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

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