If you’ve made it this far, you probably just want to see the finished KouWork conference room mural already. I’ve been talking so much story that the details are getting lost in “too much english,” as our cousin always says. So without further ado, here she is:
One of the toughest parts of traveling is not being able to share our journey with friends and family back home. Whenever we come back to Hawaii, though, it’s as if we’re “welcomed home” by new acquaintances, friends of friends, and extended family.
A special thank you to KouWork for hosting the most memorable of parties to officially unveil the mural and for trusting in my art and allowing me the freedom to express myself beyond the limitations of words.
A big mahalo to everyone who has supported me along the way towards such a pivotal keyframe in my art career. Carmela, for someone who “isn’t an artist,” your advice has grown to be infinitely helpful throughout all stages of my art. To everyone who blessed me with a lei, you’ve made a secret dream come true—I’ve always wanted to have a grip stacked around my neck like that!
I love you all! Thank you for making this night so special—I will remember it for the rest of my life 🙂
The following is a collection of photos from the mural unveiling party on March 23, 2018. Thank you to everyone who so kindly shared their photos with me.
Full disclosure: I haven’t done a mural in over 10 years. The last one I did was in Astoria, Queens with Tyler and it was a real simple concept influenced by Lee Bontecou (Tyler’s idea.) It was graphic, minimal and clean—nothing too complicated. Unfortunately, the bar closed down soon after so it didn’t get much shine.
This new mural was much more of a production. It had “only” 10 colors and stretched across 2 walls of the conference room. Some basics even eluded me at the time. I wasn’t sure which paint to use, what brushes I needed, or how to properly prepare the space.
The biggest problem was: how could I transfer this image to the wall accurately and efficiently without just printing it and slapping it on like wallpaper (Yes, we even considered this!)?
If only I could see how other artists do it, maybe talk to professional muralists one-on-one about tips or just watch the process right before my eyes.
Luckily for me, I had all of that in the form of Pow Wow Hawaii. Artists locally and internationally are invited to bless the walls of Kaka’ako with new murals each year. Granted, almost all of them used spray cans, but there was still plenty for me to absorb. And for everything else, google, am I right? Besides, being around all these professionals also amped me up to get started on my walls!
I read up on the best ways to secure the edges with blue tape and craft paper. *Note: remember to run a spatula along the edge of the tape to seal it and prevent paint from leaking underneath.
I borrowed drop cloth and a ladder from the guys at Redmont.
Luke and Lauren brought me to City Mill so that we could pick up the right paint.
The first order of business was to get the sketch up onto the walls. Freehand was out of the question and gridding would have taken forever. The art itself was forgiving due to it’s organic characteristics, but the logo left very little room for error.
Since the dimensions of the room were not large enough to use the projector that we had, the whole process needed to be executed in piecemeal. Bounding boxes for the type were measured out so that the projected image could perfectly fit into sections. Luke handled it the first day and then I eventually learned to do it by myself. Later, Jasper informed us that there are some new, albeit expensive projectors with a short “throw” for situations like this.
We thought it would be amazing to time lapse the whole project with a DSLR, while simultaneously live casting it on Facebook. Unfortunately, the batteries didn’t last long enough to produce anything good. #UserError. And the Facebook live was just not that exciting considering how slow the process was.
Fortunately I took a few time lapses of work in progress. Here is one during the sketch phase using a projector:
Additionally, there were plenty of mental obstacles to deal with along the way. Every color I chose felt “too dark” and pictures did not reproduce well. From the very first color, I started to doubt myself. There seemed to be about a 30% increase in value, which was probably due to the current lighting situation in the office.
The colors perfectly matched the swatches in the Benjamin Moore booklet, but ambient lighting definitely affected the colors a bit. Why had I not considered that!? Should I abort mission and revisit the palette? Buy a huge bucket of white and lighten the tones towards a pastel color scheme to brighten the room?
I mulled it over and concluded that this was most probably a result of the overwhelming white dominating the wall. As much as you tried to tell your brain to disregard it, it needed adjacent colors to quiet the contrasts. Besides, the iPhone camera could not properly balance the white in the frame so everything was just looking brown. I was convinced it was all an illusion.
After some of the most restless sleep in weeks (I had nightmares about color swatches within an hour of passing out!), I decided to forge ahead with my original plan continuing with the lightest colors. In this way, the image could emerge from the wall as values increased. I’d also have the ability to lighten darker tones if they began to react unexpectedly with the rest of the palette.
After putting on the next few colors, my theories seemed to be verified. Seeing the colors next to each other created a completely different effect. No more “brown!”
This continued on for the next 4 colors or so, until I reached the dark navy. When I put it on the wall, something in me just sank and I felt like I had royally f*d up. Up until then, every color just perfectly complemented each other. In fact, it was a bit difficult to decide which was our favorite color/color combination because it was working out so well. But this particular navy blue didn’t match the family of values already painted. Maybe it was because I skipped 2 darker values in the sequence. Or maybe I just needed to see it scattered throughout the mural, not isolated to one side.
Again, I pushed forward and trusted in my preparations and prior calculations. Thankfully! As I added the last few colors, it just started to create that depth I was looking for.
Although the colors in combination worked as planned, I was still worried about the lines and logo getting lost if black was painted at the end. The shade of black was too similar to the navy blue and the overall average values on the wall would have been too heavy and ominous.
Also, the ambient dim lighting pushed the shades into a darker key than I desired. This was the only premonition that stuck with me throughout the process and consequently, I resolved to trust it. Rather than risking ruining the mural by adding the black, I decided to leave the white areas alone. Fortunately, there was some extra white paint left over for me to address a few touchups, smudges, drips and overpainting.
The last alteration involved changing the logo to my own personal one, instead of “No Wrong Turns.” As fitting as the brand was in this journey, I didn’t want the mural to be confused for a joint effort with Carmela.
I definitely learned a lot from this project:
-Try to trust in your groundwork. Those decisions were not whimsical or ill advised. That being said, if the feelings continue to nag you, then by all means, go with your gut feeling.
-Delegate! See if you can get help from friends on more trivial tasks like filling shapes. With more hands on deck, I could have easily cut the time in half at least. This was also a detail I seemed to neglect when observing PW artists execution times—nearly all of them had help in some way.
-Price it by square footage, not by hourly. An hourly rate can be a bit deceiving. Not only may you get the estimates wrong, as I grossly did in this case, but you also won’t penalize yourself for “working too quickly.” It’s a great way to prevent scope creep on both parties.
-Tier your price points based on complexity and painting conditions. Make sure to increase the rate if weather or wall surface will affect the workflow. You can always tailor the image complexity to the sketches as well.
-Learn to make the tools work for you. As my photoshop teacher at Parsons always said, “If it’s taking too long, you’re doing it wrong.” Filbert brushes were amazing for fills. Stiff, indoor house paint brushes with a slanted tip were great for applying much thicker layers of paint compared to art brushes, which fell apart too quickly. Special thanks to Jeff for all his advice along the way.
-Use premium eggshell indoor house paint instead of artists acrylics to save money. In this case, they came out to about $16/quart with the premium bases, which dry quicker. They also have different “base” levels to choose from before adding the dyes. I’m not sure if this is strictly proprietary to Benjamin Moore, but I’d be surprised if it was drastically different across other brands. If you can, try to stick to bases 1 through 3. Bases 4 and 5 have so much dye in it that it actually applies much thinner. It seems counterintuitive because you would think that darker colors are more opaque, but they’re not—especially when the wall starts off as white.
-Try to use small sections of dark eggshell paint sparingly in your design. They are very deep when applied to the wall and can have a nice velvety look to it if it is applied evenly, but it can definitely overwhelm the mood of the room if overdone.
-If you can, be mindful of the stroke direction and complexity you have in different parts of the composition. This is not a deal breaker but definitely something I noticed after a while. Since I had plenty of detail throughout the whole mural, I was forced into side planks and other awkward positions for extended periods of time. Overdoing detail by the edges isn’t as easy to render as isolated linework in the center of the wall at normal standing height. It just may take longer than you expected.
-“Spending a little extra time in the beginning can save a lot of time in the end.” Lauren said this to Eames after he asked why I was taking so long to tape the edges. It seems like a no-brainer but this is such a great point in general. All that hard work researching and preparing the wall really paid off—many were surprised to find out it was my first mural considering my meticulousness.
-Have your concept explanation down pat. I felt like such a hack when people asked about the meaning and I fumbled with my words.
-Try and have some stickers/promotional cards printed for distribution so that people have a way of following your work.
-Don’t be afraid to talk to professionals and mentors! Don’t try and be a hero and figure it all out by yourself if others can help you save time by sharing their experiences.
Stay tuned for final mural panorama and photos from the mural unveiling party.
*A special thank you goes out to Lauren, who did an awesome job snapping photos. Without her, there would be a lot of missing pieces in the work in progress storyline.
A strange phenomenon developed around my art ever since I graduated in 2004. I never felt like I had anything to “say.” For whatever reason, I started to put this unnecessary pressure on myself to be profoundly meaningful or political, at the very least ground breaking. It is somewhat similar to the intimidation stemming from the preciousness of a blank canvas or a new sketchbook. I wanted my art to be conceptually and technically sound in order to resonate beyond pretty colors and shapes. But if this was the cause for stifled creativity, then what was the point, right?
I needed to just get started. No rules, topic be damned…anything.
Everywhere I look, all I see is mash-ups. From people to music, religions and cultures, the lines are blurring all the time. And I love it! But some of those topics can get touchy for some so let’s stick to something everyone can relate to: food. Fusion restaurants, doughnut croissants, taco burritos, and ramen burgers. Whether you like it or not, the trend is only going up and there’s nothing you can do about it.
This is also super apparent in music. I’ve always loved the idea of sampling, layering, patterns and movement because there is a direct correlation between music and my art.
DJ Neil Armstrong is one of my all-time favorite DJs for his effortless weaving of soundbites from comedy hours to movies, original samples and new tunes. Anything is fair game so long as it made for a good mix.
What does this all have to do with my art?
How could I seamlessly marry all my different interests and have them coexist in my very own visual mix?
At the beginning of this year, I decided to make a game for myself utilizing artificial encumbrances to my advantage. Each week, I would review my photos and use them as reference in creating a unique drawing. The goal was to have 52 illustrations by the end of the year akin to a visual diary. My art would stay current to our present location and activities, and my photos would be saved from hard drive purgatory.
I originally started to sketch in my black book with a pencil, but quickly realized that the iPad would be more flexible. Each individual drawing could be added to my archive for future use in new compositions.
The result was a bit reminiscent of a surreal coloring book. And this format allowed for fresh, new content each week with the ability to backtrack once I was all caught up—whenever that would be.
One of the elements I ended up drawing in my very first compositions in Chile was french fries, but used out of context simply as a texture. And that really got me thinking. Although it would be more ideal to draw from life, I already had a growing pile of photos from all of our travels. Plus, those would be unique to our own perspective, which would inherently keep all aspects of the process my own. Maybe I could sample shapes out of context the way Neil did with his mixes. The abstractions are infinite and the combinations are endless. It was up to me to orchestrate a new visual song with a nod to our journeys.
In parallel to this inner strife (which has really been going on since junior year college), I was asked if I would be interested in creating a mural for our favorite co-working space in Honolulu! Sounds like a perfect opportunity to put this new practice to use in an actual commissioned piece!
Going through my Hawaiian travel photos brought back some amazing memories from otherworldly hikes to gluttonous plate lunches. Actually, there were tons of food pics so I naturally started to latch onto that topic. I combed through the pictures whilst salivating uncontrollably. Rendering a still life felt a bit tired and stale. Instead, I sampled select details, building it slowly until the drawing grew to fill the frame. The goal was to react to the art, freestyle a narrative and get lost in the process.
Certain moments worked out really well, but as with some improvisations, it’s not always one hundred. The drawings were fine, but the composition, not so much. Plus, I had run out of places to draw but had plenty of photos left to sift through.
This is why I love the iPad and ProCreate. With the ability to resize, reposition and rearrange each element placed on separate layers, I was able to fully redesign the piece with infinite flexibility. The elements were constant but could be edited and reedited into completely different remixes.
Almost unexpectedly, there developed a debilitating bi-product of impermanence throughout the workflow. With so many options, it was easy to second guess every step of the process. I needed to quash my deliberation, trust in my decisions and respond to what the art wanted to do.
After getting the illustration to about 80% completion, it was time to start testing value and color. I definitely wanted to:
Have an area with subtle elements. I am always fascinated with how masters would include detailed foreground figures in shadow off to the edge of the frame, without neglecting any of the faint contrasts.
Explore depth through playful undulation in the third dimension, with a foreground, middle ground and background.
Give the feeling of space and vastness beyond the drawing. I’ve always loved how Inka Essenhigh achieved this in some of her earlier resin paintings a few decades ago.
Use a palette evocative of a quintessential Hawaiian beach: turquoise for white sand shallow shores, darker blues for deeper waters, greens for seaweed, a sort of beige to represent sand, and some warmth for the coral.
The final step was to create some photoshop mockups and hone in on the right crop.
Luke and Lauren also requested to have “KouWork” included so long as it didn’t ruin the art; if it didn’t work, then I was told not to force it. With so much space in the z-axis, there was room to have their logo interweave with my drawing. I worked out a solution, ran it by L&L and they loved it even more than the drawing alone. Let’s get this thing started!
The last virtual hurdle presented itself once it came time to choose the color swatches from Benjamin Moore’s sample books. There was an option to print the file and have them color match exactly. But, I wanted to tweak some things like the contrast, saturation and mood. The mockup felt a bit psychedelic and some of the color contrasts were slightly overdone. I quieted the value of the highlights and added saturation to make it more vibrant.
I learned so much about how a piece evolves from concept to reality. In the next post, learn more about the rollercoaster of emotions I experienced and how it all went down.
If you’re in Hawaii, come see the finished product over at KouWork. We will be having a pau hana from 5-7pm.
Lately, we haven’t been buying each other any gifts. Instead, we save it for shared travel (#BuyExperiencesNotThings). This time though, I decided to do a quick portrait of us at the beach where it all first started: Waimea!
If you would like to get her a gift, please consider donating to her fundraiser. Mahalo!
Muscleada: A play on “Malasada” (Portuguese donut). There was a vendor on the Big Island with a nice physique and a muscle shirt on, almost taunting customers what they would be sacrificing should they buy into the empty calories he was selling. Carmela thought it would be funny if his stand was called “Muscleada”
Kanak Attack: The feeling of intense laziness that one gets from eating too much. Also known as, “food coma” or “the itis”
Mele Kalikimaka: “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian. Carmela loves Christmas. It’s her favorite holiday of the year. While it was great to experience an unusually warm Christmas in paradise, we really missed being near our family, and, of course, having our own tree. So I made one.
One of the most unexpected surprises out here in Hawaii is that the slaps game is on point. No, I’m not talking about an underground fight scene, but sticker culture. Every store seems to shop out their own stickers, from surf companies to convenience stores and vape shops. Sometimes, I would even go into a store simply to seek out what type of sticker art they were working with.
I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. (Maybe it was the same on the mainland and I just hadn’t noticed?) A part of me didn’t care to unravel the mystery because the inner child in me welcomed the wave of nostalgia.
Apparently, when my aunt offered me anything for my (hopefully <7 year old) birthday, all I ever wanted was Bazooka Joe and stickers. I know. I was a weird kid. Around the same time, video game consoles and arcades like Razzmatazz would have my cousin and I plotting to one day own a laundromat for the quarters. You know, so we could play at the arcade “FORRREEEEVER.”
The point is that I wanted in. What better way to commemorate my time in Hawaii than to design my very own “Hawaiian Sticker Pack”? The plan was to have them printed and ready to hand out during Pow Wow Hawaii 2016 but progress was moving too slowly. Most of the ideas were only half finished, safely tucked in my sketchbook, which was gradually getting less love as time passed. I needed something portable, immediate, responsive and fresh. Enter the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil.
I seriously can’t stress enough how much I love this new combo! Although the final designs were finished in Adobe Illustrator, the majority of the legwork was handled on the iPad.
Interested in buying a sticker pack? Shoot me a message.
Printing and packaging was done by a company out in Oregon called Rockin Stickers.
For those of you just interested in pictures, here is a recent portrait I did of Madlib, aka Lord Quas, aka Quasimoto.
The main references I used to create it were:
Screenshots from “Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton”: an amazing documentary about Stones Throw Record label, which is available on Netflix. Go watch it if you haven’t already.
Quasimoto’s “Low Class Conspiracy” (Official Video)
“Baby costume animal head” search in google (ha!)
When I was in college, I would spend entirely too much of my money on CDs. Obtaining new music was more important than eating in certain cases—a rice cooker and some canned tuna goes a long way for an art student. Napster and Kazaa were absolutely essential tools for building libraries and exploring new artists. But, there was nothing more exciting than heading down to Other Music, Joe’s CDs, Discorama, Virgin Megastore, Kim’s Video or Fat Beats and actually purchasing physical CDs with the booklets.
Sometimes, I would impulse buy 5 or more at a time, but like De La Soul said, “3” was indeed the magic number. Any more, and I ran the chance of glazing over heaters, overwhelmed with too many options. It was a truly addicting experience. Making a random purchase solely by the looks of the cover or the blurb written up by one of the staff eventually graduated to “who produced it?” and “what label is it on?”
Don’t get me wrong. [I feel like] I was a wannabe, a toy, a frontrunner. I can’t recall album release dates at whim. And my knowledge of how genres connected or what break original samples came from was pretty sad, maybe even blasphemous. But I was a fan, nonetheless. And I was hooked. I was a beachcomber on the sands of sound searching for audible treats to feed my soul.
Madlib was one of those rare finds that really called out to me ‘in the year 2000’ like Conan and Andy. More specifically, it was his alter ego, Quasimoto. There was something really intriguing about creating art under an alias, allowing the artist to venture off into unfamiliar territory. I was obsessed.
Then, the following year (yes, I had to google all of this to refresh my memory) he played instruments as various musicians in a fictional quintet! Say what now?! Yes, he pretended to be multiple members of a jazz group called Yesterday’s New Quintet. I loved it. Conceptually, it was off the wall, and it led to a groundbreaking album.
I wanted to have an alias for each of my art styles too. I even went as far as creating a super complicated, user-unfriendly flash based soundboard to introduce the gang. Thankfully, I never finished this side project. I don’t even remember who was supposed to be The Photographer or The Painter (probably “Layerboy”, if I had to guess).
Horrible, I know. But it’s funny to look back on the randomness of my past. Maybe, I will get around to slowly resurrecting these fictional characters in the future.
Lastly, I couldn’t leave you without your own Planar Surface Mad Lib to play:
Open a new email doc or click here and type out the following:
Aloha! Thanks to everyone who took the time to drop me a message. It was super helpful to get feedback and opinions about something I’m so passionate about. Please see below for the final results of my poll and video of the self portrait time lapse.
The traditional approach won, hands down (realistic: 51, abstract: 13, both: 3). In the end, I totally agreed with the general consensus: though the abstract piece might have stood out aesthetically, I thought that for this particular contest, a more conservative and traditional style was more appropriate.
I never thought I would say it, but Carmela and I decided to go streaking in Hawaii! No, not in the Old School kind of way “through the quad and into the gymnasium.” We decided to test our mental fortitude and physical endurance with a daily running challenge.
Although we’ve managed to stay relatively active with hikes and races throughout the islands, ever since our homie J.Diaz returned to the mainland, our priorities shifted towards “living” in paradise. It was time to buckle down and get some work done. Building a routine and finding healthier places to eat were essential in creating a sustainable lifestyle beyond the postcards and Adam Richman style chow-downs.
After the high vibrating state achieved at Wanderlust Oahu 2016, Carmela and I were eager to continue nourishing positive ions with resources readily available to us. Within a week, we signed up for a heavily discounted monthly membership to Core Power Yoga (thanks, Groupon!) and a monthly membership to Volcanic Rock Gym in Kailua. As if that wasn’t enough, Carmela proposed the most intimidating suggestion since signing up for our first half marathon in Brooklyn in 2013: “Can we run every day for thirty days straight, at least 1 mile a day?”
This was going to be our No Wrong Turns edition of “30 for 30”!
Shameless plug: *If you haven’t already, please consider donating to my Team for Kids fundraiser so that I can join Carmela at the New York City Marathon this November. I’m almost a third towards my goal of $2620
Sure, Hal Higdon’s novice marathon training is one of the toughest programs we’ve ever experienced. But each of the 18 weeks has at least two days of rest built into the schedule. Will our bodies be able to recover fast enough even if it was only one mile (minimum) a day? This new goal seemed just hard enough that we had to try it.
The first week was grueling. Living in Pacific Heights, we failed to realize one crucial detail— the majority of our runs would be the dreaded triple-H of running: hot, humid and hilly. Slowly, we started to adjust runs from mid afternoon to dusk. After eventually adapting to the weather (or escaping it, rather), we came across our second roadblock:
How could we make the most of our dual memberships?
Unfortunately, the only way around this was to push through 2-a-days to get our money’s worth. We felt like wannabe UFC fighters, minus the fighting. Luckily, yoga kept our muscles loose while climbing provided the strength to work through it.
Tip: Charity Miles is a great way to raise a bit of money while you run
Challenging doesn’t even begin to do it any justice. Some nights we had to run in the rain up and down the driveway just to stay safe off the roads with no sidewalks. Other times, we were forced to run less than 12 hours spaced between them. Did we ever feel like giving up? All the time. Did I ever scheme to ride in a car at 5 miles per hour to cheat our way out of a session by tricking GPS? No comment. No matter what, we stuck with it. And to our surprise, we were rewarded with a few PRs along the way.
Eventually it became a healthy routine addiction and a welcome distraction from the grind of productivity. It was our time to purge our thoughts and zen out in this special place. We loved it so much that 30 for 30 turned into Hawaii 5-0!
Why? Soon after finishing our 30 days, we unfortunately had to return the car that our uncle so generously loaned us. This was the perfect excuse to earn our eats by running to restaurants and walking off the food on our way back home.
It’s tempting to keep the streak going but I think it’s time for a new challenge. Muscle confusion at it’s finest.
Have you ever done a daily running challenge, running streak or any other test of will? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
It has been a long time since I’ve updated my online portfolio. Last I checked, it has managed to go unchanged for a solid 7 years. When you work fifty plus hours a week, commute more than 2 hours a day, and still reserve time to keep your physical health in check, it’s really hard to squeeze more activities into your day — no matter how interested you are. Physically, it’s just too taxing.
Drawing fellow commuters — something I’ve always loved to do since the ferry days of Staten Island — became a hassle. Public transportation was no longer my source of inspiration, but simply a time to catch up on sleep. It would be all too easy to pin it on my job as a photo retoucher (or any number of interests that I’ve allowed to distract me). But when I look long and hard at what has been hampering my personal art, I cannot look any further than myself to blame.
With very little left in the tank, showcasing my work became more of a pipe dream, with no realistic strategy in sight. A solo show here and a group show there is just not enough when they are spaced years apart. Everyone always says, “Do it while you’re young.” And then when you get old, it becomes, “It’s never too late.” “You’ll understand when you’re older,” is particularly useful for when you cannot impart wisdom regarding the transition. As for me? I like to subscribe to “It will happen when the time’s right.”
I was reminded of this during a speakeasy at Wanderlust Oahu 2016 this past February. Anthony Chavez asked the audience of his lecture, The Anatomy of Results, to quantify, by percentage, the three components of achieving success: intention (wish or goal), state (energetic and/or emotional), and action (i.e. if equally important, that would be 33.33% each). Most people, through their own personal experience, agree that action makes it happen. But actually, the crucial element is state. The action doesn’t change but is directly affected by how you show up to the task at hand.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
“If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.” – Bob Marley
This site is dedicated to my journey towards sharpening my axe so that I may one day cut down that proverbial big tree and carve my name into it.