Nualolo Kai – new Hawaii studio painting!

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Nualolo Kai - Hawaii painting by artist Emily MillerNualolo Kai, 30″ x 40″ acrylic on canvas, © 2017.

“Nualolo Kai” is fresh off the easel after an intense week of painting! This is one of the largest and most detailed paintings I’ve ever created, and it was so much fun from beginning to end! After working really big on the 16 ft. beach path mural in Santa Monica, a 30″ x 40″ canvas suddenly seemed much less intimidating.

Nualolo Kai - Hawaii painting by artist Emily Miller

Original painting available at Amy-Lauren’s Gallery on Kauai. Prints available in my web shop.

Nualolo Kai - Hawaii painting in progress by artist Emily MillerNualolo Kai - Hawaii painting in progress by artist Emily MillerLeft: Day 1, blocking in colors. Right: Progress, with 11×17″ reference photo divided into quarters

Roughing in the color on the entire canvas took one full day. Next I began adding detail, section by section, working my way across the canvas for the next week. I was surprised to find that this challenging, complex scene was so much fun to create! From the beginning, I was captivated by the painting’s vibrant colors, and by sorting out the patchwork puzzle of cliff faces in light and shadow.

Nualolo Kai - Hawaii painting in progress by artist Emily MillerNualolo Kai - Hawaii painting in progress by artist Emily MillerLeft: Working on detail in the Hawaiian settlement area. Right: Almost finished!

I decided to paint this particular image after doing research on my Kauai sacred sites project, La’a O Ke Akua, in preparation for my upcoming trip to the island. Nualolo Kai was a Hawaiian village until the 1800s and is currently being preserved by the Na Pali Coast Ohana. Until the 1900s, many of the lush valleys on the Na Pali coast sustained permanent Hawaiian settlements. Today the area is truly remote – there are no roads, and limited seasonal access by boat or a single, intense 11-mile trail. “Nualolo Kai” is an aerial view, using a reference photo taken from a tour plane.

Nualolo Kai, detail - Hawaii painting by artist Emily MillerDetail of the Hawaiian settlement area (at center, above the beach path)

The 4,000 ft. cliffs of the Na Pali coast have eroded into incredible knife-edged green valleys and sheer drops of bare lava rock and iron-rich red dirt. I have always loved painting the Na Pali coast in watercolor, but something about this new painting made me want to work bigger, and in acrylic. 30″ x 40″ was the minimum size possible that allowed me to show the remains of the village and heiau while also capturing the height of the sheer cliffs rising above the settlement, and the vibrant color of the expansive reef fronting the village. The reef, the ocean, the cliffs, and the streams flowing down from the distant mountain peaks were all essential to life at Nualolo Kai. This image illustrates the Hawaiian “ahupua’a” concept of dividing land into self-sustaining units extending from the mountains to the ocean.

I have a companion piece already planned, “Nualolo Aina,” depicting a neighboring area that supported Nualolo Kai’s agriculture with taro terraces built on the steep sides of the narrow valley. But it will have to wait until I get back from Kauai!

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