Several months ago, we shared some early sketches of Hawaiian forest birds created by Ms. Jamie Allen, a talented local artist and a primary collaborator for the symphony project. Originally from New Jersey, Ms. Allen received her Bachelors of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design, later acquiring her Masters of Fine Arts from Montclair State University. Her artwork has been displayed in collections and exhibitions around the world, and her brilliant illustrations of Hawaiian landscapes and floral assemblages are prominently featured in the Halele‘a Gallery. We checked in with Ms. Allen last week as she continued her visual animation work for the final symphonic performance.
Left: Artist Jamie Allen (right) and co-animator Kaylan Young working on an ‘elepaio animation sequence. Right: These crimson i‘iwi cutouts are among the many dazzling visual recreations of Hawaiian forest birds that will populate the performance.
How did you first hear about the Hawaiian Forest Bird Symphony Project, and how did you become involved as a collaborator?
I became involved in the Hawaiian Forest Bird Symphony Project after Laura Margulies approached me in November. I was shocked that she wanted me to be one of the artists since I have never animated. She felt strongly that my style would translate well into an animation and believed we could make it work. This project was one of those moments when you say YES to something that is completely out of your comfort zone, but you believe in the mission of the project. I wanted to acknowledge my two co-animators - Kaylan Young (editor) and Elyse Chai whom I would not have been able to complete this project without their help and dedication.
Your paintings have been praised for their vibrant and contemporary depictions of Hawaiian flora. What is your creative process for visualizing subjects in the natural world?
Why thank you! I tend to think of work as taking specific subjects from the natural world, combining them with the language of painting/mark-making and creating an imagined environment where all of the elements align. The foundation of my practice lies within combining my daily life and the process of using paint as a means of articulation. Painting for me is a tool to understand the world and to find personal balance. The diaristic approach fueled by curiosity, interactions, research, and observation becomes a play between knowledge and expression. Everyday encounters and objects merge between the figurative and the literal. Whether it is a specific location, a conversation, a particular plant, or piece of literature, each contributes to the complexity of the piece. The history within the layers of painting and drawing is a dialogue about time, growth, and life; exposing an environment that takes on meaning within and beyond plant or ocean matter. My life’s purpose is to continually re-define beauty and to reveal elements overlooked. I create in order for these environments to thrive.
A stunning array of ‘ōhiʻa blossoms provide a backdrop for some of the animation sequences.
What materials do you use in your artwork?
I painted about 20 backgrounds that would remain stationary in the animation. These were done on watercolor paper using watercolor, acrylic, pencil, and pen. For the birds, bugs, flowers, text, and miscellaneous items I made them out of cut paper. I drew and painted on them with watercolor, acrylic, and pen. I wanted the paper to really stand out against the still paintings, so I used various papers and even one that was made entirely of glitter. Cut paper really lent itself nicely with stop motion animation. I probably made about 40 birds. This project provided me with a greater appreciation for the amount of time animators put in.
A flock of paper ‘elepaio! These native monarch flycatchers were revered as ‘aumakua by some canoe-making families, and were often pivotal characters in Hawaiian mythology.
How did you determine which Hawaiian birds your team would focus on?
We were given the section “Native Hawaiian Birds Important to Hawaiian Culture". We immediately chose the i‘iwi for its importance to the Hawaiian Monarchy. Since the i’iwi is a fairly well-known native bird, we felt that having two birds would make for a more dynamic animation. One of the other animators, Laurie Sumiye suggested we focus upon the ‘elepaio. The ‘elepaio’s significance is to guide the canoe makers to the right koa tree for making a canoe. Mythologically speaking, this bird is also seen as the wife of Kū - who is the forest god. Even though there are several more birds that are important to the Hawaiian culture, we felt that these two birds provided a good starting point.
Q5: What are some of the qualities of the birds that you highlighted in your artwork?
After working with the Hawaiian specialist on my team, it was apparent that I wanted to depict these birds in their natural environments before the introduction of current predators. It was important to me to illustrate these birds in their natural habitat surrounded by native plants and bugs. I included the names of the plants so that the viewer can be aware of what they were surrounded by and what they ate. I highlighted the colors of the birds (red and brown) and the general characteristics of the birds so that the students could easily identify them next time they see one. In the simplest way possible, my goal was to show how these birds moved in their habitat and how they became of importance to Hawaiian culture.
The i‘iwi animation sequence in progress, two i‘iwi cutouts ready for their closeups!
Q6: Did you learn anything about Hawaiian forest birds through your involvement in this project?
YES YES YES. Birds and Beyond! From the very first presentation on the endangerment of native Hawaiian Forest Birds, to drawing in the Botany, Entomology, and Vertebrae collections at the Bishop Museum, extensive online research, talking to biologists from the USGS, getting into the mind of my composer - Daniel Houglum, studying the cloaks/capes/headdresses via collections of the Queen Emma Summer Palace and Bishop Museum - where I also learned important facts talking to the staff, emailing Noe for fact checks and correct wording for the Hawaiian language (Google is not reliable), to last but not least - how to animate! I really experienced firsthand that a project of this caliber needs a team to complete it. I was humbled on how honest and generous my team was and how we all worked together for such an important cause. Saying yes to a path unknown really has had its many gifts.
For more of Jamie Allen's artwork, visit http://www.jamierallen.com/
Makanani and Aaron Sala have created an amazing new hula for this project. Check out their videos showing not only the hula, but also a series of explanations of each of the verses. You can learn about how the Hawaiian canoe makers of the past were guided by the ‘elepaios, or where you can find the palila nowadays and what they eat.
Learn a Hula About Native Birds!
During our meeting with the composers, artists, scientists, and conservation experts at the Bishop Museum in December, we had the chance to take a look at some of Haruo Uchiyama's latest creations: extremely life-like carvings of Hawaiian forest birds. The Dec. 17/Jan. 18 issue of "Hana Hou!" the Hawaiian Airlines magazine features an article on Uchiyama, a master woodcarver from Japan who has specialized in sculpting birds. He was (is?) in residence at the Bishop Museum, working to create a number of wood carvings of endangered and extinct Hawaiian forest birds. Because the feathers of the actual specimens in the Bishop Museum collection are easily damaged when exposed to light, they cannot be displayed for any extended length of time. These carvings will allow the museum to display life-like sculptures on display indefinitely. You can read more about him and his Hawaiian bird woodcarving project here:
Bishop Museum blog (April 19, 2017)
Hawaii Public Radio Broadcast (Sept. 23, 2016)
Haruo Uchiyama's website
Mr. Uchiyama's blog, including some photos of his working process
The National Geographic, the National Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have declared 2018 to be a yearlong celebration of birds. 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of the most important legislation signed in the U.S. that have continued to protect bird populations in North America and the Pacific, including Hawai‘i. As recently as 2010, twenty four bird species found only in Hawai‘i were added to the list of protected birds.
Artist Jamie Allen spent the day at the Bishop Museum studying and drawing sketches from the Botany and the Vertebrate Zoology Collection Private collections. She is going to illustrate native Hawaiian birds important to the Hawaiian culture. Here are sketches of the i‘iwi and the ‘elepaio forest birds, as well as photos from the Bishop museums of the birds and the plants important to them. Luckily for us, both the i‘iwi and the ‘elepaio are still with us (unlike the ‘o‘o mentioned in the previous post), and conservationists today are working hard to protect them.
We have some early sketches by Jeanine Higa, who is working with fellow animator Kayla Abalos on the section about the Kaua‘i ‘o‘o's extinction, whose distinctive song was last heard in 1987. These birds were famous for their elaborate and beautiful mating calls sung by both the male and female. You can hear the heartbreaking last recorded ‘o‘o song here.
Their distinctive yellow feathers that would surround their legs were carefully plucked out by native Hawaiians who used them on royal clothing such as the ʻAhu ʻula, pictured below.
The different genuses of ‘o‘o were once found on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, Molokai, and Hawai‘i but are now all extinct. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, "The exact reasons for their decline are not known, but avian diseases and land clearing are believed to be major factors."
Check out some early sketches by artist Laura Margulies of the colorful ‘i‘iwi and the ‘akohekohe. She even manages to capture the ‘i‘iwi feeding from a tubular flower - an evolutionary trait in which the bird's long curved beak seems to have evolved in tandem with the distinctly shaped flower. Can't wait to see these being animated later! Stay tuned!
One of our brilliant artists involved in our project, Pawel Nuckowski of Oahu Films, has shared with us a short video of the initial stages of what he is currently working on about the flightless Hawaiian Stilt Owl. These birds have been extinct for many hundreds of years and we only know about them through fossils, so it's magical to see them come back to life in this video!