Each spring, we select a an illustrator to create the visual identity for the annual Honolulu Surf Film Festival. The selected artist’s work is a reflection of that year’s festival lineup and evoke a Hawai’i surf vibe. Talent from previous years includes Mariko Merritt, Jeff Gress, and Aloha to Zen. This year’s festival artwork features the work of Kailua resident Shar Tuiasoa aka “Punky Aloha” (she was, secretly, our top choice for 2020), and we feel very lucky to be included on her fast growing list of clients. Tuiasoa’s fine art prints—available in the HoMA Shop—have a bold, mid-century modern influence, and often feature gorgeous brown women effortlessly sliding into waves with tropical flowers in their hair, or lounging in colorful mu’umu’u with oversized shades. Below is an interview with the talented Tuiasoa, in conversation with the museum’s Creative Director Anjali Lee.
AL: Although your design work shows a range of styles, I love your focus on women of color who surf in your art prints. How did you come to develop this focus in your illustration work?
ST: Creating artwork representative of who I am has been a lifelong journey of self-love and self acceptance. Growing up as a woman of color, I am used to not seeing myself represented in mainstream media and after I moved back home and began to work in Hawai’i after earning my BFA in California I, surprisingly, saw even less of it here. Now, of course I know there are artists that have in the past created very beautiful artworks of Polynesian women. But many of them weren’t created from the perspective of an actual Polynesian woman, and I needed to feel that connection. So, for me, creating the artwork that I do, that features strong, bold, and dark-skinned women, is a love letter to not just myself, but to so many people like me who crave to see themselves in the world around them.
AL: Can you share with us your process on arriving at final illustrations/designs? I loved seeing your digital sketches while developing the Honolulu Surf Film Festival identity this year.
ST: Yes, so my process always starts with an idea or a story that needs to be told visually. I like to sit with an idea or a prompt for a little bit, until I find a clear voice. Then I start sketching out shapes and little thumbnail color compositions, usually on my iPad these days, until I have a strong composition that tells the story I want to communicate. Once I have a solid image, I’ll either throw it on a canvas and paint it, or in most cases for freelance work, I’ll continue to fine tune it in Procreate, Photoshop, and Illustrator. The three of them work together so nicely.
AL: Do you prefer doing your own self-generated projects or working for clients?
ST: I love doing personal projects, I mean, that’s how I was able to find my own voice and grow as a human being and artist. But, in all honesty, I’m an illustrator through and through, and illuminating other people’s ideas is what I have always loved doing most. Being a freelance illustrator can be very isolating, so when I get to do client work, it gives me the opportunity to work as a team with marketing agencies, art directors, and business owners. It’s kind of like the client gives me a big jumble of puzzle pieces, and says, here. Here’s our idea, can you help us tell our story. And it’s my job to put the puzzle pieces together and visually tell their story through color, and shape language, and composition, etc. It’s incredibly gratifying and such a great opportunity to grow as an illustrator.
AL: How would you love to see your illustrations applied, either in 2-D or 3-D?
ST: One of the most satisfying things as a 2-D artist is seeing your work come alive in tactile products, whether it be in the form of toys, cartoons, bags, books, towels, signage, etc. Seeing your artwork living and breathing and functioning in the world around you is exhilarating! I’m always looking upwards and onwards so in that sense, I am always keeping my mind open to the endless possibilities and opportunities that being an artist has afforded me.
AL: Do you still surf? Where’s your favorite spot? Do you have a favorite surfer?
ST: I do surf, although admittedly not nearly as often as I used to. Surfing was such a huge part of my identity in my childhood, teens, and early adulthood, but of course, running a business and raising a family leaves little time for play. My friends keep telling me that I need to give myself a break and go back to the ocean. I agree 100%! I have a deep connection to Concessions and I fell in love with my partner surfing Kewalos together back in the day, but as I’ve gotten older I decided I just want an easy spot where I can spend the day at the beach with my keiki and not have to paddle very far, so, Baby Maks has become my go-to. Plus, it’s just a short drive from my house.
And my favorite surfer? Rell Sunn of course…Queen of Makaha. She was every little surfer girl’s idol. I used to want to be just like her, a complete woman of the ocean.
Tuiasoa’s work can be found in Honolulu and beyond on walls, products, publications, packaging and at www.punkyaloha.com