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/