The Story Behind the Honolulu Surf Film Festival’s Retro-Inspired Logo

Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i artist Jeff Gress made this year’s Honolulu Surf Film Festival logo a subtle nod to surf culture. The festival runs July 7 through Aug. 3 at Doris Duke Theatre.

Editor’s Note: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by the museum’s staff.

  Jeff Gress

Photos: Courtesy of Jeff Gress


It’s the beginning of July, which means it’s time for the Honolulu Surf Film Festival to drop in for its 11th year. But you probably already knew that if you spotted the purple logo around the museum (and the internet, of course). Set against a bold black and purple botanical background, this year’s illustration is undeniably eye-catching, with retro hand-rendered lettering. Getting people stoked for the festival? Goal accomplished.


We can thank Jeff Gress for that.


Honolulu Surf Film Festival logo
This year’s logo.


In 2011, the East Bay, California, native graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with a BFA in graphic design. That was also the year of the first Pow! Wow! street art festival, which started in Hawai‘i but now spans streets and walls around the world. At the time, Gress was interested in typography but tired of only working behind a computer. He was ready to get into more “hand-created stuff,” he says. So when his professor brought his class to a Pow! Wow! event, he was enthralled by the work they were doing and those larger scale paintings. “As I was figuring out what I wanted to do professionally for a career, I started helping with them and volunteering,” he says. He began handling Pow! Wow!’s operations and soon after, in 2012, he was named Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i’s operations director. Around the same time, Gress spearheaded the opening of Lana Lane Studios, a community space where more than 30 working artists of all media are able to freely let their creative juices flow. When he’s not working with Lana Lane Studios, he continues to hone his craft, painting murals and other artworks around the globe while focusing on brush script calligraphy.


One collaborative mural inspired by the Junot Diaz book The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao caught the eye of Honolulu Museum of Art senior graphic designer Anjali Lee. In tandem with Pow! Wow! co-founder Jasper Wong, Gress painted the mural in 2016 alongside the Cleveland railway for the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. Lee fell in love with the mural’s color palette and proposed Gress to the museum as this year’s freelance illustrator. As they say, the rest is history.

  The Brief Wondrous Life mural

The mural that caught Lee’s eye, in Cleveland, Ohio.


To learn more about what went into creating this year’s logo, we caught up with Gress on the phone while he was running around Long Beach, California, for a Pow! Wow! Long Beach event.


Honolulu Museum of Art: How would you describe your personal style?

Jeff Gress: I would say inspired by hand-rendered type from classic sign-painting techniques. Being from a graphic design background, I really recognize the value of legibility in graphic design and readability, so it was a combination of trying to create something that’s got some readability in the letters but also, you know, have that personal touch to it so that it doesn’t necessarily read as a font that you would kind of pick out or something like that.


HoMA: How did it feel to learn you were going to create the Honolulu Surf Film Festival illustration?

JG: I was really stoked. I hadn’t worked directly with the museum before, and I know we did work with them with Pow! Wow! so it was really nice to do something. You know, I've gone to a lot of the films and went to a couple different surf films at the Doris Duke Theatre so it was cool to contribute to that. And I surf, I surf in Honolulu, so I thought it was nice to be able to actually identify with what it is and then to be able to participate in this cool project, which is the surf film festival.

  Honolulu Surf Film Festival logo


HoMA: How long did it take for the illustration to be finished from inception?

JG: I think I had the original sketches within the first week, within the first few days. And that actually was easy to develop and so I think once that sketch was approved, I got the design done within a couple of weeks. [It] probably took a good eight days of really rendering the digital sketch.


HoMA: What were some of the challenges to creating the illustration?

JG: I think the hardest part would be to try and not over-design the image but to give subtle details that are apparent to discerning viewers.


HoMA: What do you want viewers to feel when they see the illustration?

JG: I guess I really wanted these subtle waves as the brush points. Basically all the points and all the curls were little waves in my head, so I wanted to be able to really subtly create a brush script that I do normally but have it be a very minimal nod to surf culture. I kind of had the feel of wetsuits and the ocean, those kinds of colors, and I just wanted to relay that—just a subtle minimal sense of surf vibe.


Meet Gress in person and bring home a little bit of his talent with you at July’s Art After Dark: Board Room, taking place July 27. He’ll be stationed in the Museum Shop to do live sketching on glass jars that will be available for purchase. The Honolulu Surf Film Festival runs July 7 through Aug. 3 at Doris Duke Theatre, 901 Kīna‘u St. Tickets are $12; $10 for museum members.