INTERVIEW: Jake Gonsalves - Artist behind Our Koa Collab

Posted by Aloha Exchange on

koa shirt designs


Over the years, we have had the pleasure of working with many talented staff and designers. It is always a great experience to collaborate with old friends, and in this case, we were stoked to work with designer Jake Gonsalves again who worked with us in different capacities from our outdoor tech to graphic designer. Although he has since relocated to the mainland to pursue a career in graphic design, his connection to Kauai remains evident in his work. His Koa-inspired design is a testament to his unique style, and here are his thoughts on his work.

Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got started in graphic design?

I’ve always been into drawing since hanabata days. Later, I was exposed to graphic design when I was at Waimea High School which was how my career path began. After learning the basics it’s been a steady flow of self-taught learning and mentorship to get to where I am today. I’ve been designing professionally since 2013.

How did you come up with the idea for the koa tree leaf design, and what was your inspiration?

My family is primarily a Mauka family. A lot of my childhood was spent being dragged up to Kokee to hunt, trout fish, pick maile for celebrations, or camp. Being a kid not really interested in those things, I remember always playing with the fallen Koa leaves on the forest floor. I would make faces and the little Hawaiian petroglyph guys that were popular on t-shirts back then with the leaves. Recently, my brother and his family were visiting and both of his boys were drawn to the Koa leaves just like I was when I was their age. That interest is what inspired me to work with those leaves and come up with those designs.

What do you think sets your design apart from other designs that are inspired by Kauai?

My naʻau. Trusting my gut feeling.

How does your Hawaiian heritage and culture influence your work as a graphic designer?

My Hawaiian side plays a big part in how I approach design projects. For example, my Dad taught us to take the time to kilo (observe) the environment before doing things like hunting, diving, and surfing, which played straight into seeing what the market is doing so you can create something that is more impactful. Another influence was seeing him commit his time to honor our ancestors by being a member of the Royal Order of Kamehameha. Watching the protocols during ceremonies they host and setting the intention and place influenced my growing desire for intentional design. These things influence me to not create things we don’t need but to create designs that help move the Hawaiian culture forward.

What message do you hope to convey through your design inspired by Kauai?

I want my designs to speak to the not-so-commercialized side. The side that takes you away from the palm trees and white sand beaches, and into the community, the parking lot hangs, and the pavilion picnic benches with uncle. The real Kauai.

Can you talk about a particularly meaningful experience you had on Kauai that influenced your work?

I remember when I was really young hanging out at my cousin's house in Kalaheo after school. I was already into drawing beach scenes with waves and coconut trees (probably because of my older brother). My great-grandma was watching me draw the leaves of the coconut tree and said, “That’s all kāpulu, do it like this.” Then she took the pencil and taught me a better way to draw them. As a kid that blew my mind that Granny could even draw. That memory sticks out for me in that even little things like that, that you experience with your family, can push and influence you.

Why do you feel that Kauai is a special place for you and your graphic design work?

It’s my home. It’s inherently a part of me. Fortunately, my wife and I were able to figure out how to travel around the world cheaply in our first year of marriage. While on this trip you start to notice how special it is to be from Hawaii and that Aloha that you are born with is so prevalent. Naturally, that bleeds into my work.


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