Talented Polynesian artist, illustrator and designer, Shar Tuiʻasoa is the creative force behind the hugely popular Punky Aloha Studio. Following graduation from Kailua High School (Go Surfriders!), Shar pursued a degree in fine art in California before returning home to Hawaiʻi. Best known for her beautiful images of Polynesian women, Shar’s graphic illustrations are bold, colorful and always exciting.
Aloha, Shar! For those who haven’t met you, where did you grow up?
I grew up in Kailua on O’ahu, and it is where I live today with my ‘ohana.
Who is your biggest supporter?
My partner, my husband, my sidekick, Keali’i. He has stood by me through this crazy roller coster. From day 1. He helped me get through college, he helped find my way back to me. When I first started Punky Aloha, he helped me pay for my business license and for my first business cards and prints. I guess you could say he was an early investor. He helped my run my shop in the very beginning, and still helps me install murals to this day.
Why did you become a artist? What do you enjoy most about creating art?
I have always wanted to be an artist. I don’t know that I ever thought about being anything else. And that’s not to say that I was always good at drawing, because I definitely wasn’t. Haha! That took a lot of years of hard work. But I grew up watching my mom draw. She is a wonderful illustrator and painter, and she raised us up surrounded by art.
I think what I love about making art the most is just being able to create the world that lives in your head. It’s almost like having a bit of control over something in your life. Even if it only exists on paper, being able to share your visions with people can be empowering and healing.
You also wrote and illustrated a picture book. What inspired you to write your first book?
As an illustrator, I think many of us have making a children’s book on our bucket list. I know I did. So when I was presented the opportunity, I went with what I knew best: me. I based my book on my childhood and what some of my experiences were like.
What are some of your greatest challenges in writing?
I don’t consider myself to be as strong a writer as I am an illustrator, so I came across a lot of challenges, especially writing for children. I wanted to go on this epic adventure with my protagonist, but you only have 32 pages and 800 words to do so, and you also have got make sure you remember who your audience is — 3–7 year olds! So it presents all sort of challenges but also opportunities in finding new ways to tell a story.
What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of both your art and writing career and what you would like to see published in the future?
My older brother is a very talented writer. He went to film school and has this really great comedic way of storytelling. We have been talking about working on either a graphic novel together or maybe a children’s book. Something. So that’s in my mind a lot right now. Ive also got a couple ideas brewing, so we shall see what the future holds. An ultimate dream of mine would be to have an animated series based on my books with a full pasifka and local to Hawai’i cast! Pasifika showrunner, editors, animators, voices, etc!
That would be amazing! There are not a lot of books for kids by Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander writers. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do the change that?
There aren’t, sadly 🙁 In fact, Punky Aloha was the first children’s book published by a big main stream publisher that was written and illustrated by (and starred) a Pacific Islander. I didn’t realize that until it came out. And I think the lack of representation is something that is finally being addressed more and more. On one end the media very rarely gives us a platform, so if we aren’t seeing ourselves represented, why would we even think we belong in certain spaces? So I think its a partnership in a way. We as PI and NH (Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian) should feel inspired to take up creative space, and we should do what we can to learn those skills so that we can share our stories with our voices. Also, these creative platforms should keep looking out for all the talent we have to offer because there is A LOT! I always say: Greet opportunity with preparation. So when there is an opportunity for you to share your creativity, be sure you are prepared with a strong voice and a strong skillset! We got this!
We do! Do you have a website? Do you blog? When did you get started on social media? What do your readers say?
I do 🙂 www.punkyaloha.com is where you can find my portfolio of work, info and shop. I started my social media presence around 2018.
My advice is to keep going! Keep working at what you are doing and most importantly, create work that you love. If that is what you are putting out into the world, that is what you will be hired to do.
What beliefs is your work challenging?
I like to challenge what our PI stereotypes. I have always tried to illustrate our people as I know them to be. They are my family, my friends, my peers. There have been so many versions of how we are illustrated that its hard to separate fact from fiction. So it’s a delicate balance. I also like to challenge peoples perspective on what we in Hawai’i are capable of doing. It’s easy to dismiss us because we are from a small cluster of islands in the ocean, but we have as much to offer as anyone and we can do anything in the world. There is so much talent here.
Where do you get your inspirations?
Do you have any plans for another book?
I do! I have two set to release in 2024. One will be another Punky Aloha book, and the second is a book I have illustrated for Illima Todd. She has written a beautiful book about Mauna Kea, and I am so excited to work on it.
We canʻt wait! Can you share a bit about what youʻre working on next?
Right now I am just juggling a bunch of projects. I have a few murals coming up, and some freelance projects, trying to balance it all with also having a family to nurture and spend time with 🙂