Geeking Out on Paper:

An Interview with Artist Angaea Cuna 

“People say don’t judge a book by its cover, but as a bookmaker that is exactly what I am trying to get people to do,” says Angaea Cuna, laughing. An award-winning artist, Angaea creates one of a kind handmade notebooks and journals using natural materials. Her inspiration comes from the Island of Hawaiʻi and its diverse landscape, interwoven with Hawaiian mythology, Filipino mythology, and her own experience. In addition to being a visionary creator, she is an arts educator with the Donkey Mill Art Center’s Youth Arts Program, which brings art classes into local public elementary schools. I sat down with Angaea to learn more about her story, her work, and where she finds inspiration.


Angaea Cuna’s first memories of making art are with her dad. He worked long hours, but would come home every night and give her drawing lessons. Together they sketched animals – dogs, horses, and dinosaurs with charcoal. She filled notebook after notebook. Her dad learned to draw from his father in the same way when he was a kid. “My parents were very supportive of my creative side from an early age,” says Angaea. Her mom, who loved to craft, would collect shoe boxes and together they would then transform into fairy homes. 

The family lived in Hollywood, California, after moving from the Philippines when Angaea was a young child. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Angaea and her family lived as undocumented immigrants for more than twenty years. Throughout her confusing childhood in the United States, Angaea always found solace in art.

In 2013, Angaea was able to receive a DACA card that protected her from deportation. As a DACA-recipient, she was allowed to apply for financial aid and scholarships that would support her college career. Angaea went on to attend the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) where she earned her BA in Fine Arts. While in college, she discovered bookmaking as an art form and quickly fell in love. She handmade her first book in 2016, an amalgamation of her own written essays, poetry, interviews, and photography. The book was made from muslin cloth and cotton rag.


After graduating, Angaea worked for Mexica-America graphic designer Rebeca Méndez in California, but quickly grew tired of the hustle and grind of LA. She craved a different kind of life, somewhere she felt more connected. In 2018, she moved to Hawaiʻi Island, where she felt much more at home.

 “In LA I felt very disconnected from nature,” says Angaea. In Hawaiʻi, she became totally immersed in it. She started her time on the island farming in South Kona. Close contact with the land began to awaken a deeper consciousness of her lifestyle and artistic practice. She found more patience with herself and her work, allowing it to progress organically, mirroring the environment around her. It became less about a hustle and grind of churning out work and more about learning and discovery. “It’s kind of like I’m a chef,” says Angaea. “Making art now is like finding an amazing tomato growing in the jungle, bringing it home, tasting it, mixing it with other ingredients and seeing what happens.”


Not long after Angaea arrived on Hawaiʻi Island in 2018, Kia’i (or protectors) of Mauna Kea began protesting against the thirty meter telescope. Angaea felt a strong sense of solidarity with the movement. “Coming to Hawaiʻi felt like stepping back in time to the 1700s, when the Philippines were being colonized by Spain and indigenous Filipinos were fighting to keep their cultural identity. I saw a lot of parallels between my own history and what is happening right now in Hawaiʻi,” says Angaea. 

While participating in the protests, she attended a teach-in on the sister Goddesses Pele and Hiʻiaka and how destruction and creation go hand in hand. While destruction is often viewed as a negative, there is power and good in it. It can be used as a tool to rid ourselves of the things that no longer serve our well being, making room for new growth –  like the beautiful ʻōhiʻa tree emerging from a barren volcanic landscape. 

Her experience on the Mauna inspired a series of handmade books based on the sister Goddesses and the theme of destruction and new life. Hiʻiaka 1st Edition, captures the spirit of Hiʻiaka, the Hawaiian Goddess of life after death, with a rich green clover paper cover and a carved bone egg decorating the book’s spine, (referencing the story of how Hiʻiaka was carried as an egg across the ocean to Hawaiʻi Island by her sister Pele). Another handmade book from this series evokes the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess herself with a black and fiery orange handmade paper cover which perfectly mirrors the color and texture of cooling lava, bound with a goat spine clasp. Angaea notes that in making work about these iconic goddesses, she seeks to capture the essence of their personalities, without sexualizing them.

Pictured Above, Left to right:

Hiʻiaka first edition – 6″ x 4″, carved Bone, Lokta Dyed Handmade Paper, Clover handmade paper, gold mica flakes, black leather ribbon

Artist Angaea Cuna

Pele Goat Spine – 6” x 4”, marbled orange lokta paper, black ogura lace paper, goat’s bone, lava rock bead, black leather ribbon, dyed cotton paper


Angaea makes books that people can’t help but pick up. She likes to try and push the boundaries to provoke curiosity in the viewer. Can this book have legs? Can it have teeth? Can it have holes? What can she do with the spine that will make it speak to people so they can’t help put it off the shelf? Each book she creates is a unique work of art. 

The process of bookmaking is labor intensive. A single book can take six to ten hours or more to make, depending on the amount of ornamental details involved. 

Here is a window into Angaea’s bookmaking process:

  1. Decide how big you want the book to be and pick the paper. “I geek out on paper,” says Angaea. “It’s kind of like trying to pick a wand at the wand shop in Harry Potter.” With some books, she makes the paper from scratch herself. 
  2. Cut, fold, and sew the paper together using a needle and wax thread. 
  3. Bind the spine. The spine can be a challenge, Angaea says. You want it to be durable, but also malleable so it’s comfortable to turn the pages.
  4. Create the cover. She makes front and back ‘book boards’, from either cloth, leather, or paper. Surface decoration and additional found elements are added like bone, stone, shell, or beads. 

What Angaea loves most about her bookmaking process is that it is non-toxic and uses natural renewable materials – art with the earth in mind. The bookbinding glue she uses is made out of bones. Tools are made from wood or bone. Beeswax is used to wax the thread, paper is made from different natural fibers. “If I’m all done and I hate the book, then I can just throw it out in the garden and it will eventually break down,” says Angaea. 

One of her favorite book projects of all time is Half Leaf (ʻōpeʻapeʻa) inspired by the Hoary Bat, an endemic Hawaiian species. She upcycled non-native fruits and recycled paper to make the paper for the book, the cover of which is decorated with a pair of majestic 3-D bat wings.

Hoary Bat Book

Half Leaf (ʻōpeʻapeʻa)handmade Paper, Kona Coffee Wood, Lychee Wood, Artist Book

Awards and Exhibitions

Angaea’s work Divine Balance of Sisterhood won the first place people’s choice award at Na Mala Kona Layered Landscapes Exhibition and juried show at Donkey Mill Art Center in 2020. Her work Coffee+  won the first place people’s choice award at the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Exhibition and Juried Show in 2019. Other recent shows have been at the Fountain Gallery at the Wailoa Arts Center in 2021 and Documenta 15 in Kassel, Germany in 2022.


Angaea served as the Donkey Mill Art Center Youth Arts Apprentice for the year of 2021, training under the Youth Arts Program Director, Gerald Lucena. “Gerald was an amazing teacher because he inspired confidence in me,” she says of the experience. Now Angaea works as a youth arts educator, bringing art classes into Holualoa Elementary school. “I love how art can open doors to subjects like environmental issues and Hawaiian culture, which are often overlooked,” says Angaea. “Art can help teach about these things in a powerful and graceful way.” During the apprenticeship, she also learned about grant writing, a key component of keeping the program funded.

One of her favorite lessons with students so far was with a second grade class that combined art and activism around taking care of the ocean. They talked about the history and cultural significance of fish ponds in Hawaiʻi, what their idea of a healthy ocean and reef is, and how to communicate that visually with art. 

“Continuing to take on the role of both student and teacher helps me move forward with my own art,” says Angaea.

Connect with Angaea

Connect Angaea online at, where you can view a portfolio of her beautiful books! Follow her on Instagram @gaeabound. She is a participating artist in the Donkey Mill Art Center’s Holiday Studio Sale, on December 10th from 10 am – 4pm. Stop in and say hello!