Kon Tiki: Sketch to finished illustration

Did you know Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959 creating a Polynesian craze across the united states? Tiki themed restaurants, bars, and hotels opened up from coast-to-coast. Tiki culture is still alive and thriving today with many fans collecting tiki mugs and tiki artwork as well as decorating their home bars and backyards to resemble Polynesian island getaways.

I host an online Tiki themed drink-n-draw cocktail party each week called TIKI TUESDAY. I typically draw a sketch of a tiki idol, tiki mug design, or defund tiki bar. These lost tiki clubs are worth documenting as they helped to form the tiki culture we enjoy today and their legacy deserves to live on.

TIKI TUESDAY is live every Tuesday at 7:00PM Arizona time on Twitch. It is free to watch & chat during the livestream.


Sketching the famous Kon Tiki Hotel during a livestream.

The Kon Tiki story

They claimed it was as “A little bit of Waikiki in the heart of Phoenix,” the Kon Tiki Hotel was constructed during the Polynesian craze resulting from Hawaii’s adoption as the 50th state in 1959. The hotel was completed and opened in Phoenix, Arizona in 1961.

View of Kon Tiki from the sky

This iconic traveler's motel was located along the Van Buren Strip at 24th Street in Phoenix. It featured a swooping Polynesian profile roof of slatted wood. The dramatic entryway beckoned those traveling through Phoenix by automobile. It was a popular winter resort and ran brisk business in its themed restaurant. With a total of 111 guest rooms, the hotel was designed to cater to those seeking the quiet and relaxation of the Hawaiian islands in the heart of Phoenix.

Famous Kon Tiki Sign

The colorful signage was conjured up by prolific Phoenician sign designer Glen Gulette. Architect James Salter designed the Kon Tiki, as well as the Cine Capri Theater located at 24th Street and Camelback Road while at Haver and Associates, Phoenix’s most esteemed mid-century architect. In 1965 Salter went to Hawaii to run their new office there, where he died at the age of 41 after a night of drinking when he fell 33 floors while doing chin ups on a lanai railing.

Famous Kon Tiki Architecture on display

There were always plenty of honeymooners, according to employees, and many snowbirds would spend the entire winter at the Kon Tiki. The Kon Tiki was eventually demolished in 1997, leaving behind nothing but memories for patrons and collectors.

From sketch to finished illustration

I started with the sketch I created during Tiki Tuesday and refined the design while re-drawing the artwork on my iPad Pro using the Procreate app and Apple Pencil.

Side by side pencil sketch vs digital drawing

Next I took the illustration into Adobe Photoshop on my Mac where I experimented with color palettes inspired by the warm desert sunset. I also created textures and halftone patterns to enhance the vintage aesthetic. Finally I collaborate with my printer to ensure each gicleé print will look vibrant and true to the original. The finished art prints are then ready for tiki fans and collectors to proudly display in their homes.

 Final Kon Tiki Illustration

My new artwork pays homage to the original Kon Tiki Hotel that once resided in the desert Southwest. You will imagine sipping a cool tiki beverage and throwing a pool party every time you glance at this artwork in your home.

I hope you enjoyed this look behind the scenes at my creative process and I hope you enjoy this new tiki artwork too. Aloha!


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