Magical Kauai: The Creative Process



I visited Kauai for the first time last year and was extremely moved and inspired to solidify my memories by painting them. Kauai was so incredibly lush and breath-taking, with fascinating locals and tourists engulfed by overgrown invasive plant species and gorgeous views.


I had the opportunity to take a small fishing boat out to Kalalau Valley on the Na Pali coast, a remote campground only accessible usually by an 11 mile hike across crumbling cliffs. Because of the tumultuous nature of disembarking the fishing boat, onto the back of a jet ski and then urgently ejected into the vast, churning ocean, I’m absolutely sure I will never visit Kalalau Valley again in my life. Kauai, yes; Kalalau, no, not unless I’m in a helicopter.


This land is very obviously sacred somehow, you can feel it’s aliveness surrounding you, watching you. It’s abundant fruit and soft, inviting dirt ground is simultaneously magnanimous and yet harshly unforgiving with it’s falling boulders, sharp lava rocks and spontaneous weather changes. I was completely enamoured with, and equally cautiously respectful of Mother Nature’s strong presence in this part of the world.


I decided to paint Kalalau Valley onto this Maple wood board that I have. I started by sketching out all of the mountains and people quickly, just getting out as much initial detail as I could conjure from memory.

Some of these pics keep showing up sideways from a mobile device even though I’ve rotated them. They are upright when viewed from a desktop browser. Annoying.

I then studied all of my photographs and found good clear depictions of colors and shapes of the trees and foliage. I decided to move from the left to the right, blocking out shapes with lighter colors before coming in with darker shades to add dimension to my mountains and rocks.



I would mix one shade of green, and use that to highlight the right side of all of my trees, since I imagined the sun coming from the right. I added a small amount of brown to the existing green to add the shadows of depth on the left sides of the trees and foliage. I used photo references constantly to try to emulate the shapes of shadows on rocks and trees.


In the left corner is a guy in a hammock, who is based off of a real man I met on a hike living on the cliff, surviving off stinky Noni fruit.


Noni fruit is everywhere in Kalalau. It looks like a needle-less pine cone made of gelatinous eyeballs, and it smells like rotting blue cheese. You see them everywhere on the ground, splattered open and stinking. Despite it’s unappealing stench and appearance, Noni has shown antioxidant, immune-stimulating, and tumor-fighting properties in lab studies. So anyway this bearded man was living by  himself in a hammock on a gorgeous cliff on the Na Pali coast, surviving off passion fruit and noni. His little spot in the trees and his view were epic.


Below the Noni guy is a couple fornicating against a rock. All you can see are her tan fingers. This is paradise, people, don’t kid yourself into thinking humans aren’t copulating in paradise at all times.


Further down the beach is a little girl, who is alone and curled up. She is based off of a real little girl that greeted us at the beach with a forthright “hello!” when we arrived. This feral little girl was about three years old, tan and naked, calm, alone, and her teeth were all rotten. My painting depicts more of a shy pre-teen, but the original idea was of this naked jungle girl.


The yoga ladies are based upon some women we met that had hiked the 11 mile trail.


They were jealous of my boat ride experience and admitted that about halfway on the Kalalau trail, they stopped and cried and talked about all of the people they loved, as if they weren’t going to make it out alive. The cliffs you hike across are constantly shifting and eroding, and parts of the trail are less than a foot wide with drop-offs to the rocky cliffs below.


The man on the jet ski is “Uncle”. Uncle is a very tan, approximately 50 year old local with dreadlocks and very few teeth who is like the unofficial mayor of Kalalau. He has a group of a bout 8 grungy tan white dude minions that help him with the chores of maintaining the main camp, which was the hub for meals and social gathering.


He has all of our luggage strapped to the back of his jet ski triple wrapped in garbage bags. I had brought my digital SLR Canon camera to Kalalau because I was like “Ooh it will be pretty!!” Not realizing my camera would be in a dry bag, in 2 garbage bags, which came loose while the jet ski went over the top of a wall of a wave. Suddenly the black garbage bag containing my precious camera was bobbing in the ocean and I was panicking. It ended up being fine and I just looked like a dramatic idiot to all of Uncle’s workforce and the naked little girl on the beach.


The person in the waterfall is using the hollowed out, carved bone that stays by the waterfall to act as a funnel with which to shower or fill your water bottle.


The Mountain Goats were one of my favorite things about Kalalau. They would stand proudly on the tops of the cliffs, loosening rocks that would constantly be tumbling below. You always hear the sounds of rocks tumbling against the mountainside, goats bleating, and the ocean roaring. I was so impressed with the goats and their agility while clinging to the rock face. Sometimes they would get stuck and bleat and just stand there and their family members would bleat at them from the other side. Other times they were cocky and would just bolt up and across with seemingly death defying leaps. So here is about half of the finished painting. I can’t get a good picture of it because it’s a three foot wide rectangle, but I will have it at my next art show! Hope you’ve enjoyed my attempt at sharing Kauai’s splendor.