to all involved that everyone was hyped on the final product. None of us believe that riders should be forced to ride shit that they’re not stoked on. What the fuck is the point if we can’t even make the 3 or 4 people involved happy?

Any other artistic activities outside CAPiTA?

I’ve recently started painting again. That’s been weird. Therapeutic, at the risk of sounding like a hippy. I also bought a couple film cameras (Contax G2 + T2) after moving to Hong Kong and have been randomly snapping away. You can check out the photos at noneofthishappened.com

Who are the artists you would love to work on a CAPiTA project?

Anyone who thinks what we are doing means something to them.

One of the latest inspiration from Ephraim. See something?

Check CAPiTA’s website for more of their rad graphics and snowboards.

  1. Tanner Scipio

    Man I would love to get that opportunity and design a series.

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