Maui-Go-Round                                                                                         Photo by Quincy Deis

A new addition to Paia – a 15′ x 55′ mural.  When I was asked to do this I wanted to create an image that evoked the feeling of joy and weightlessness when you’re in the water – a child-like moment in the midst of Paia’s natural wonders and allure.  Of course, there had to be our beloved Honus (turtles) as they are everywhere.

Since you only have a mere second to see it while driving through town it was important to me to capture and relate the awe and beauty one experiences as you plunge into the beautiful ocean that makes Paia so special.

I titled it Maui-Go-Round because it’s our natural playground.

A very special thanks to Annie and Chris McNeil from Paia Surf ( ), and Rick Markham and Maria at Nalu Lodge ( ) who helped make all this happen.

Answer to: How did Robena get started?

Many readers have asked: How did Robena get started?, and like all artists (it seems), the journey was an interesting one made up of twists, turns, catalysts, inspirations, epiphanies, and discoveries.

It seems to have all begun as a child, when Robena was being watched by her Aunt Jo, while her mother was at work.  Robena was four years old, and as is typical with this age, she was underfoot as Aunt Jo was trying to accomplish some household duties.  Jo pulled out some old paints her children had used; the kind that were in white plastic trays, featuring an assortment of colors, where you would just add water, and set Robena up in a children’s desk located in the kitchen.  With a little instruction, Robena set out to paint a picture.  Four hours later, with Jo’s own children home from school and her husband from work, the family was ready to sit down for dinner, and Robena refused to move from her task at hand.  Just as dinner was moving toward dessert, Robena stood up and proudly displayed her painting of a bird.  It was so beautiful and intricate Aunt Jo submitted it into an art contest at the local library and it won first prize!  She was the youngest artist in the competition, and her painting was chosen over all the high school students who entered.  She was hooked, and so was the family, doing whatever they could to encourage this budding talent.

Robena was born and raised in Texas, and because of her dad’s career, they moved quite often.  Wherever they landed, Robena immersed herself in the local art world/scene, which came to define her path in life – though accomplished in many areas, she proudly proclaimed herself as an artist.  In the early years she was a strict representational artist, but when she entered high school, she began gravitating toward abstraction, which she followed and nourished throughout high school career and into college.  After college, with her final year as a commissioned muralist for the University of Texas/Edinburgh, she got married and settled with her husband in the Dallas area.  Art was still her passion, specifically abstractionism, but when her paints ran out and their newlywed budget could not afford more paint, she stopped creating.  Not a good thing –

All she had left in her art supplies was black paint (she only uses acrylic because of the toxicity of using oils and the chemicals necessary to paint and clean) and some scraps of raw canvas.  After a couple of weeks of inactivity, she decided that that wasn’t going to stop her and soon began on a journey that has brought her to where she is today.  After dumpster-diving for discarded wood, she built some stretchers out of 2×4’s topped with 1/2″ quarter-round moulding, and stretched her canvases.  She decided at that point that the only work suitable for raw canvas and just the color black was to do black and white portraits by diluting her paint (stretching out this valuable commodity) with water, and doing washes on the raw canvas with a watercolor technique.  The resulting paintings were awesome and can be seen on her website.

Years later, as income increased and new paints could be purchased, Robena still employs the same technique and approach to her paintings.  First, she uses only four colors to create her palette; cyan, magenta, yellow and white, keeping her budget for supplies in check because she refuses to purchase the seventy-six greens and eighty-three blues, etc, that are available on the market.  Besides the expense, she has found that she is able to achieve a purity of color by using the primaries to create her palette that is unachievable with ready-made colors; the mixing of these paints, because of their varying chemical formulations, often yields poor results.  Next, she starts with raw canvas, not gessoed or primed, and after a little dry brushing to determine outline, she uses diluted (with water) paint and does a series of washes to have the image slowly emerge from the canvas.  This process allows for the slow building of acrylic so it doesn’t take on the plastic look and feel often associated with this medium, which is very important, especially when painting artwork of scale where the impact of the surface texture is more critical to the overall look and feel of the painting.

The other component of her artwork that has been critical to her success is the blending of her work as an abstractionist and that as a portraitist.  Up close, her paintings are created with abstract elements, but as you step away they take on the disciplined look of a portrait artist.  Today, each and every subject matter in her paintings are a portrait of the subject – the rose she paints is not merely comprised of the components of that particular rose, it is an exact rendering of that specific rose – a portrait of that rose, as exacting as if it were a portrait of your child where all the nuances of their visage must be painted exactly as it is, and only as a mother would know.   The abstract components in her painting are used to achieve that portrait look – to beautiful effect.

So that is how Robena’s journey unfolded, and how she arrived at where she is today; an very accomplished artist bringing beauty, life, light, and color into existence, for all of us to admire and enjoy.


Hope that helps!

In Memory of Patricia

My mother, Patricia, was a strong and independent woman who fought personal adversity to excel in life.  Born with a birth defect, she was a strong advocate for women’s rights when it wasn’t vogue, mother to nine children, and a brainiac who wasn’t allowed onto the game show ‘Jeopardy’ (early days) because she blew everyone away in the trials, Patricia was a true renaissance woman; dynamic, spirited, talented, and a force to be respected and honored.

One of her achievements in life was to be named ‘Rose Queen’ at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York.  This title followed her throughout life, and her love of roses was legendary.  When she passed away, having suffered the ravages of Alzheimer’s (which is the only way she would have been taken without a fight), Robena decided to dedicate a collection to her, all based on roses.

A beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman…


Here’s a small sampling of the collection –

Dinner and a Float

Maui artist Robena was invited over to some friends’ house for dinner; a beautiful estate in Kula with gorgeous panoramic views.  As she was enjoying a glass of wine on their lanai, she noticed that the couple had a beautiful collection of Japanese fishing floats tastefully displayed throughout the house.  The ones on the lanai were bursting with light and color as the setting sun shone through them – she then knew that this was to be the subject matter for her next collection.

Japanese fishing floats were used years ago (before plastics) to keep the nets afloat.  They come in all sizes and a variety of colors, with the green/blue ones being the predominant ones.  These floats would at times, become detached from the net, and travel by wind and current, ending up on distant shores.  A number of floats ended up on the beaches of Hawaii intact, and were collected by many.  Though their numbers are dwindling because of new materials, some of these floats can still be found – but rarely.

The couple in Kula had been collecting them for decades, and had amassed quite an array of floats.  Robena arranged with them to come back with her camera to capture these transparent travelers, and ended up with seven images she turned into exquisite paintings.

A small point of interest – while Robena was painting this series, she walked into the kitchen and saw a bowl of onions.  Same shapes, same palette, same vision – so as part of her show, she included the onions – seen here.

Antique Glass from Maui

The Maui artist, Robena has been collecting glass for years, which she uses as subject matter for some of her paintings.  In the past, she favored glass from Mexico, as it has imperfections that work beautifully in her compositions.  Recently, she has been attracted to antique glass bottles from Maui, with their raised lettering and storied history.  She acquired three bottles from an antique shop in Paia, set them up with interesting colors and shapes behind them, and began photographing.  From this mini-photo shoot, Robena selected three images that spoke to her and painted a series. Here’s the results…Note of interest: The T.H. after Maui on the Lahaina Ice Company bottle stands for Territory of Hawaii.

The paintings have received some great attention from clients, which has prompted Robena to find some other bottles from Maui for inspiration – which we’ll see the results in a month or two.  But I don’t expect it to end there; Robena is smitten by what she is discovering, and is seeking to create more paintings of antique bottles used throughout the state, and not just Maui.

Stay tuned…

Liquid Space

One of Robena’s most admired paintings is titled ‘Liquid Space’, a beautiful depiction of life under the waves.  Since Robena takes all her own photographs, from which she creates her paintings, she went to Big Beach in Makena, Maui, and plunged into the water with her underwater camera in hand.  At a ten foot depth she stood on the bottom and aimed her camera toward the open ocean.  From that photo she created ‘Liquid Space’.  Stunning.  Beautiful.  Captivating.

Clients who see it in person, are visually transported to this world of peace and tranquility.  The imagery acts as a stress-reliever, as you can visibly see them lower their shoulders, take a deep breath and succumb to the tranquility.  It is mesmerizing and subtly powerful.

She painted ‘Liquid Space’ along with ‘Liquid Dreams’, which gives us all a unique and magnetic attraction to the restorative nature of life beneath the surface.

Maui Ocean Center – a place for inspiration

As Robena was preparing for an upcoming show focused on marine life, she contacted the Maui Ocean Center, and was granted permission to photograph in the exhibits.  The Maui Ocean Center is a world-class facility, and the exhibits are spectacular!  For hours, she was enthralled with the unique splendor of ‘life beneath the waves’, and was able to photograph scores of scenes.  Attached to this posting are some of the paintings she created from her journey underwater.


Negative Tide with Franny

Anne E Coopersmith, known by friends and colleagues as ‘Franny’, is a Marine Biologist who teaches at the University of Hawaii/Maui.  For an upcoming show, Robena wanted to paint marine life and asked Franny for her help.  Looking at her moon and tide charts, Franny found a negative tide that was to occur in the near future, and the ladies made a date to meet at Olowalu on the west side of the Maui.  A negative tide only happens a couple times of year, when the tide is extremely low, exposing the reef and its inhabitants to a greater degree than normal; providing a great opportunity for discovery.

Robena brought a large glass bowl, filled it with water and perched herself near a coral head.  Franny, with snorkel gear on, searched the reef for marine life and gently placed it in the bowl.  Robena took a photo and Franny returned the specimens to the reef – unharmed.





‘Olowalu Gang’ depicts a brittle starfish, sea urchin, and limu (seaweed).






‘Rock Dandy’ is of a hermit crab.


‘Baldwin Beach Drifters’ is comprised of seaweed!  Robena took a handful of seaweed that had washed up on shore and took a photo of it.  This painting is exactly the way it looks in the photo – the salt and sun had pulled the chlorophyl from the plant, revealing some beautiful colors.




The same with ‘Passing Beauty’




‘Local 7-11’ is of our local species of crab named 7-11; Hawaiian legend states that the dark spots on the crab are fingerprints from a god.  While Robena was waiting for Franny, she discovered this crab right below her feet and took a photo with her underwater camera.  A fun painting was created to capture this brief (and reef) encounter.

Next blog… a visit to the Maui Ocean Center!

Answers to Robena’s technique

I have been asked a number of times recently to explain Robena’s painting technique.  So here goes…  After Robena has decided on the imagery for her painting, she sizes the final piece and builds her own frames out of kiln-dried wood.  She then stretches unprimed, medium weight canvas over the frame, starting from the center of each side, and then equally and evenly working her way to the corners.  With photograph in hand, she lightly sketches in the image, and once complete, goes back and adds detail.

Using four colors; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and White, she identifies the colors in the image and mixes her own palette with acrylic paint: She typically doesn’t use White until the end of the painting.  Once all the colors are identified and created, she will begin by dry brushing the stronger features of the subject matter, while the stretched canvas is on an easel.  Upon completion of this step, the painting is laid down on a table or on the floor, and a series of washes are applied, typically from the darkest to the lightest.  The dilution of the paint allows her to gently build up color, giving her paintings a soft and subtle look and appeal.  Some paintings, such as the one attached to this blog, have dozens of washes applied to the same area  – the cheek of the dancer in this example has over three dozen layers or washes applied to achieve the desired look.

Just like watercolors, she has to control the amount, viscosity, bleeding, and run off with brush, paper towel, and a keen sense of ‘where it’s going’.  When she is about 80% – 90% finished with the painting, she typically stores the painting for about a week plus – taking it out of sight and (hopefully) out of mind.  When she returns to the painting, she places it back on her easel upside down, and positions a mirror at the far end of the room.  These vantage points allow her to have a new perspective and approach to her artwork.  Back and forth between mirror and standing in front of her painting, Robena discovers some of the nuances she is seeking to make the painting mature toward completion.  This process is very gradual, as the subtlest additions can dramatically alter the overall look and success of the painting.

Robena loves working with raw canvas, as the paint goes into the fabric and doesn’t sit on top, as one would experience with a primed canvas.  This attribute also comes with a downside, in that the ‘white point’, or the base color that all colors are determined in a painting is tan – the color of the canvas.  To establish a proper white point, Robena judiciously introduces white in a series of washes, allowing all the colors in the painting to emerge and radiate out.

Once complete, Robena finds the ‘right wash’ that will pull all the color elements together, and then applies a wash across the entire surface of the canvas.  This tightens up the image, and sets it.   When the painting is completely dry, a signature, and three coats of matte varnish to prevent the introduction of moisture and UV protection is applied.

The painting attached to this post is a value painting whereby it was created with one color, which can be seen in the darkest kukui nut.  That color is diluted and washed in varying degrees throughout, to create the rest of the painting.

Hope this explanation helps!


Legend of Naupaka

Robena created a painting titled ‘Legendary Love’, depicting the plant Naupaka in both its Beach and Mountain variations.  The Beach variety is common throughout the region, with its white buoyant seeds being carried on tides and currents to distant shores.  Scientists believe that the mountain variety was carried by birds into the interior of the islands where it mutated and adapted to its new environment.  This type of Naupaka is only found in Hawaii.

The Hawaiian legend of this half-flower states that the daughter (Napaka) of royal descent fell in love with a commoner, a fisherman.  The family did not approve of the relationship and separated the couple.  When they parted, Naupaka took a flower and split it half, and gave one half to her love and carried the other half to the family’s residence in the mountains.  Both lovers planted their half in the garden of their respective homes, which took root  – signifying their undying love for each other.

The painting, ‘Legendary Love’ brings the “lovers” back together – Beach Naupaka on top, and the Mountain Naupaka on the bottom.  A beautiful story, an amazing flower, and an inspiring painting.