Posts Tagged ‘mauna kea’

Aloha! Here are some tattoos that I have done over the past few weeks and am finally getting around to posting. I won’t get into too much detail with each one but will give an overview instead, since this is mainly for the tattoo collector to understand the symbols being used.

Here is the breakdown:

IMG_2061 nate

This tattoo was his first and the intention behind it was to mark his life at this point, to pay tribute to his family and to give him strength as he goes forth in life and joins the military. (His skin was barely recovered from a sunburn). He will eventually get a sleeve with this shoulder cap acting as the basis.

a) matavau = harpoon: hunter of fish, love of fishing.

b) hulu pu’eo = owl feathers (x2): this is for his family aumakua, the owl.

c) nalu = wave: love of the sea.

d) niho = tooth: protection, protection of the tattoo.

e) ka’ake = upraised arm: strength, warrior.

f) niho, see d.

g) hena/i’ima = hand; this holds the tattoo to his body.


This tattoo of a honu, or turtle was meant to be an overall protective piece, as is the nature of the honu. It is populated with motifs specific to his time and place in life, at the moment. It is symmetrical and so the meaning on one side is reflected on the other. it was finished off with traditional tap tatau.

a) pepehipu = pounded, armor: this is an analog to tapa cloth that was used as armor in battle. Here it protects the turtle from attack.

b) koru = Unfurling fern head: life, breath, growth.

c) niho = tooth: protection, protection of the tattoo.

d) kofati = fold/crease: this symbol is a mark of authority.

e) mata = eye: to look out for danger, to protect.

f) ama kopeka/ ahi = flame/fire: fire or light to illuminate his path as he moves forward. This motif augments ‘g’, as well.

g) manu = bird: freedom, flight, direction, home.

h) mata hoata = all-seeing eyes: protects from unseen dangers, is also the face of the honu in this case.


This chest plate is a continuation of the Polynesian theme that he has going on on the right side of his body. I did not do any of the other work, nor did I do the Borneo rose that this tattoo surrounds.
The upper portion was done several weeks before and had not finished healing completely when I went back over some of the areas. This is why some of it appears puffy.

a) kofati = crease/fold: symbolizing nobility and connectedness with the earth.

b) (twin) koru = Unfurling fern head: life, breath, growth.

c) unaunahi = fish scales: symbolizes his love and respect of the sea.

d) mata hoata = all-seeing eyes: protects from unseen dangers. In this instance, done in profile with the row of niho acting as the mouth; the upper portion near the rose is the eye.

e) ama kopeka/ ahi = flame/fire: fire or light to illuminate his path as he moves forward.

f) hena/i’ima = hand; this holds the tattoo to his body.

g) hoka = rafter: this rafter motif symbolizes bravery and courage and is populated with etua in Fibonacchi sequence.

h) creator etua = gosling: this represents the wearer as a father.

i) peka ou mei = protective spirit: protection from evil.

j) ka’ake = upraised arm: strength, warrior.


This shoulder cap was his first tattoo and is a unique tiki that overall, displays the image of a star gazing fisherman. This person is an amateur astronomer and came here with the intent to visit Mauna Kea to see the stars. He wanted something to commemorate this, as well as show his love of the sea and fishing in particular. Because the ancient Polynesians utilized the stars to navigate, this all made perfect sense! This is another mirrored image with the symbols on both sides having the same meaning and intent.

a) nutu kaha = mouth: power and protection given by ancestors.

b) mekau = fish hook: these two hooks, back to back, make up the jawline of the tiki and represent his love of fishing.

c) hinenao/pahoe = cherished daughter/ wife: love for the female members of his family.

d) hikuhiku tau = bonito (tuna) tails: warrior, speed, to run quickly.

e) hena/i’ima = hand; this holds the tattoo to his body. It is also the ears of the tiki.

f) mata hoata = all-seeing eyes: protects from unseen dangers, and is also the upward looking eyes of the star gazer.

g) ani ata = the sky, the heavens: the heavens, the place where angels dwell, promise, success.


This lower shoulder cap is meant to create symmetry from the piece above it (shark aumakua, not done by me) so that we can begin to create a sleeve. The entire piece is family-centric.

a) pepehipu = pounded tapa cloth: this area is meant as armor and protects the entire tattoo. It is also inset with niho for added strength.

b) lauhala = woven mat analog; family unity; binds the elements in this tattoo.

c) koru = Unfurling fern head: life, breath, growth.

black d) hiki a tama = cherished child: there are 6 simplified hiki a tama motifs that adorn the koru, each one symbolizing a grandchild.

white d) niho = tooth: This motif is an extension of koru/hiki a tama and represents his children.

e) niho = tooth: This ties in with the entire ‘g’ motif and represent the years that he and his wife were married (34).

f) niho = tooth: This trio of niho represent the holy trinity.

g) itiiti’i/niho = alliance/ teeth: This binding motif represents his marriage to his wife. There are 2 niho; one on each side of the binding that represent him and his wife, respectively.

Thank you all for looking and aloha!

This gentleman walked into my shop and uttered the words that are music to a tattoo artists ears.
I had never before met this person and when he walked in last Thursday and began poking around my studio, I just assumed that he was simply browsing. Because of what he was wearing (a chefs coat) I couldn’t see any visible tattoos and figured that he didn’t have much work.
He looked at my books and asked me some questions about my availability as he had a small window of time to have anything done. As it turned out he was leaving in 5 days and of those five, he had one day to have anything done. He then told me that he had two full sleeves and the only open spaces left were his legs and back, the latter of which he was saving for a future piece. That was when I asked him what he wanted to get and he said those magic words, “Honestly, whatever you want to do is fine with me.”
Most people don’t know that these are the words that will often get you the best tattoo, since relinquishing control and letting the artist ‘do his/her thing’ ensures that the person doing the art will throw the best of their abilities into the piece. Of course you want to be sure that you trust the person and that you like his/her work.  I can count on one hand the amount of my regular clientele who walk in and give me such free reign, so it goes without saying that I was completely caught by surprise to hear a total stranger utter such things to me.
He told me that he wanted it to be sizable and that he wanted it to be ana’ole, those were his two criteria, the rest was up to me.
I started with the basics and asked him what brought him to Hawi in the first place. He replied that he was doing a short internship at The Bamboo restaurant, learning some of the culinary secrets from the largest and most popular eatery in town. He then told me how much he had fallen in love with the island and that he someday hoped he could move here (he is from Wisconsin). He told me that he loved going up to Mauna Kea and that his favorite beach was Waipio. He added that his favorite animals were the hammerhead shark and the octopus.
So with that information I came up with this piece which took 6.5 hours.
Beginning at the bottom I put the Waipio Valley. There are three waves breaking upon the beach signifying good fortune. Above that is a maka nui or all-seeing-eye, a symbol that steals ones enemies spirit in battle and is a warrior symbol. Above that is a paka with two tentacles (which belong to the octopus in the third paka above). A hammerhead shark sits above that paka. On its head are 8 hibiscus each representing a respective Hawaiian island. There are FS and waves on the sharks back as well. Above the shark is an octopus with one of its tentacles resting on the sharks head, a sign of affection, not of conflict, to convey the harmony between his two beloved sea creatures.
Moving upward above the octopus in the sun shining down on a snow covered Mauna Kea peak. A gust of wind blows in from the east, representing the trade winds and the fact that he keeps coming back to the Hawaii. All in all this piece was to express his love of the island that he hopes to one day make his home.


equipment used: 5RL/9RL/15M

Today a good friend and neighbor came in for a tattoo of King Kamehameha. King K was responsible for uniting the Hawaiian islands back in the day, which he accomplished with brute force and determination. I live in the part of the state where King K was born and raised and ultimately learned how to be such a bad ass. Many people who live in Kohala are descendants of this iconic figure and it is not uncommon to hear people dropping the fact that they are proud to be part of this great king’s legacy.

Since there are no pictures of the man wearing his royal plumage (that I could find) I had to use his statue as the main reference. There are 4 statues of King K (see this link for the dirt,* one being a replica, I believe. At any rate, using a statue as a reference doesn’t lend itself to producing an image that is completely life like especially since I chose the statue on Oahu, since it is the one with the most detail, despite the fact that the skin is painted black, which hardly allows for contrast building. I attempted to give the image life with use of subtle colors and dropping in the background of the Pololu Valley, which is where King K liked to chill, among other things, ahem.

During the tattoo I asked my friend if he remembered the song about King K that we used to sing when we were children (small kid time). The song told the story of how King Kamehameha went to Mauna Kea, lost his underwear twice and then ended up buying a $50 dollar car. He said that he didn’t, so I sang a few bars. After we had a good laugh he turned to me and said in a very serious tone, “You know, my grandpa would always yell at me when I sang that song because he said that King Kamehameha didn’t wear underwear”. How his grandfather knew that information is something that I will never understand. In all of his statues, the great king is wearing what looks like a primitive thong covered with a swatch of royal cloak. That has to count as underwear, no doubt.

I took my time on this one spending nearly 4 hours on it total. Aloha!

Equipment used:

Pulse- Watson



Alla Prima

Ana’ole walk-in


This person was a walk-in who wanted to get a tattoo before he left. Generally, this is the best time for anyone to get work done because it allows the enjoyment of the sun and ocean (two things that you need to avoid after getting tattoo work) to their hearts content.

He really didn’t know what he wanted to get, as we started talking about design, vacillating between several traditional Hawaiian symbols and placements.


Sorting out the gobbledegook in someone else’s mind is part of my job and thankfully this person was consistent enough in his desire to get some sort of Polynesian work done on him. Sometimes people come in and they don’t know what they want, but they know they want something (an allegory to life?). In these cases I tell them to go home and think about it since getting a tattoo shouldn’t be treated as an impulse, like say, changing your hair color or buying that Harley you’ve always wanted but never needed. Besides, I don’t want to put my time and energy into something that could be classified as trivial. But that’s just me.


Inside of forty-five minutes, we had established that he wanted something that exemplified his family, love of the sea, the Big Island and protection. Also, he wanted the tattoo to reflect his warrior’s spirit, although he joked that because he was now studying to become an accountant that his warrior days were presently in his rearview. Utilizing traditional Hawaiian symbolism within such parameters, his tattoo would have consisted of a smattering of triangles and squares and perhaps a petroglyph-esque rendition of various elements of the island topped off with a turtle shell. Fairly played out symbols that everyone and their mother has emblazoned on them nowadays. So, I suggested something a bit more dynamic and he agreed. Leaving me to my devices, he and his party went off to the local bar to have a few drinks. When he returned thirty minutes later, I had completed 90% of the drawing, and after making a few small modifications, we set an appointment for the following morning.


When doing any Ana’ole work I prefer to have some time to think about the piece, drawing up several options before finally arriving at a final design. In the case of a walk-in, I don’t have that cushion to fall back on, but as is the case with any walk-in, coming up with something on the spot is part of the challenge of creating a thought out, meaningful piece. I was very pleased with the final design, but more importantly so was the client.


Walking through this piece starting from the bottom and moving upwards from left to right, I decided to place the maka io, or hawk’s eye as the base for the simple fact that the hawk’s eye is a symbol of vigilance; always on the lookout for danger or opportunity. Behind the eye are lauhala checkers, which signify family and unity. Moving upwards along that same plane is the sun (which you can hardly see from this angle) which is a symbol of strength and life as well providing illumination for the maka io to see.


The next plane consists of a row of niho mano, or shark’s teeth, set into a wave. This is to symbolize the strength of the ocean, an object that he admittedly enjoys yet fears (as anyone should).


Just above that are two rows of spearheads signifying his warrior spirit. Set into these rows I put Mauna Kea to symbolize the Big Island since a volcano (albeit a dormant one) is a good way to represent the BI. Coming off of the right of this symbol are four waves which symbolize his family (at least the ones that he was traveling with this time). Since they all share a love for the sea, I have them coming into contact with the wave to illustrate this better.


Lastly, I put Ku the god of strength as the main hierarchal piece, to tie together the protection and power elements of the piece. Both the ku tiki and maka io are facing forward to confront anything obstacles that he may encounter in life.





PS. I promise that one day I will learn to take a proper picture!


Equipment used:



Pulse, Watson









Silverback 3,4