Artist Interview - Keiko Saile

Who are you and what do you do?

Aloha! I’m Keiko, an artist and watercolor paint maker based in Kona, Hawai’i.

I love combining lettering and gouache illustration but am always open to trying out new techniques. If it says art, I’m in!


Why do you do what you do?

Honestly, I can’t imagine my life without art. If I haven’t created something even for just one single day, I feel kinda … hungry and maybe a bit grumpy haha!


You use so many vibrant colors, do you have any that you favor?

Have you ever tried working with a limited color palette? I can highly recommend it!

At the beginning of the year, I took a Skillshare class by Liz Kohler Brown, where she recommended creating a limited color palette of just 5 colors and working with it consistently for a certain period of time. I have a shirt that I thrifted and really like and I extracted a palette containing opera pink, purple, teal, green, and Naples yellow from the shirt’s pattern.

I fell in love with the concept so much that I’m still sticking to it.


What inspires your art?

Mostly my surroundings. I live in the jungle. Apart from the millions of mosquitoes, it’s an absolute dream and also a daily inspiration for my artwork. Flowers, plants, large trees, bright colors, altogether right in front of my door.


How and when did you get into art?

Drawing and painting have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Lettering however was something I only came across in 2016 on Instagram and Pinterest. I was instantly hooked.

The same thing happened when I came across people who created their own watercolor paints. I experimented for about a year before opening my own store online. Never in my life would I have thought that I could make a living by being a paint maker. I still sometimes have a hard time believing it.


How has your practice changed over time?

Nowadays, I plan out my art pieces more.

Running a one-woman business as a watercolor paint maker is very time-consuming as I don’t outsource and rather do every single thing myself.  I have to carve out time to create an art piece.

Initially, I thought it would take away from the joy of creating art, but on the contrary, it has forced me to create with more focus and somehow it lead to me creating more. I’m sure this doesn’t work for everybody, but setting aside a certain amount of time per day to create has changed my art practice for the better.


What’s your favorite piece of art that you’ve created? Why?

There are quite a few favorites that I have, so I’ll go with the favorite of 2021. It’s a mural I created in our house, and it was a project just for fun, with zero pressure and total freedom. I thought that if I messed it up, I’ll just paint over it.

It’s a jungle theme, and my cat BC is lounging in a hammock. Which he would never do in real life but hey, on a mural, everything is possible :-)


What’s the best piece of art advice you’ve been given?

Back to the limited color palette! It helped me a lot on the long long path of finding my artistic voice and style (and I’m not there yet, still looking). Working with specific colors gave my work a more coherent feel, though.

The other good advice that goes in a similar direction is to work with themes. They can be as simple as “the four seasons” or as challenging as “empowering women”.


What’s one art tip/technique you can share with us that you find really helpful?

Try to paint the same subject in different ways, and/or with different media. I’ve done this many times and find it extremely helpful to change my perspective and create other ideas on how I can improve.

Before I tackled the jungle mural, I created the piece with other media first: pencil on paper,  digitally on the iPad, as well as with gouache on paper. With every repetition, I grew more confident in the shapes until I felt ready to paint the mural.


Do you have any secret tips or techniques you use to salvage a piece when you make a mistake?

It really depends on the mistake and on the medium I am using. If it’s  commissioned work, I am likely to start over again. If it’s something I’m creating for myself I’m more likely to just embrace the mistake and make it part of the artwork.



What is your favorite Strathmore paper? Why?

The black Artagain drawing paper for its smooth surface and versatility. I use it for lettering and calligraphy as well as for gouache.

My other favorite is the watercolor travel journal for its great paper quality and format.


What art materials could you not live without?

Watercolors and gouache. Even though I would be happy to create with pretty much any kind of art material!


What types of colors are you drawn to for your art and why?

In general, I like cool colors and everything green, teal, blue. In order to create contrast and tension, I like to add complementary colors such as peach and pink. It’s all very much inspired by my jungle surroundings.


Who are your biggest influences (or who were when you started doing art)?

As a teenager, I was a big fan of artists like Dalì and Higashiyama Kaii. Nowadays my focus is more on art business owners such as Peggy Dean (The Pigeon Letters) and Lauren Hom (homsweethom), who manage to run a successful business while also making their names as artists.


Whats the most common art-related question you get from your followers?

Usually, the questions are directed toward my watercolor-making business. Where to find recipes on how to make paint and such. At some point, I was getting so many inquiries that I decided to put together a list of resources on my website.

Thank you so much for inviting me to this interview! I had never thought about some of the questions, e.g. the best art advice, and it made me go back and remember what different people have said to me during my life and how it has helped my artistic journey.


Website/social media links:

Handmade watercolors on Instagram: @alohawatercolors

My artwork on Instagram: @thealohastudios

Website: and

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