Interview with Polynesian Illustrator Shar Tuiʻasoa

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 Shar-Tuiasoabefore 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?

Surf QueenI 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?

Punky AlohaAs 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 Ulu MamaIslander. 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 🙂 is where you can find my port­fo­lio of work, info and shop. I start­ed my social media pres­ence around 2018.

Lanikai DiverWhat advice can you give an aspir­ing author/illustrator?

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?

Punky PuaFrom home. From Hawai’i. From Moana (the ocean, not the Dis­ney char­ac­ter. Even though I love her haha!)

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 🙂

This has been awe­some! Maha­lo nui, Shar, for shar­ing your art and your man­aʻo! You can learn more about Shar Tuiʻa­soa by vis­it­ing her web­site, Punky Alo­ha, and fol­low­ing her on Insta­gram

7 thoughts on “Interview with Polynesian Illustrator Shar Tuiʻasoa”

  1. Hūi e P Kamalani~

    Your path is inspir­ing, e Kamalani
    i am an ‘Alo a he alo’ per­son … and every once in a while align wth what is current 😎

    Love Punky Alo­ha mau mea . Maika’i nō❣️ You go! 🌊🐬💦🌊 Eō Kailua! Noho pū au ma Kailua mai ka makahi­ki ʻ61 paha?

    E Kanalani~ e hoʻo­mua ʻoe 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽‼️
    Ke Al🤎ha nō ~ nkēhaub ptbl’73

    🎼🎶🎵 ei nei! look at us🎵🎶‼️👊🏽🔥🕊️

  2. Hūi e P Kamalani~

    Your path is inspir­ing, e Kamalani
    i am an ‘Alo a he alo’ per­son … and every once in a while align wth what is current 😎

    Love Punky Alo­ha mau mea . Maika’i nō❣️ You go! 🌊🐬💦🌊 Eō Kailua! Noho pū au ma Kailua mai ka makahi­ki ʻ61 paha?

    E Kanalani~ e hoʻo­mua ʻoe 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽‼️
    Ke Al🤎ha nō ~ nkēhaub ptb’73

    🎼🎶🎵 ei nei! look at us🎵🎶‼️👊🏽🔥🕊️


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