Skillshare student Keiko Saile is a multi-talented artist and maker who has successfully reinvented herself not once, but twice over the course of her career . At age 27, after years working in an academic setting, she moved from Germany to Switzerland to attend art school, eventually settling there and becoming a highly sought-after wedding photographer for the next twelve years. She says she’d probably still be in Switzerland, if she hadn’t taken a chance trip to Hawaii that inspired her to move halfway across the world and transform herself once more. Now she’s a successful handlettering and watercolor artist who practices calligraphy and sells handmade paints through her online company, The Aloha Studios, while running an Airbnb with her husband in Kona, HI.
We chatted with Keiko about her brave life journey, how she developed her myriad interests, and how Skillshare has helped her transform her abundant artistic curiosity into multiple creative careers.
Hi Keiko! Thanks for chatting with us today. Let’s dive right in. You’ve said that you first ventured into a freelance creative career about twelve years ago when you left your 9-to-5 and became a wedding photographer. What made you take that kind of leap?
I had a pretty good job working as an assistant in the English literature department at the University of Munich, but found myself spending every free minute behind the camera. I decided to leave my job at University and apply to different photo schools, including the University of Art in Zurich, Switzerland. I was 27 and suddenly found myself a student again, which felt strange after so many years of having a good job with a steady income.
I spent three years at art school, and during that time I had to work two, three, even four side jobs at once to make ends meet and gain experience. I accepted every opportunity to work with a camera I was offered. I made portraits, shot weddings, did product photography - you name it. Of all of the work though, I loved shooting weddings the most. It’s such a special day for every couple, and being there to capture the unique moments of joy that present themselves was so gratifying. I loved being a wedding photographer and would probably still be in Switzerland shooting couples if I hadn’t taken what turned out to be a very fateful trip to Hawaii that changed everything for me...again.
What was it about Hawaii that shifted things for you?
When I visited for the first time in 2014, I instantly fell in love with the islands. Hawaii has a fascinating history and an astounding abundance of animals and plants. The atmosphere here is amazing - there is a sense of calm that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. I only moved to Hawaii a year ago, but it’s a magical place. It’s my home away from home. It feels absolutely natural to share that same feeling through my brand, The Aloha Studios.
When did you start getting into making your own watercolors? And when did you decide to start selling them as a part of your business?
My passion for watercolors started just a couple of years ago, with Instagram and Skillshare, actually! I had such prejudice against watercolors up until then, I only remembered those cheap, brush-breaking chalky sets we used at school.
When I saw artists like Skillshare teachers Irina Trzaskos and Teela Cunningham create their magic with highly pigmented watercolors, I was instantly intrigued...until I found out about the prices of those really good watercolors. They can be astronomically expensive! You can still create great stuff with cheap art material (Yasmina Creates, another Skillshare teacher, taught me that!) but it’s so much more fun working with high-quality paints. I decided to learn to make my own.
Unfortunately there is little-to-no information available, just a few YouTube videos and some German books I was able to find after a long and protracted search. My process became mostly trial and error, particularly because each pigment requires different amounts of binder and time spent mulling.
Whoa. It sounds like a lot of work! Do you enjoy the process? Or is it more about the end result for you?
I love everything about making watercolors. Searching for the right pigment color...finding the right mix of Hawaiian honey and acacia sap...mulling the paint for hours...it all becomes kind of meditative for me. And of course I love getting messages from people who buy my paints. I find that people really respond to the high pigment content and the creamy consistency I try to achieve. It makes me so happy to see all of the artwork people create with my paints, I can’t even describe it. It’s pure bliss.
So you made this leap from 9-to-5 to wedding photographer, and then later, to watercolorist. And now you’re into calligraphy! How did you first get interested in that?
Two years ago, I was looking for some layouts for my wedding invitations and stumbled on some gorgeous hand-lettered cards on Pinterest. I ended up using pre-made fonts for my invitation, because there wasn’t enough time to produce anything myself, I had really scraggly handwriting at the time! I started following hand-lettering artists on Instagram though, and taking classes on Skillshare to improve myself.
Your work is amazing now…and I love that you write on unorthodox materials, like leaves, flowers and fruit. When did you decide to start lettering surfaces beyond paper?
When I find myself in an artistic block, I always try something new, away from the usual lettering on paper. It’s fun and freeing - it doesn’t matter if the lettering doesn’t look super-fancy because you can blame it on the quirky object you’re writing on.
Now it’s like second nature. I find myself looking at all kinds of things and thinking, can I letter on this? Or with it?
You told us that you’ve used Skillshare to explore a number of your passions. What about it have you found helpful as you’ve embarked on all of these cool careers?
Skillshare taught me almost everything I know about both lettering and watercolor art. I love that I can watch classes from any of my mobile devices, whenever I choose. There are so many talented artists who share their secrets and techniques! The only thing I haven’t been able to find is a class about how to make watercolors. Maybe that should be my next project!
Any classes you’d particularly recommend for someone interested in watercoloring or lettering or both, like you?
Yes! I can highly recommend classes by Irina Trzaskos, Amarylis Henderson and Yasmina Creates for people who want to learn more about watercolor painting, especially Ink & Watercolor Magic: 5 Step By Step Illustrations, Modern Watercolor Florals: 3 Ways, and Painting Tropical Foliage in Watercolor.
For people who want to hand-letter, I highly suggest Bounce Letters: Adding Character to your Hand Lettering, Lettering Layouts: Create Beautiful Messages by Teela Cunningham, and iPad Lettering: The Ultimate Guide by Peggy Dean.
Any other advice you’d give to someone who has multiple creative interests or might be considering multiple creative careers?
My first advice is to not do everything at once. I rarely photograph weddings anymore, because I want to focus on my new passions, hand lettering and making watercolors. That’s more than enough! It may seem difficult to let go of an old career, particularly if it’s a creative one, but if you find something new that truly sparks your interest, go for it. Take your time. It may take years to develop new skills, but don’t get discouraged!