Street Art Hawaii Kaimuki Beautification Project

On Saturday 22 and 23, a group of artists volunteered to beautify the traffic boxes in Kaimuki.  Though I was only able to participate for one day, I was able to finish a very large (6′ X 10′ in all) traffic box mural on the corner of Waialae Ave and 16th Street – right next to a bus stop. It was a great experience and the neighborhood was very supportive and appreciative!

The design process began with a sketch a couple of weeks prior.  It’s rough, but you can see I stuck fairly close to the plan, just adding a few more native and Polynesian-introduced plants when I found out that the extremely nice family living close to the box would know and enjoy having more plants on the traffic box.  It turned out the neighbor adjacent was an avid gardener and bird aficionado, and they will be looking at this box all the time, so I wanted to make a special adjustment as a thank you to them for their unusually kind hospitality.  They even brewed me a cup of tea using leaves from their own garden! 

If you look at the box in person, make sure to peek at the back.  I painted all the sides – the back was just as important as the front.  The back is inspired by the name of this neighborhood – Kaimuki.  Ka imu ki means “ti plant oven”.  It was an area famous for the many ti plant ovens on its hills.  The ti plant was a very important and useful plant to the Hawaiians.  It is still in heavy use today as the raw material for hula skirts, lei, and also as a leaf that can be used to cook. Hau, a plant used for medicine and for fiber for tough ropes is also on the back.  I painted a lot of taro on the front and sides which is a Hawaiian staple food that is often growing wild in wetland areas.  Finally, I painted pickleweed, pohuehue, a small fern that looks like a 4-leaf clover, and a wild pink hibiscus, all plants that preceded human settlement.

The finished piece was accomplished after a very touching Hawaiian blessing. I felt the power of the ceremony followed me throughout the day, inspiring an unusually productive painting pace.  I skipped lunch to race the sun, moving around the box as the shade moved.  I enjoyed talking to various visitors throughout the work day, especially meeting a lot of the neighbors.  This area really has strong community feeling.  Despite the major road, the neighbors know and care about one another.  Many have lived there a long time.  I was treated exceedingly kindly all day long – countless shakas, “mahalos!”, and nice comments from passing cars, and neighbors offering juice or chocolate milk, etc…  I cannot thank the community of Kaimuki enough for the aloha spirit they showed during this process.  It was very heart warming and made me really want to do this project justice!    

I am very grateful to Jennifer Noel (the organizer), Bill Brizee, and Tracy Brilhante for getting me involved with this project and helping to make it all work.  Thank you to the Kaimuki neighbors who were so supportive and grateful for the project.  They made all the artists feel like a million dollars!  Thank you to the following photographers who kindly posted photos of native birds and flowers online in creative commons like Flickr Commons and Wikimedia Commons to allow for accurate reference photos for this project:  Dan Clark, David Eickhoff, Forest and Kim Starr, John and Karen Hollingsworth, and Rick Obst.  Without the lovely photos I could not have made the various Hawaiian Moorhens and plants as believable. Mahalo nui loa to all.  I hope the traffic box will brighten the area and be something the neighbors enjoy seeing.

  

Summer Studio Report part 1: Small Floral Works

Florals have been on my mind over the time since I last blogged.  I have been splitting time between small pieces and large works.  All my small works lately have been either indigenous florals like these:

Dreamy Hawaiian Floral, Oil on Panel, 9 X 12

Yellow Hawaiian Floral, Oil on Panel, 9 X 12

Or orchids:  

Golden Orchids, Acrylic on Gessobord, 5 X 7

Yes, Gessobord is spelled strangely to protect copyright.  I always feel like a kindergarten kid typing it out, but I swear it is the company’s trademarked name, not my poor spelling skills. 

I have been working away on a large portrait and a massive landscape as well.  They should be done before the end of the year. Here’s a sneak peek of the portrait:

I wrote to my email subscribers that this would likely be the completed eye, but the very next day I proceeded to paint another coat and covered some of it to blend it in with the new flesh surrounding it and now I am even happier with the way the face is shaping up – It goes to show I never know which pieces will actually be retained because a painting is a sensitive balance of relationships between the various pieces. This is still kind of fun to share as an in-progress tidbit.  The landscape I will wait to show until it is done.  It shouldn’t be too long of a wait at this point. I hope to unveil it at my upcoming solo show at Kalapawai Cafe in Kailua in October.

 

A New Leaf

From March 2015:

“I am turning over a new “leaf” with a new series.  I am working on adding precious metals to my work.  I’ve been reading up exhaustively on the age-old methods of gilding and painting on copper.  I have always loved the old elaborate works from Italy in the 1500s, from artists such as Fra Angelico, and likewise, the beauty of impressionist landscape.  I have wondered in the past what it would look like if the old illuminated manuscripts were made in a tropical location, and it has spurred me to make a new series, tropical illumination.  I plan to paint the beautiful landscapes of Hawaii with the beautiful metals of an earlier time.”

I found this little paragraph in my drafts from 2015 and thought it was a good tidbit of “thought-history” to share.  I have since acted on this idea and learned to use metal leaf. 

What I had in mind was an array of results. I’m going to do the exact opposite of what I probably should do and reverse the countdown to share my favorite one first.  This realistic landscape, Sacred Space, with just a touch of subtle leafing in the water and leaves (my favorite use of leafing to date) really catches the eye with movement as it shifts and reflects the lighting.  At night it softly reflects any lights in the vicinity, remaining interesting to look at when other paintings have ceased to be visible.  

 

 

The whimsical metal leafing celtic-type manuscript bird painting below with an apapane and ohia woven into the image is probably the closest to the source of what inspired me to start using metal leaf.  The Secret of Kells – a gorgeous animation featuring the beautiful illuminated manuscripts of Kells was the spark for me that led to learning how to leaf.  The story within the animation is fictional, and full of fairy folk and charm, but the book is real and so is the heart of the message within the movie.  It’s gentle in spirit and stunningly beautiful!  I highly recommend it.  This animation made me think of the beauty of the illuminated manuscripts, and I began to wonder what monks from Ireland would have painted they would have seen Hawaii. This is a visual combination between the Celtic style and realism. The monks would have translated the bird and the ohia into their imaginative style, but I wanted to have a play between the two worlds.  Busy and intricate celtic knotwork featuring birds is leafed on top of adaptations from a page from a celtic manuscript that weaves around the realistically painted apapane and ohia that intertwines decoratively with the realistic bird and flower. This endangered bird and the iconic flower of Hawaii that provides its habitat, are more rare than jewels (and just as colorful).  Here they are treated like precious treasures  – illuminated like the most important words of an ancient world.

Sometimes it’s nice to paint a bird in front of a simple background of metal leaf like this copper/zinc leafing surrounding the red crested cardinal. The leafing is allowed to show off the interesting ripples that run through this particular type of leaf. Here I have shown the piece in two drastically different lighting schemes.  I love the life that metal gives to the piece – constantly affected by the surroundings.  Sometimes it is hard to do it justice in a photo.

In this last painting below, I was looking to Jesse Arms Botke, an amazing decorative painter during the turn of the century, as my inspiration.  Here, I am using the copper leafing as a  major feature of the surroundings.  The copper leaf in this painting took on a patina before sealing.  I utilized the natural variations in tone from green to coppery orange to create the effect of a shallow pond (actually a loi – a Hawaiian taro garden flooded with water)

I am continuing to explore the realm of metal leafing both in oil and in water-based works.  With different sizing and sealants, I can work with metal in either media.  It is very exciting to see what it can add to artistic creativity. It can go under or over paint, and multiple metals can be used in the same piece.  It produces a piece that cannot be replicated by a camera, which is a major bonus in my opinion, I love the light and movement it imbues into artwork. I use it judiciously in some but not all of my pieces.

Beach Sentinels

Beach Sentinels by Wendy Roberts

There is a type of weather that happens right before a small summer squall that is fleeting but beautiful.  The sun glistens on low, choppy waves that glitter like sequins under a spotlight.  Offshore islands fall into dark purple shadow.  This contrast makes the ocean look particularly surreal.  It emphasizes the green tones in the waves and creates a creamy turquoise color as the waters are churned with oxygen.    This will be a short refreshing storm that will make the hot sand smell damp.   It will finish in a sun shower as rain and sun combine in diamond drops on every leaf. Perhaps there will be a rainbow arcing across the sky.  The forecast is in front of your eyes if you know the beach well. 

How many summer squalls have these trees seen?  How many waves have they heard rushing ashore?  When I see weathered trees along a coastline, I think of them as sentinels – guards for the approaching wind, waves, and storms from the sea.  The boughs of these trees at Kalama beach are sculpted by wind, the flow of air made solid.  Their roots are protecting the shore, holding on to grains of sand although it seems an impossible task.  It is a marvel to me that anything can grow in the sand and the heat of the beach.  Despite the sparse nutrients and the blazing afternoon sun, they provide shade and protect against wind and erosion.

This oil panting will be at the elegant and refreshing Lion Coffee Cafe (1555 Kalani St, Honolulu, HI 96817) which has been newly remodeled.  If you are on Oahu, you can have a cup of coffee and a cookie or pastry and enjoy the show anytime Monday – Saturday from 6 AM to 5 PM between now and June 30, 2018.

Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree

Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree by Wendy RobertsShama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree
Oil on Canvas
12″ x 12″

Under-painting progress of Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree

Under-painting progress

Today I have finished a painting that I shared the early phases of on my Instagram account. 

Halfway done: progress of Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree

In-Progress view of Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree

I completed “Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree”, a piece meant to share the best aspects of one of my favorite hikes deep in the shade and protection of the lush Ko’olau Mountains.  In the background, you can see the same waterfall I featured in my prior piece, Sacred Space.  I love this waterfall because the rocks have a lot of character.  This time, the falls are not the star of the piece, but take a supporting role as the very real location where many white-rumped shama thrush live.  The shama thrush, its flowing tail a visual echo of the waterfall, perches in the branches of the mountain apple tree.  Here I have recreated the magical experience of finding the bright pink flowers of the mountain apple in full bloom.  If I could show it all in the same painting, I would depict how the petals carpet the ground with a layer of vivid pink, and I would paint the smell of the cool moss and the sound of the water.

 Shama are very curious birds and will often follow you, gliding from branch to branch for a long time as you hike, watching and listening to you as you walk through the trees.  As highly intelligent birds, they are not only keen observers, but also mimic birds to a limited extent, capable of learning short calls if you whistle to them repetitively.  If you are lucky, they will whistle the song back, quickly evolving your small tune into their own variation (4 or 5 notes is a good maximum if you are trying to teach them).  They may add clicks, chatters, trills, and melodic chirps until it blends seamlessly into their own repertoire.  Their voice is one of the sweetest of the island, with a clarity I would compare to the Meadow Larks of my childhood.  Some of my most unusual experiences with wild birds have been with shama thrushes.  If you are quiet and still, they will venture extremely close, and examine you carefully with their shiny black eyes. Unlike Snow White, I haven’t managed to convince them to help me with my laundry…yet.

Sacred Space

I have been quiet.  This is a sure sign that I have been working on something very large.  I am happy to unveil my latest piece: “Sacred Space” measuring 30″ x 48″ and what makes it such a large project is the level of detail.  Murals are larger, but they also get painted with large brushes.

Sacred Space by Wendy Roberts

Sacred Space complete with a frame from Brilhante Framing of Kailua

The idea for this piece hit me like a bolt of lightning 4 years ago when I had just watched “Secret of Kells” for the third time. “The Secret of Kells” is a cartoon so beautiful it should be thought of as a moving piece of art rather than what you would typically think of with animation.  It is about Celtic illuminated manuscripts and if you haven’t seen it, you should set aside a movie night to take a look.  It is a beautiful story with amazing animation. After viewing the amazing animated manuscripts once again, I wondered what tropical illuminated manuscripts would look like, and then after a few odd sketches of extremely stylized Hawaii scenery with a Celtic knotwork spin, the thought pushed into its final form: “What if I used metal leaf like paint to add movement to the water and the leaves – the sunlight dappling, changing, shifting like the light on the leafing?” I knew this had a potential to add another element to the painting, allowing me to more fully express the sense of awe felt while secluded next to a stunning waterfall. I had to learn how to use metal leaf and get good enough to apply it smoothly. That took about 2 years. Then it took a lot of time and care to work my way through the details on the canvas. I set it aside a few times to work on other things and allow my brain time to solve some quandries by passively working on them in the background.  I always returned with a fresh point of view. This will certainly not be the last “tropical leaf” painting! I am really interested in using the dynamic shimmer of metals in my work. I had to adjust for the variability of the silver leaf’s changing values, but the final effect adds motion and life that is impossible to show in a photo but I’ll try anyway by posting a detail from different angles.

Here is the ie ie vine in the painting, a woody endemic Hawaiian flower in the pandanus family, shown from two angles so you can see how the silver picks up and reflects light dynamically. You can also see a small portion of the waterfall’s silver leaf.

Giclees (durable canvas prints) of this piece will be available soon. It won’t have the leafing unfortunately since it has to be painted and blended into the rest of the piece, but when I get the final scan, I will be posting it on my “Giclees Available” page.

This piece will debut at the Punahou Carnival Art Show along with two of my little birds:

Akepa With Orange Ohia

Akepa with Orange Ohia

Saffron Finch In A Cannonball Tree by Wendy Roberts

Saffron Finch In A Cannonball Tree

A carnival?  You might find that odd.  Let me explain.  Hawaii has a handful of schools that function more like colleges.  They are rigorous, demand excellent grades, and inspire the kids who attend to really strive for their best potential.  Punahou is one of the largest of these.  They have a great scholarship program so that the school can admit kids who can benefit from the challenging education at a rate of payment their family can afford.  Every year, Punahou holds a carnival to bridge the gap between what the kids are able to pay and what the school demands to keep the facilities top notch.  Oddly enough, they have developed one of the largest, most prestigious art shows in the islands.  I am pleased to be participating. If these pieces are sold at the carnival, half the proceeds will go to the Punahou scholarship fund.  

Thoughts about the False Missile Alert

You probably heard the news about our false ballistic missile warning here in Hawaii. There was a lot of panic, but also a lot of cool heads too.  You don’t hear about the cool heads on the news.  It’s not very exciting compared to reporting about the very real panic a lot of people felt, but most of the people I know were concerned rather than panicked. Nonetheless, for those of us in the “concerned” category, it was still a very strange morning.  

 I woke up to the sound of my cell phone and my husband’s cell phone chirping in unison. The first thing I did was to wake up a touch annoyed.  We get flash flood alerts like that with the same alarm, so I thought they were going to tell us it was a flash flood.  I was preparing to roll over and go back to sleep, but then I saw the screen.  The missile alert was on the screen like the graphic below (this image is thanks to Tulsi Gabbard, who you will hear about later on):

Like a dope, I got up out of bed and went to look at the sky because I am not a good morning person and it took about 20 seconds for me to realize that of course I wasn’t going to see the missiles – they take 15 minutes to arrive. All I could think of was “bzzzzzzz” (the brain equivalent of TV static) and then after another minute of squinting into the sky and trying to be sentient, I thought “How do I prepare for this?  Hmmm….”  I realized you can’t prepare for something like that past what you would do for a hurricane, and I was already passable with my emergency kit, so no need to worry about that aspect.  I remember being relieved and a bit embarrassed that I couldn’t think of any unfinished business or last desperate wishes that could be fulfilled in 15 minutes other than filling the bathtub with water. It made me feel uncreative.  Some people have the wackiest ideas of what to do with their last few moments of life, but I, who make my living being creative, drew a blank.  I also thought it was weird that North Korea would actually send a missile. I know they are always threatening, but they have lots of reasons NOT to actually go through with it – in fact it’s highly unlikely if you sift through the pros and cons.  Then I realized no sirens were blaring.  “Let’s check it out on Twitter to see if it’s false!”  The lack of sirens was fishy. 

 

If there is one thing I have learned from being a night owl, it is that if you have a weird earthquake at 3 am, Twitter is the best place to figure out if other people know what is happening.  I don’t know what kind of magical server is running over there, but the second something bizarre happens, you can start searching for information, and usually you will have your answer in under 5 minutes from a reliable source – technology is wonderful!  I ran to Twitter to figure out what was going on with this alarm, and immediately got the word it was false from our local hero of the day, Tulsi Gabbard, who immediately confirmed the status of the alarm and sent out a very quick Tweet.

Many of us had moments after it was all over where we realized our lives were the everyday humdrum and we were so grateful!  It’s NICE to be stuck in traffic (sort of). It’s nice to fold laundry and have a list of errands.  It is a luxury to have routine everyday life unfolding. It is nice to know you have kissed your kids and given your family notification on a regular basis that you love them.  I felt squared away and spared and happy to be sweeping the floor. And I am also grateful to be able to take all the everyday stuff for granted too.  It’s nice to be able to relax into it rather than having to be acutely aware of all the beauty and all the multitudes of blessings we have in our lives every moment of the day.  I am grateful for the ability to take it all for granted.  That’s part of the charm of the “everyday” too.

Quality Time at ZAFA Workshops

This October an November I have been honing my skills, I took an amazing workshop at Zwick Academy of Fine Art (ZAFA) entitled “Master Copy Workshop”. We worked on a master painting copy of a work by John Singer Sargent – I chose “Lady Agnew” I am mostly done copying the detail, and ready to show the results.  First we worked on the value study.  This turned out to be quite enlightening for understanding the overall tones of the piece.  It was years since I had worked with charcoal, and I found out I really love it for a drawing medium.

Then we worked on color studies (not pictured), before launching into the real deal. We used a nice color print out in lieu of being able to spend a month in front of the actual paintings. Every time I mixed a skin tone, I found myself saying “Needs more purple!” Sargent is a surprisingly saturated colorist.  I look forward to the changes this will bring to future pieces as I incorporate the lessons learned by studying Sargent’s careful yet expressive painting style which I would classify as “effort-filled effortlessness”.  I can highly recommend William Zwick’s classes.  He’s an excellent teacher! I learned more in less time by doing this master copy under his mentorship than I would have if I had picked up a brush and done it without guidance. Maybe I will end up doing more copies in the future, and I would even dare to do them solo now, but I think the process of being guided through this copy helps me know how I would go about it in the future if left to my own devices. It takes a lot of research if you plan to replicate the painting down to the technique and palette.  I was grateful to have that footwork in place already for this piece.

There is a little glare on the photo, but I think it is not hampering the viewing of my copy too much.  Also, the piece is not varnished yet.  I will post again when I have the necklace done and the varnish done (which will deepen the colors), but you can see that the detail is almost complete.  I am planning to frame this and hang it in my studio to remind me how to soften my edges.  What a great way to spend October of 2017!

I returned to ZAFA in November to work on my master copy-earned skills with some life painting sessions, and painted a portrait of the absolutely gorgeous model posing at ZAFA for the week.

Here she is with her painting. Posing for hours like that is not easy.  She did a great job of standing still for the 9 hours (!) it took us all to paint her likeness.

I worked hard to soften the edges and was pleased with the results, as was the model who bought the piece – I always love it when a painting finds its home.  ZAFA is one of the few places you can go on Oahu for a multi-session life painting experience, which I highly recommend if you are looking to hone skills and learn to paint beyond the confines of a a photo.  As of 2017, it is on Fridays and you can sign up with ZAFA to get notice of the status of the sessions.  We are lucky to have high quality art resources like this close at hand. Maybe I will see you there, fellow Oahu artists! 

 

Miniature Shows for November/December 2017

This November and December, I am getting a chance to show my works from September’s miniature work frenzy.  I had 4 pieces accepted into the AHA Miniature Show which ran throughout November, and 3 were juried in are still on display at the Koa Gallery.  Details are here for the Koa Gallery Show which is still on display:  http://www.wendyrobertsfineart.com/event/mixed-media-miniature-show/

At the AHA Miniature show:

Akepa With Orange Ohia

Akepa with Orange Ohia

Hawaiian Moorhen

Mynah Bird in a Coral Tree by Wendy Roberts

Mynah Bird in a Coral Tree

Violet Vanda Orchids

Violet Vanda Orchids

Mixed Media Miniature Show 20th Anniversary:

Java Sparrows in an Avocado Tree by Wendy Roberts

Java Sparrows in an Avocado Tree

Iiwi on Blue Lobeliads by Wendy Roberts

Iiwi on Blue Lobeliads

Saffron Finch in a Cannonball Tree by Wendy Roberts

Saffron Finch in a Cannonball Tree