Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Personal work: Princess Ka'iulani

Crown Princess Ka'iulani was the last heir to the throne of the Hawaiian monarchy. She was intelligent, beautiful and a talented artist.

When Princess Ka'iulani was 17 years old, she was studying abroad in England when she received a telegram:

"'Queen Deposed', 'Monarchy Abrogated', 'Break News to Princess'".

In that single tweet, her country, her future, everything was gone. She traveled to the US on a mission to gather public support for Hawaii, hoping to reverse the hostile takeover of her country.
Today, I, a poor weak girl with not one of my people with me and all these ‘Hawaiian’ statesmen against me, have strength to stand up for the rights of my people. Even now I can hear their wail in my heart and it gives me strength and courage and I am strong.
Despite her efforts, Hawaii became a US territory in 1898. Ka'iulani died less than a year later, at the age of 23. I admire her not only because she was a princess, but because she was brave. She was fighting for a cause as a teenager and a non-white woman in a foreign country, where powerful politicians and businessmen were actively working against her. She must have loved her country very much.

I wanted to draw Ka'iulani standing in the ocean waves, which could represent the vast and powerful forces that she was struggling against. At first I considered adding some tropical fish or birds, but I didn't just want this to turn into another "pretty girl surrounded by pretty nature" drawing. She was a strong and determined person, so I had the idea of her holding the Hawaiian flag.

I used a stock photo from Deviantart to help get the arms right.

This came out looking much more heroic than I originally had in mind, but I guess that's what happens when you draw someone holding a flag like that.

While drawing I listened to the "Hawaiian music" radio station on Pandora. It was very pleasant.

For this piece I tried out Kyle Webster's gouache brush set. While you may not be able to notice any  difference at full view, when you go close up you can see sooooo much texture:

The brushes were a lot of fun to use, and I like the painterly detail they've added to the closeups. Combined with my favorite canvas textures on top, the piece looks very convincingly traditional. People often tell me that my paintings look like acrylic or gouache; now I can mess with their heads even more!

The power!


  1. I grew up in Hawaii. It is said she died of a broken heart. Gorgeous image worthy of her!

  2. This is so hauntingly beautiful. And the textures are indeed quite lovely. :D

  3. I showed this to Grandpa and he was very impressed! I like the gif that shows the progress and all the choices you made. Fascinating. Amazed again!

  4. What a great tribute to the last princess of Hawaii! I also love the gif you made, I always learn so much stuff from process pictures that just can't be put into words :-) How much time did this illustration take you all in all? I imagine working digitally speeds it up a lot compared to traditional media.

  5. This is lovely, Kelley. Dramatic and dignified. Great post!

  6. Didn't know her!! Your work is great and her story too!

  7. I am of Hawaiian ancestry, thank you for making one of our most beautiful Princesses so beautiful and strong. And, thank you for understanding that Hawaii was taken and not purchased as so many people think.

  8. Aloha. I am Hawaiian and I have been admiring this artwork in my son's preschool class room since he started attending in 2018. It is now 2020 and he will go on to Kindergarten soon, so I searched to see if I could find this artwork for my own home. I would love to have it on canvas but I can't find that option.
    Hope you are doing well, and know that your artwork is still being admired and inspiring young keiki and their parents in a little preschool on O'ahu!
    Shy McMillan
    Kapolei, Hawai'i

    1. Aloha Shy McMillan! Thank you so much for your comment. It makes me really, really happy to know that my art is hanging in a preschool in O'ahu! You can order a canvas print at my INPRNT shop: https://www.inprnt.com/gallery/kmcmorris/princess-kaiulani/


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