Trust your gut, it never lies.

Whenever I have a gut feeling I need to listen. It has saved my life on more than a few occasions (literally), and it has guided me with my decisions over the course of my lifetime. It’s when I don’t trust my gut that I regret it. Creative instincts are what I work with every day when I’m making art. There is nobody telling me how or what to do unless I’m working for someone else. Even then, the challenge is to keep my own integrity because art says something about the creator – how she sees the world, how she thinks and feels, and most importantly, it must transcend decoration.

The Big Commission

It was a couple years ago, but I remember like it was yesterday when I received a call from a California Fine Art Design Company asking if I was interested in doing a commission for one of Maui’s finest resort hotels. They didn’t tell me what hotel because that was confidential. Without hesitation I said “YES” because I consider it an honor and a privilege to share what I have to offer with others. I have done commissions in the past, so the request for a commission was not new, but the size and scope of this commission was huge, and this time I was working with a design team. It was a huge learning experience for me and one that I am so glad I said “YES” to.

These were the parameters given to me by the design team:

Subject was Koa, Watercolor medium, color palette of specific blues/blue greens/greens, abstracted design with a very wide aspect ratio (much wider than it was tall).

The hotel was getting a facelift using the Koa Tree as the main theme. Why that specific tree you may ask? Koa trees are hardwood trees endemic to Hawaiʻi, meaning they do not grow anywhere else in the world. Koa has very specific growing requirements and conditions that include temperature, elevation, soil, and rainfall. Only particular areas in Hawaiʻi can provide the necessary conditions for Koa to grow, and they are the largest native tree species in the Hawaiian Islands, reaching heights of approximately 115 feet. During King Kamehameha’s rule, Koa wood ownership was considered kapu or restricted only to Hawaiian monarchs and the royal class. Hawaiians used the wood for constructing their canoes, and today, woodworkers can only use the fallen wood to make furniture, bowls, and sculptures, etc. Koa is very special to Hawaiʻi.

I had my parameters, so I set to work. The design went back and forth about a dozen times. With each step I created mini-watercolor samples. Given the horizontal aspect ratio of this piece, along with what the Koa tree represents to the Hawaiian culture, it was my intention to capture a design that would convey a sense of place, its powerful strength, and the sickle-shaped leaves that differentiate the Koa from other trees. I was listening to my artist voice, that inner guidance.

Back and forth we went, around the different concepts with the design teams from CA and Maui, until months later we came full circle around to my original concept. After supplying dozens of thumbnail sketches, mini-paintings, and phone calls, I did a full-size painting using their size requirements and shipped it to California for their final approval.

Trust Me

“Trust me” is what kept whispering in my head. And after all the input and requests and back and forth with the team of decision makers, I got a call saying they loved it. It was a huge leap of faith, not only for them, but especially for me. They loved it? THEY LOVED IT!!! They purchased the original painting, which currently hangs in the spa at the Fairmont Kea Lani, and the tile mural was constructed to fit a huge wall in the conference/ballroom area of the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea.

A few months after completion of the installation, COVID-19 hit and all hotels were shut down along with any non-essential businesses, much like the rest of the world, so there was no fanfare or celebration of the new facelift of the Fairmont. Thankfully, before that happened, I was able to take a drive over there with my husband and two of my good friends to see it. It took almost a year to go from an idea to reality. It’s not often we dine out, but that night we celebrated with our friends with an elegant dinner at Kō restaurant in the hotel. It was magnificent. Next time you have a gut feeling about something, follow your instincts because it may lead you to an outcome better than you ever expected.

Maui artist Christine Waara stands in front of her original koa watercolor painting at the spa at the Fairmont Kea Lani hotel in Maui
Maui artist Christine Waara standing in front of the tile mosaic in the lobby of the Fairmont Kea Lani hotel in Maui

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