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Mar 22, 2018

The Whimsical Work of Kris Goto

Kris Goto's fantasy illustrations are distinct to say the least.

Forged on monochromatic black-ink doodles on a white background, Goto's creations sprinkle bold splashes of red, vibrant yellows, and mysterious blues into the Suessian seascapes. The result: art that evokes the playful and surreal nature of a life spent frolicking in the ocean.


"My mom said that as long as I could hold a pencil, I was drawing," recalls Goto of her early days. "I was obsessed with manga (Japanese-style comics) as a girl growing up in Japan. I lived in a suburban area that was surrounded by rice fields."

When she was 15, Goto relocated to New Zealand, a move that proved to be instrumental in the artist's journey. For the first time she was able to connect to an art form that wasn't manga-related. "I became fascinated with Maori tattoos," Goto recalls of her time living in New Zealand. "These moves forced me to live outside my comfort zone. Then, I moved to Hawai'i in 2006 after high school."

Today, Goto channels the energy she finds from her Waikiki surf sessions into her self-described "pen art." Pairing the whimsical nature of manga into fantasy surf lands, Goto has found her own unique line that she continues to refine and reinvent. In the interview below, she opens up on her journey as a surfer / artist, and her latest mural at South Shore Market for Pow! Wow!

When did you begin creating art professionally?

Mark's Garage had an open call for an art show back in 2008/2009. I picked up a pen and created my first "pen art" back then. So that was about nine years ago.

Can you talk a little bit more about pen art and what that entails?

Sure. I primarily use colored, Micron Pens. It's not a ball-point pen at all. I push really hard on the pen when I'm drawing to get the effect. The ink is dark and very durable. I love Copic Markers because the pen strokes seem to blend in together in a really beautiful way. The result is that you'll only see a singular, solid color without seeing any of the pen strokes.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Primarily, I'd have to say it's from my love of surfing, for sure. However, to be honest, I haven't been in the water too much in the past few months, as I've been stuck in the studio working on numerous deadlines. But hopefully I'll be back in the water soon.

Let's talk about your new piece for Pow! Wow! Was this your first time participating or had you worked with them before?

No, this was actually my second time working with Pow! Wow! My first mural for Pow! Wow! was back in 2013. It was great getting to reminiscence with Jasper Wong (co-founder of Pow Wow Hawai'i) about that first project this year! I've spent the last several years working on separate murals and larger projects, and have learned to be able to execute the same quality of linework and perspective that you would expect to see on paper, but on a much larger canvas.

Can you discuss what it was like working on your piece at South Shore Market?

When I found out I was able to be a part of this year's event, I was really honored and excited to get to participate. I was on a really strict timeline and was only able to work on the mural for four days instead of the whole week. It was really awesome to see this piece, which is a part of an ongoing series that I started three years ago, come to life on a much larger scale. I'm so extremely grateful for Pow! Wow! Hawaii for the opportunity.

As an artist, what's the best compliment someone can give you?

People have asked me if I am a print-maker in the past because of the precision of the lines in my work. That makes me really happy to hear. I can draw circles after circles for hours at a time, just zoning out and getting into a piece.

I understand that you've also been working on a new piece at Shangri La?

Shangri La is unreal. That was a fantastic opportunity. The director, Konrad Ng, and the entire Shangri La Museum ʻohana were really hands-off in terms of concepts or preferences and they gave me a lot of freedom with my idea. They had just one request: that the mural honor the surroundings of the area. So that was a really fun project as well.

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