Layne Luna finds a perfect callingBy Cynthia Oi
in sculpting really big fish
HILO -- IT ISN'T OFTEN A MAN CAN COMBINE the things he loves doing and make a living from it. In this sense, Layne Luna is lucky.
Luna loves to fish, he loves to surf and make surf boards, he loves to paint. And he loves to teach.
He folds his skills as a fisher, painter and surf board maker into an art form that challenges him and helps him provide for his wife and two young daughters. For the past six years, teaching art in public schools was also part of the mix, but that will end soon.
Luna was not able to meet state requirements for a teaching license, so this year at Keeau Middle will be his last. It's too bad, he says, because he enjoyed the kids and teaching, but he sees his loss as an opportunity to devote full time to art.
"I always wanted to put everything into my art, so now maybe I can," he said. "Actually, no more much choice," he laughed.
Luna, 34, has had moderate success with his art work. He recently sold a painting for $16,500 and a few others for smaller amounts. In March, when the Lyman House Memorial Museum in downtown Hilo opens its renovated exhibits, about three dozen of Luna's three-dimensional fish will be a prominent part of the new displays.
The fish, made of fiberglass and surfboard resin, will appear to swim through painted underwater scenes that reflect the species' habitats. Among the pieces are ulua, an eel, an octopus and a 10-foot-long tiger shark.
The sculptures are true to life because they start out as real fish.
Luna demonstrates the process in his "studio," a tarp-covered patch of grass with a sandbox in his back yard.
First, he buries one side of the fish in the sand, shaping it so it mimics its natural movement. Then he pours in resin and casts the side, repeating the process for the other half. The halves are then glued together and details, such as cast fins and teeth and glass eyes, are attached. Using automotive paint, he carefully recreates the fish's coloring.
Like taxidermists, Luna also casts trophies of catches for sport fisherman.
This keeps him busy; his studio one day held pieces of about 10 fish in various stages of production.
Luna's interest in art began with his mother, who painted in watercolor and also worked with resin casting. He began drawing when he was 2 years old on reams of folded computer paper his father brought home from his government job.
"My mom taught us the value of art," he said. She also encouraged him to develop his own style. "She said no copy other people's stuff. Make your own."
He grew up drawing television cartoon heroes like Kikaida and Speed Racer and creating designs for the surfboards he made. But when his parents' marriage fell apart, he did too.
"In high school, I kinda lost it. Because of the divorce, I really struggled," he recalled.
He stopped doing the things that made him happy, like fishing and surfing. He began getting into trouble and doing poorly in school and eventually was sent to a special school for kids who misbehaved.
Then he met Jacqueline Kubo.
"I didn't fish for a long time, then when I met her, her dad and brothers used to go fishing so I started again."
Jackie was an excellent student, a popular girl who became a Miss Hawaii Teenworld. She helped him get back on track simply by being who she was.
"I was like one surfer kid, real troublemaker. When I saw her, I said I better straighten up if I going to have a girlfriend like that."
Luna and Jackie supported each other at various times as both of them studied for their college degrees.
"He worked, then I worked, and we went to school together," Jackie said. "That's why it took us 10 years before we got married."
Six years his wife, she remains his help mate, preparing canvases for his paintings and taking care of their daughters, Hillary, 4, and Camille, 2, on the weekends when he immerses himself in his art.
Luna's favorite fish -- to catch and to depict -- is the ulua.
"I chose the ulua because it represents perseverance and strength.
"To catch an ulua, you gotta give out a lot. Some guys fish all their lives and never catch a big one. It comes to those who deserve it. It's spiritual in some ways; it goes to your self."
As an artist, he favors it "because the skin and scales are really prominent. You can get nice detail and the face is a strong face."
Like art, fishing is part of his family history. "My grandfather and grandma on Lanai are legendary shoreline ulua fishermen," he said.
He learned all his skills from them -- the good spots and where the fish might bite, the best poles and lines to use, and the different types of fish in Hawaii waters.
"So all these things from my mother and my grandparents, from Jackie, my hobbies, the things I like to do, I combine them to my art."
Everything would be perfect, he said, but for his exit from the classroom. Luna believes he is a good teacher. Jackie, who also teaches, agrees.
"He has a special way with the kids," she said. He gives up his lunch periods to spend more time with his students, playing guitar, football and just paying attention to them, she said.
"He's the one who's always hustles the hard kids to learn."
Luna remembers what it was like to be a misfit in school.
"I was out of it, and I see the kids who need help, the kids that don't fit in," he said. "A lot of teachers feel they have to be real academic, conservative. I know they gotta have standards and all that, but you can bend for the kids.
"Just because some kids talk too much in class, or they no pay attention, they get labeled.
"Not all kids going turn out to be engineers or English majors or scientists. Some going turn out to be artists, designers, more creative than academic.
"Some teachers don't see the gifts and talents these kids have. We need programs to help these kids develop.
"Not everybody is alike, so you cannot teach with just one way."
His approach to teaching has allowed Luna to connect with many troubled students.
John Masuhara, principal at Hilo High where Luna taught last year, had nothing but praise for him.
"He has a wonderful rapport with young people. He did a real good job here, especially with the at-risk kids," Masuhara said.
"You can have all the paper qualifications in the world, but Layne's caring and his ability to share was his best quality."
When told Luna won't be teaching next year, Masuhara was sad.
"We'll be losing a valuable resource," he said.
Luna will miss the classroom but he isn't looking back.
"I gotta go off and do my thing."
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