"Moani"-a gentle breeze brings inspiration

beach decor beach girl colleen wilcox flowers Hawaii Art lei moani north shore oahu surf art tropical tropical art

Moani Painting by Colleen Wilcox

"Moani" 16"x20" acrylic on canvas by Colleen Wilcox

Have you ever sat outside on a warm day and felt soft breezes on your skin blowing the fragrance of summer flowers in the air? The Hawaiian word "Moani" means a light or gentle breeze that is usually associated with fragrance. For me, living in Hawaii means I get to experience such delights all year round. Not only do the trade winds bring fresh scents of plants and flowers, but also the salty air of the tropical sea. 

I try to spend as much time as I can on the beach, taking in all the sights, scents and sounds that the islands' beauty have to offer. There is nothing more soothing and refreshing than sitting next to the ocean on a picturesque sunny Hawaiian day and watching the waves (after surfing of course!). I never know what beautiful surprise Hawaii's nature has in store...sometimes it even throws in an impromptu lucky rainbow!

While painting my newest piece, "Moani", I wanted to capture the feeling of these lovely Hawaiian moments that I have been fortunate enough to experience many times. I decided to portray the scene through the experience of a female character who recurs throughout my paintings over time (might be time to name her?). She is my hapa (mixed) Hawaiian sun kissed beach beauty...and perhaps my alter ego, or who I wish to be. I have her surrounded by flowers and enjoying making and wearing her lovely haku lei po'o (a braided style head lei). The dreamy beach she is sitting on isn't modeled after one particular spot, but it is inspired by the many gorgeous beaches around the island of Oahu (particularly the north shore). 

Now for the painting process! Follow along below to see step by step of how I created this piece.

I first began with my typical process of sketching the general composition in pencil, using photo references for the female figure, hibiscus flowers, and the particular leaves (which are modeled after a kamani tree). 

Next I began adding general areas of color using acrylic paint thinned out with water. 

This process continued for awhile, gradually filling in more color detail, especially in the flowers. (The other pink flowers are based on Bougainville by the way!)

As you can see below my messy workplace is a display of (organized?) chaos. Although I initially place my paint colors nicely in the palette, it never stays that way! (Oh, and just a tip- don't leave your brushes in the water like me, it's a bad habit!) 

In the next stage, I continued adding more and more color layers to create further depth and detail. I usually try to "feel" my color layout intuitively when painting...in another words, I try not to get too analytical about it or overthink it. 

As you will see in the next photo, I did run into some snags while creating this piece (as usual). Although I was happy with the progress, I did feel the painting was a bit "stiff". I like to create a feeling of movement in my work, which for me comes down to composition. Everything in my painting from subject to foreground to background is intimately connected by deliberate positioning and spacial arrangement. When I feel like this isn't happening well, I often will go through with white on a small brush and "open up" areas that feel "stuck". You can see below where I did this throughout the leaves, clouds, flowers, etc. 

Once I had "breathed" more liveliness into my painting, I continued building layers of color and eventually began adding in fine black outlines with posca paint pens. 

Adding definition with black lines is oh so satisfying!

Then finally a few months later after endless hours of work, I arrived at a place where I could call "Moani" complete! I framed her with koa wood, said my goodbyes, and sent her off to her new home in Japan.

But not before capturing a high resolution image from a professional scan. With my digital image I am able to print "Moani" onto all types of prints and accessories for many others to enjoy. 

I hope you enjoyed the story of creating "Moani"! If this painting speaks to you you can visit my art shop to get your own print or phone case of "Moani" and bring a piece of Hawaii home with you :) 

Aloha for now!




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  • Beth Cheng-Leever on

    Thank you so much for sharing your art with us! Each pieces stirs some lovely memories.

  • Julia Lau de Guzman on

    Gorgeous! Thanks for sharing your creative process. Inspiring!

  • Nancy Galindo on

    So incredibly beautiful! Takes me back to our trips to Hawaii!

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