Rara Avis

Rara Avis in Latin means “rare bird”. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, it is defined as “a rare or unique person or thing.”

I believe this phrase, which in itself is rarely used, represents my point of view and my art.

Rare — My art and films are about the rare, ephemeral and fleeting. That which cannot be easily seen or witnessed, but holds value nonetheless. My first film STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE tells the story of a rare Hawaiian bird, the Palila. About 1,500 exist in the wild, a single flock lives on the highest mountain in the world in the most remote archipelago in the world. The fact the Palila is critically endangered and difficult to see should make it of greater interest, but alas it is only true for birders, enthusiasts who spend vast amounts of time and money to see the rarest of the rare. Bird people, I’ve discovered, are a unique breed; they more than any other keep “life lists” to track the species they’ve seen, and value which is most rare without killing it or attempting to own it.

Bird – I love birds. If I were to pick an animal that best represents me, I would say a bird. A tiny, fast-moving forest dweller since I imagine myself living in a great big old tree. Like the Italo Calvino book “The Baron in the Trees” it tells a story of a boy “who climbs up a tree to spend the rest of his life inhabiting an arboreal kingdom and never touch the earth.” An artist friend once said I was like a bird. She wrote:

“Because you love birds and because you remind me to pause. to listen . to breathe, to look. to be patient. it is no surprise your love of birds and their lightness of being.”

I feel that is true, their very lightness and being unbound to the Earth is much like my wanderlust spirit and energy. I move quickly, I don’t stay in one place very long, and need my freedom, independence and open air to feel like I am home. I also like to sing, so perhaps I would be some kind of shy songbird that likes basking in the sunshine and in a moment flits away to find food.

Rara Avis – This is the quality of what my work aims to achieve, to find a dirty nugget of gold, raw uncut gemstone, and seeing its exquisite, unique glow beneath a banal rock-face. Like a Zen garden, my drawings, videos and sculptures engage the viewer to look closely and see the beauty in the simple and ordinary. HOUSE OF GLASS, a video installation, captures the unseen hands that enable a tropical garden to flourish in a wintery Northern Irish landscape. During my art residency, I became enamored with this forest growing inside a 200 year old Victorian greenhouse. I befriended the caretaker, a shy fellow named Derek, who exclusively planted and tended to t tropical palms, flowers and ferns. At dusk, I projected video of the balmy humid interior of the greenhouse onto its ancient, mildewed facade in midwinter and invited locals to rediscover this hidden paradise in their city.

In this amazing world we live in, I see much beauty and love. We in Hawaii are lucky to live in a place many consider “Paradise on Earth.” Yet I see a cycle of extinction here that continues to today, of a culture that diminishes the value of that which is less showy and “useful”. That which disinherits the Earth as being part of us, yet we are OF the earth in ways that are obvious to native Hawaiians. Through my work, I try to shine a light on that which is forgotten yet vitally important in its subdued quiet special “thingness”.

I do not think of myself as being “Rara Avis”. “Rara Avis” means to ask “What makes every person or thing unique and rare? What is your unique perspective and story?”

From the Source: Hawaiʻi Christmas Bird Count

Volunteers in Team ‘Elepaio get briefed by Alex Wang at Pu’u Maka’ala NAR to help with the annual Christmas Bird Count. Photo by Anya Tagawa

On Christmas Day in 1900, American ornithologist Frank M. Chapman suggested a Christmas Bird Census to count birds instead of hunting them over the holidays. Over a hundred years later, amateur birders continue the tradition. To learn about the Christmas Bird Count in Hawai’i, I interviewed Alex Wang, Endangered Forest Bird Field Supervisor for the Hawai’i Department of Forestry & Wildlife, Natural Area Reserve System.

Why do people participate in the Christmas Bird Count?

It’s a chance to get people out together to count birds in the form of citizen science, to see all the birds in their neighborhood and to encourage others to join in the fun. The Christmas Bird Count began as a protest to replace the then popular past-time of the “Christmas Side-Hunt,” a competition to see who could shoot the most birds. Thankfully, that tradition has been eclipsed by the non-lethal method of watching the birds.

Alex shows off telemetry equipment, a “bird radar” to locate birds. Photo by Anya Tagawa.

How did you become interested in Hawaiian birds?

I was always interested in environmental studies and conservation, but it wasn’t until my junior year in college that I took ‘Natural History of Birds’ as a summer class. It really struck a chord with me. As opposed to most of my biology classes held in stuffy classrooms, we actually got to spend time outside exploring, learning about birds by song and behavior. From there, I was hooked! After working a variety of seasonal bird jobs on the mainland to gain experience, it was an easy choice to focus on Hawaiian birds where the conservation need is so great.

Tell us about the Christmas Bird Count on the Big Island you conducted recently.

On Saturday, December 17, my NARS colleagues and I led a group of 22 volunteers into the North Kulani section of Pu’u Maka’ala NAR. We lucked out with beautiful clear skies even though a storm had been forecast for the night before. We had two stops, one in the former prison pasture where we looked for Nene and I’o before continuing on to the native forest. We divided into three groups and scoured the area for the endangered forest birds. While Akiapola’au eluded us, one group observed rival ‘Akepa get into a scuffle. Another group got close looks at a pair of Alawi (Hawaii Creeper). As opposed to a strictly standard Christmas Bird Count, we did more than just search for birds! We also out planted 50 keiki (seedlings) of the endangered lobelia, Cyanea shipmanii. We also made ‘Elepaio ornaments designed by Anya Tagawa, shared a potluck lunch, and played Bird Jeopardy.

Looking and listening for birds. Photo by Anya Tagawa.

Why is it important to count all birds in Hawai’i, even if common birds are non-native?

Most of the native forest birds live in high-elevation refuges, safe from disease-carrying mosquitoes that are restricted to low elevations. Because of that, most scientific bird surveys in Hawaii census only high-elevation habitat. But the Christmas Bird Counts which occur in populated, lowland areas may be all the more important in Hawai’i because of that. There are actually a number of native migrant shorebird and waterfowl species such as the Kolea and Koloa that occur in lowland areas. The Christmas Bird Count can measure these species as well as serve as an indicator of non-native species. Even though birds may be introduced or even invasive, it is good to have some monitoring of common species as they can alert us to major changes in the habitat or climate.

How does citizen science like the Christmas Bird Count impact the work you do?

The beauty of the Christmas Bird Count is that because it is fueled by citizen science, there is much greater effort and high-resolution coverage than any other organized survey. While the Christmas Bird Count may not have as rigorous of a scientific protocol as formal surveys, the amount of observers and bird sightings recorded vastly dwarfs all others on a national level. This can alert scientists to subtle, large-scale changes that occur across a landscape. In my opinion, the best contribution is an indirect one. It’s the awareness generated about our local and native birds within the community that one gets from an event like this. Without the public’s support, it is very difficult to sustain funding for conservation. The best way to garner support is by creating awareness of the problems our native Hawaiian birds face. This is especially true in Hawai’i, where there is a disconnect to native birds because most of them live up in the mountains and most of the people live in lowland areas.

Volunteers plant a native lobelia that will one day be a food source for native birds. Photo by Anya Tagawa.

Can folks still participate in the Hawai’i Christmas Bird Count?

Yes! There will be another count on Maui on January 3rd and one in Hilo on January 5th. Details are here.

To get involved in citizen science opportunities, visit Hawai’i Audubon’s website: www.hawaiiaudubon.org/citizen-science

Inspired by: Photographer John Johnson

sweetdreams-johnjohnsonHawaiian Monk Seal. Photo by John Johnson.

This month, I wanted to highlight work that inspired several drawings of Ocean Life in my 2017 Native Hawaii Calendar. John Johnson is a local Oʻahu-based photographer who specializes in the art of freedive photography. Check out more of his incredible work at his website One Breath Photo.

First off, can you share with us what is freedive photography?

Freediving is the practice of diving without tanks – diving on only a single breath of air. Although I’ve been long-certified in SCUBA, I am a firm believer in the simplicity, beauty, and skill of freediving. I was introduced to freediving by way of spearfishing. Through spearfishing I learned to identify, understand, and appreciate the animals of the ocean and their behaviors.

How and when did you start photographing ocean species?

I started shooting in 1999 on my birthday. I was spearfishing and happened to have an Olympus 2020 in a housing that I picked up while working in Japan. As time went on I used the camera more than the spear (I was much better at it than the other) and kept buying more and more equipment.

img_7883-smallHumpback Whale. Photo by John Johnson.

What inspires you as a photographer?

The ocean. The boundless wonder and beauty and mystery.

What is so unique about Hawaiian species?

A quarter of our species are endemic, meaning they are found only here and didn’t migrate in ballast water or aquarium tanks like the rest of the critters found here. 

What is your favorite animal to photograph and why?

Favorite animal is probably the manatee. I have photographed hundreds of species, but the manatee is hands-down my favorite. Whales are cool and whale sharks are neat, but a chunky manatee just can’t be beat.

322485_10150660671926468_427278713_oManatee. Photo by John Johnson.

Can you share a funny or harrowing story trying to capture a photo?

My last encounter with manatees in Florida was in the worst possible conditions. The weather was too warm. There were tons of boats blocking the entrance to the springs. By all accounts it was going to be a horrible day. I slipped off my kayak a hundred yards before the human zoo and was surprised to see manatees around me. One large female bumped into my side, demanding stomach rubs. I put down the video camera and rubbed while holding the camera in the other hand. I then felt a bump on the right. A big male was demanding attention. I put down the camera and gave a rub to the right. Then I heard squeaking as two baby manatees came right up to me, one gumming my flipper and the other tickling my knee. Not bad for horrible conditions!

10478373_10204787412710662_4344089390810918529_oJohn taking a photo of a Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. Photo by Tommy Tsumoto.

Thank you for sharing your inspiring work, John! John Johnson sells his photographs at local art and craft fairs, but you can also purchase his prints and products in his online shop.

How to Start an Art Collection

‘Alae ‘Ula print by Laurie Sumiye at the #MigratetoMudhen silent auction. Photo by Laurie Sumiye.

This topic is probably too big to cover in a short blog post, but it’s meant to help people get over that first hurdle of buying an original piece of art. The biggest reason most don’t buy art is because they can’t imagine paying hundreds, much less thousands of dollars for art.

How do I get over that enormous pricetag? I’m not wealthy!

Switch your mindset in thinking of art as something which fills up blank walls, but rather curating objects that create a harmonious living space, express a personal style, and represent what you value in life.

Remember, art is one of few things you can buy that appreciates over time. The fancy dinner you enjoyed at the hip Michelin-starred restaurant you splurged on for your birthday costs more than a starter piece of art. Art can increase tenfold in value and last for years if cared for properly. Collecting Art is an Investment.

Just as one’s music or book collection reflects one’s personal tastes, art literally is a visual representation of your identity; career, hobbies, interests and obsessions. You could buy a mass-produced art poster at a chain store OR you can enjoy a one-of-a-kind piece that no one else has in their home, sharing with others the story of how you acquired this piece. Collecting Art Reflects Your Unique Personality and Experience.

You might already source organic produce from your local farmer’s market, invest in high-quality furniture and clothing rather than cheap throwaways, and support small, local businesses. Collecting art directly falls into this notion of sustainability. By directly supporting artists and small art businesses, you pay a little more for handmade and reject the corporate machine. Collecting Art Represents Your Social and Cultural Values.

OK, You’ve convinced me to spend my hard-earned money on art. Where do I find a good starter piece of art to buy?

Go to art gallery openings and art fairs. Don’t be afraid to mingle with the guests. In conversation, you’ll meet other artists and art aficionados who are more than happy to share their thoughts. If you want to try shopping for art online, Zatista, 20×200, and Vango sells affordable original art by professional artists that are easy on the eyes and wallet. For high-quality reproductions, I like Minted.com.

How do I know it’s good art?

Like anything else, the more you do it the better you’ll get. Most people like art that exhibits virtuosity (an ability to photorealistically render something recognizable) because it requires skill, but I would challenge newbies to look beyond surface criteria. Most art is really bad because it doesn’t say anything. It would take a whole post explain this sentiment, but it is not “eye of the beholder” and a subjective opinion on what make a piece of art good or a masterpiece. There is a measurable difference. A good rule of thumb is, “Does it move me? Is it memorable?”

How do I get better at identifying good art?

If you want to cultivate your “eye” and learn more about art, visit art museums and read art blogs like Artsy, Hyperallergic, and ArtFCity.

How do I decide what do buy?

Buy art that makes you feel good, makes you think, and can be savored and enjoyed for the long haul. Try not to pick art based on whether it matces the pillows in your living room, it will likely last longer than current home decor trends.

I don’t make a lot of money, can I still invest in art?

Yes! You can start your collection with good quality art in the $125-$300 range with small sculpture, photographs, prints and works on paper. Herb and Dorthy Vogel famously amassed a multimillion dollar art collection with only a modest income by investing in young, emerging artists.

What is the difference between an original print and reproduction print (other than cost)?

An original print usually has a limited run, and therefore has a finite number of prints in circulation and has a signature by the artist. A reproduction can be printed in unlimited numbers. If you wish to purchase a piece with the intent that it will appreciate, you should purchase a signed, limited-edition print.

Hope that helps you get started! If you have specific questions about buying your first piece of art, email me at laurie [at] lauriesumiye.com.

Meet the Movers: Marjorie Ziegler

Marjorie Ziegler in the Members’ Assembly. Photo courtesy Marjorie Ziegler.

Marjorie Ziegler, through the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i (CCH), worked in a coalition from Hawai‘i for the past 5 years to bring the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress to Hawai‘i. After Honolulu was selected as the location, she worked with many others to help ensure a successful congress. CCH joined the IUCN as a full voting member in 2015 and Marjorie voted on several key motions at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress that will impact local and international conservation efforts.

How did you represent Hawaii’s delegation?

There is no formal “Hawai‘i delegation.” Each Hawai‘i member is independent, and no member represents all of the Hawai‘i members. There are 8 full voting members from Hawai‘i and 6 non-voting members. The Conservation Council for Hawai‘i’s IUCN delegation included CCH president Julie Leialoha, CCH member Lorraine Garnier, and myself. CCH administrator Jonee Peters led a team of 16 volunteers to man our booth in the Exhibition Hall.

Can you tell us what is was like to be in the voting room?

It was exciting and fun. The Members’ Assembly was divided into areas for full voting members and observers. The voting members were provided voting machines, which instantly tallied our votes and categorized them by nongovernment organizations and agencies. We had headphones for the translation of English, Spanish, and French languages. It reminded me of the United Nations General Assembly.

What was accomplished during the week of IUCN 2016?

IUCN full voting members voted on motions, officers, commission chairs, and program and financial plan for 2017-20. Important discussions on policies and points of order took place on the floor of the Members’ Assembly. Consensus was attempted for controversial motions in control groups before and after the Members’ Assembly prior to voting on these motions. Major networking and relationship building was also a major function of the congress, in addition to the exchange of information. People were also inspired at the congress, and perhaps recharged to return to their homes and offices with renewed commitments to saving the world’s wildlife and wild places.

Conservation Council for Hawai‘i’s booth in the Exhibition Hall and representatives from CCH and National Wildlife Federation. Photo by Laurie Sumiye.

The congress provided an excellent opportunity to highlight what Hawai‘i does well in the conservation arena, as well as the challenges we face in an isolated island setting in a warming world. For CCH, the congress and our booth provided an excellent opportunity to meet people, share aloha and make them feel welcome to our island home, share information about CCH’s purpose, and sell products to help support CCH’s conservation work.

What motions were you most excited about?

A motion encouraging the closure of elephant ivory markets globally as a matter of urgency, a motion encouraging the designation and effective implementation of at least 30% of each marine habitat in a network of highly protected marine protected areas, and a motion supporting increased conservation effort for Hawai‘i’s threatened birds, which we introduced on behalf of a dozen or so wildlife organizations.

Please tell us about a few interesting people you met during the Congress.

I met Susumu Inamine, Mayor of Nago, Okinawa, and his staff. They are opposing the construction of a large U.S. Marine Corps Air Station at Henoko Bay proposed by the United States and Japan. Through a translator, we discussed the challenges of opposing a military project in Okinawa and the United States. We shared experiences in doing so and general strategy. I met a woman from Jordan who worked with an organizations to protect tortoises and sea turtles. I was able to share contact information for nongovernment organizations in the United States working on sea turtle protection. I also met people from Hawai‘i I know by email, including artist Calley O’Neil, whose fabulous large tapestry wildlife art was on exhibit at the Forum on the third floor. It was nice to put faces to the names I had known only from social media to that point.

The Rama Exhibition by Calley O’Neill and The Rama Team, Featuring RAMA, the Artist Elephant at the Hawaii Convention Center. Photo by Laurie Sumiye.

What was most inspiring?

I was inspired by the fact that nearly 200 nations are connected to the IUCN and are concerned about wildlife conservation. I was inspired that most of the policy motions were adopted. I loved the art, the sets in the Pavilions, the booths, the resting/networking areas (couches and all!), and the booths. I was pleasantly surprised that CCH’s booth, educational materials, and products were so popular.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Apparently, the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai‘i was the largest congress so far, hosted the most countries – nearly all, if not all 195 or 196 countries depending on whether Taiwan is counted, and was the most action-oriented of all congresses so far. I also think attendees enjoyed the congress and the aloha spirit. We did it, Hawai‘i! Mission accomplished!

If you want to learn more about the motions passed, visit IUCN’s website: https://portals.iucn.org/congress/assembly/motions

A packed hula performance at the Hawai‘i-Pacific Pavilion in the Exhibition Hall. Photo by Laurie Sumiye.

15 Things Artists Should Know About Selling Art

Big Island artist Margo Ray shares about her art practice. In our workgroups, we practiced public speaking skills and presenting our work to an audience.

For a week in July 2016, I was immersed in an invigorating, hotbed of art energy and wisdom at the inaugural Kīpaipai Professional Development Workshop at the Donkey Mill Art Center in Holualoa, Hawaii. Kīpaipai is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘to inspire’, I left with a lifetime of knowledge and a newfound confidence in pursuing a career in art.

A group of respected arts professionals traveled from NY and California to support 10 artists from Hawai’i and Los Angeles. Mahalo to Michael Lyons Wier of Lyons Wier Gallery in NYC; Andrea Schwartz of Andrea Schwartz Gallery in San Francisco; Dr. James Daichendt, Art Historian; Shana Nys Dambrot, Art Writer and Critic; Andi Campognone, Curator of Museum of Art & History, Diane Costigan, Life Coach, Mike O’Connor, Storyteller and Alex Couwenberg, Artist.

My takeaway, in a list of 15 Things Artists Should Know About Selling Art

1) DON’T talk about process or materials to non-artists. Collectors are interested in the WHY. Why did you make this piece? Why should it move me?

2) DO tell a story about your work when giving your elevator pitch to potential collectors and arts professionals.

3) Never approach a curator at their opening to get them to look at your portfolio. You will definitely not hear back from them.

4) Network with friends and associates of curators and art gallery owners, people within their circle. Connect with artists they’ve worked with, those who have common themes and styles.

5) When you submit work to a curator or art dealer, send just ONE compelling image.

6) Set the agenda, and tell people what to think about you and your work. In your wildest dreams, what do you want people to say?

7) Have a concise, up-to-date bio on your website. Don’t include what is “coming up” otherwise you date yourself. Better yet, have a Wikipedia page with accurate biographical information, references and cited sources.

8) To facilitate a great relationship with a gallery, you must establish good communication, trust and have some business sense.

9) Be nice to everyone at a gallery, museum or art fair. You never know who they might be connected to.

10) Set measurable goals within a timeframe (e.g. 20% of my income from art in 1 year, contact 10 galleries in 1 month).

11) A good dealer will market and promote you, as well as invite curators and writers to visit your studio and shows.

12) Know how to do the business and the paperwork.

13) Make Good Art (keynote by Neil Gaiman on the topic). You have to make good art first and foremost. It doesn’t work if you are motivated by money or fame.

14) Document all your transactions with a gallery and make sure you have a contract.

15) Finding a balance between the financial, personal and creative aspects of your artistic life is key.

Making of Le’ahi, an Ancient Vista of O’ahu

Installation view of Le’ahi. Photo by Laurie Sumiye

The idea for this one-of-a-kind piece came from my brother Jason Sumiye, who wanted a decorative built-in screen that separated the upstairs master bedroom loft from the main room at his Moilili penthouse. He saw printed shoji screens at a home expo and originally envisioned a simple design reminiscent of Japanese hanafuda cards.

I discovered several design challenges to creating an artwork for this specific space; the back of the screen is viewable from the living room below, it has floor to ceiling windows which creates dramatic lighting and shadows, and it had to look good “stacked” when the shoji panels are closed. Most critically, the paper is translucent which means the environmental light would change the colors and artwork—from neutral colors and silhouettes in low light, to bright natural sunlight, to a warm lantern-like glow at night.

“Before” view, with Diamond Head obscured by buildings.

From the master bedroom looking east I noticed a striking view of Diamond Head, and wanted to incorporate that into the composition as I always consider site specificity. Over the course of a few months, I met with the shoji screen maker to look at paper and wood samples, took photos of the space and made preliminary sketches of a Hawaiian forest landscape, with abstracted blended perspectives. I eventually refined the concept to an imaginary forest vista of Diamond Head, a layering of history within this existing view.

I looked to Japanese panel and scroll paintings for inspiration. I love their asymmetrical compositions, simple renderings of nature, and use of color.

Antique Japanese panels, from Japanesescreens.com

LE’AHI comes from the shortened name of the mountain as it was called by Hawaiians, before British sailors gave Diamond Head its more common English name. I can only imagine what the native forests looked like centuries ago, a view of Le’ahi without traces of modernity.

Flash drawing in process!

I started by drawing full size sketches in charcoal and then translated the composition to redrawing the artwork in Flash, my digital drawing tool of choice. Then, I fine-tuned color and made line adjustments in Illustrator.

Sketch to finished artwork.

One the design was completed, I collaborated closely with Peter Gommers of Shoji Hawaii, whose team hand-built and installed the custom shoji screens, and Ehukai Woodley, who printed my artwork on a large-format solvent printer.

For all three of us, this was a challenging and exciting endeavor to figure out how to execute this new type of hybrid architectural built-in artwork. Printing on thick laminated rice paper was totally new for Ehukai and I; we did many test prints before we were able to produce a print that met my specifications.




Peter documented the process of making the shoji screens. Photos by Peter Gommers.

Peter installing the screens February 2016.

Jason is very happy with the finished results as he loves native Hawaiian species and art. I feel Le’ahi is a peaceful, mediative functional artwork that compliments a desire for more nature one’s living space. My obsession with picturing the past and the future with the present, combined my favorite subjects to draw–Hawaiian birds and trees–resulted in this mural-like work.

If you look closely, you’ll see a pair of O’ahu elepaio. One is singing in plain sight, the other is hidden in the nook of a tree!

More images of LE’AHI

Inspired By: Photographer Nate Yuen

Yes, this is totally a real place. If this stunning view doesn’t inspire you to get outside and hike, nothing will! Photo by Nate Yuen

This month, I wanted to highlight work that inspired several drawings in my 2016 Native Hawaii calendar. Nate Yuen is an incredible local photographer of native Hawaiian plants and animals from O’ahu. If you look closely on his website HawaiianForest.com you may be able to spot the photos I used as reference!

1) How and when did you start photographing native species?
I always loved to watch nature shows as a child growing up in Hawaii, but knew very little about native Hawaiian plant and animals. It was only at the age of 36 when I quit smoking cigarettes that I took up hiking to lose weight.  After a few months of conditioning, I started hiking with the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club each weekend. I became acquainted with people who were a fountain of knowledge about unique plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The more I learned, the more fascinated I became. I soon started taking photos on hikes. Eighteen years have since elapsed, and I find myself I an amateur hiker/photographer/naturalist.

2) Can you share a funny or harrowing story in an attempt to capture a photo?
I once got lost and had to stay overnight on the Hanalilolilo Trail on Moloka’i taking photos of ohia trees in a mesic forest. I was hiking alone on a trail I had not been on before. It was really overgrown and there were multiple-ribboned transects and unmarked pig trails that criss-crossed the area. I veered-off on some unknown trail leading to god-knows-where. As the sun began to set, in an act of desperation I went off-trail, plowing through uluhe to get back to my jeep. Needless to say it was a bad move. The sun set and I had to bed down for the night. I nested in the uluhe for shelter. I had some li hing mango and granola bars to eat. It was cold, but I had a jacket. The next morning, I climbed a tree to orient myself. I backtracked through the forest, and ran into a trail that lead to my jeep. It was not a fun experience – I am lucky to have found my way out. Some people don’t and are never seen again. 

A super-cool fuzzy variation of orange lehua. Don’t you just want to touch it? Photo by Nate Yuen

3) What is your favorite thing to photograph?
‘Ōhi‘a lehua! The term ʻōhiʻa refers to the tree while lehua refers to the flowers. As the dominant endemic tree in Hawaii’s native forests, ʻōhiʻa lehua has always captivated and inspired me, it is quintessentially Hawaiian.

4) What do you mean by “quintessentially Hawaiian”?
‘Ōhi‘a lehua is found in almost every ecological niche in Hawaii from sea level to 6,000 feet elevation. ‘Ōhi‘a lehua is sacred to the deities of HawaiʻI; Pele, Hiʻiaka, and Laka. The wood was used to make kiʻi, temple carvings, altars, and other ceremonial structures in the heiau. It’s flowers and leaves were made into lei and used in laʻau lapaʻau, traditional herbal medicine. 

A yellow ʻōhiʻa lehua flower, fruit and buds. Photo by Nate Yuen

5) What makes it so interesting to photograph?
I love the beauty of red, orange, and yellow lehua, and every shade in between, and the progression as buds turn into flowers and then to seed. I am still searching for white lehua documented in old Hawaiian language sources, but have yet to be validated by science. The leaves of ʻōhiʻa are equally spectacular from colorful leaf buds and young leaves to mature and aging leaves. I have photographed the 5 species that make up ʻōhiʻa; Metrosideros polymorpha, M. tremuloides, M. rugosa, M. macropus, and M. waialeale. As its species name, polymorpha, implies, ʻōhiʻa can take many forms from twisted moss covered trees in wet montane forests, to tall straight trees in mesic and dry forests, to stunted trees under a foot tall in water-logged bogs. 

6) What is your dream photography project?
To publish a coffee table book about ʻōhiʻa showing the spectacular diversity of the tree and its connection to Hawaiian culture. For the past 15 years, I have hiked throughout the Hawaiian Islands to photograph the different forms of the tree. With the recent discovery of Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death, I feel compelled to share my images now to raise awareness before it’s too late.

7) Any last thoughts or words of advice?
I hope that the Hawaii State Legislature appropriates adequate funding for research to devise ways to fight the deadly disease and to protect ʻōhiʻa lehua for future generations.

Nate in action! Photo by Aaron Miyamoto

Thanks, Nate! Keep up the good work! Check out more of his photographs at: HawaiianForest.com

From the Source: Rapid Ohia Death

Dr. J.B. Friday giving a tour at Hakalau Forest, a native Hawaiian forest with ohia and koa.

This week, I interviewed Dr. J.B. Friday, Extension Forester with the University of Hawaii, who is working on efforts to combat Rapid Ohia Death. At this time, reported cases of Rapid Ohia Death have been contained to Hawai’i Island.

What is Rapid Ohia Death (ROD)?

A new disease caused by a fungus attacking ‘ohia trees. Different strains of the fungus, Ceratocystis fimbriata, cause disease on plants worldwide. The strain attacking ohia is genetically distinct and new to science. The fungus grows in the sapwood of infected trees, so moving firewood can spread ROD, as well as ohia seedlings, chips, mulch, and soil from infected forests.
Cross section of an infected ʻōhiʻa showing the characteristic dark staining of sapwood caused by Ceratocystis. From RapidOhiaDeath.org

Why should we be worried?

Ecologically, ohia is the most important tree of the native Hawaiian forest. Ohia is more common than all of the other tree species, like koa and iliahi, put together.

What makes ohia special to Hawaii?

Ohia can thrive at sea level, as it does in coastal forests in the Puna district on the Big Island, on the high, dry slopes of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Haleakala, in the wet forests of Kokee on Kauai where it rains up to 30 feet a year, and on the dry leeward Kona districts where it gets only ten inches a year. We hope that in all this genetic diversity there are genes with resistance to Rapid Ohia Death.

What is being done to prevent the spread of Rapid Ohia Death?

Because the disease is most likely being spread by people, we are working with forest industry, nurseries, and the public to educate people to not move infected ohia and to clean tools used to cut infected ohia. Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture placed a quarantine on the Big Island so it is illegal to transport any form of ohia – wood, firewood, posts, leaves and flowers – to neighbor islands without inspection and a permit. We are also working on methods to treat ohia lumber and flooring products.

How is the disease impacting the forest and animals that live there?

Sadly, when ohia trees die in lower elevation forests they are replaced by alien species such as strawberry guava, Melastoma, Coster’s curse, and maile pilau. If we lose the native ohia forest, we lose most of the native plant, bird, and insect species that go with it.

What can I do to help the spread of ROD?

1) Don’t move ohia wood and live plants.
2) Clean your tools, shoes and gear with 70% rubbing alcohol or 10% bleach.
3) Wash your vehicle if you’ve been near areas with ROD or traveled off-road.

The only way the disease moves is if people carelessly spread it. So far it has only been found on the Big Island.

To learn more, visit RapidOhiaDeath.org

Watch this video and spread the word!!

Making of 2016 Native Hawai’i Calendar

koki'o keo keo (Hibiscus arnottianus)
The source image for the cover of the calendar.

My idea to do Native Hawaiian Flowers was inspired by a trip with my cousin to the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden where I took this photo of a koki’o keo keo (Hibiscus arnottianus), a Hawaiian plant I saw for the first time at The Kew Gardens in London. Something about seeing a flower-less hibiscus plant growing in a greenhouse in the middle of winter, thousands of miles away from it’s native land made me a wee bit homesick. When I saw the koki’o keokeo again in South Kona blooming and basking in the sunshine, I felt warmly relieved as it represented my feelings of connection to Hawai’i.

Often people ask how I make my drawings and I don’t really think I’ve given a good answer. It grew out of my animation obsession, specifically in Adobe Flash. I learned an animation technique called rotoscoping from Kalika Kharkar Sharma at Pratt, which involves loosely tracing a video image. Popularly seen in movies like Waking Life and a remake of Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’, rotoscoping takes on the quality of the artist’s hand. It’s painstaking work since typically 24 frames equal one second of animation, and each frame can be as detailed as a Disney cell-drawn frame.


I simplify the image down to its essence. Perhaps it’s from my sumi-e training or designing too many logos, I enjoy the challenge of distilling an image to the bare minimum. I found drawing in Flash gives me raw lines and imperfect brushstrokes that evokes my gestures almost as well as a real brush. Often the quickest drawings (1 minute or less) are the best, and my familiarity with my subject makes all the difference. I spend a good deal of time researching in books and websites as well as sketching with ink and pencil.