So this one time, I was at a shoot…


Most of my stories start like that because I usually have a camera in my hand. For instance, there was the time that I (briefly) flew a Learjet and learned that just because you have your camera with you doesn’t mean it’s a good time for a selfie. This is how you get sent to the back of the plane (and by you, I mean me). But let’s start at the beginning…

This is the story of my journey so far.

From a 3-minute career as a jet pilot to two much more successful decades running design projects for Fortune 500 tech companies, to camera-wielding island girl.


Act I: Silicon Valley

Kristian Gallagher and the technology industry grew up together in Silicon Valley when it was still mostly fruit orchards, and have been BFFs ever since. After just one college semester, she accepted a contract with Apple, Inc. By night she honed her digital illustration skills using an early version of Adobe Illustrator on a black and white Mac SE.

It was during one of these art sessions that the ’89 Loma Prieta Quake hit. True to her native Californian upbringing, she ignored it — until the lamp on her desk fell over and shattered, and she realized this was not an average earthquake. In the days that followed, she was fascinated by the random nature of destruction in the surrounding neighborhoods and filled sketchbooks documenting it. She also decided living somewhere that the ground didn’t liquify without warning was a really good idea.


Act II: Austin

In the 1990s Kristian moved to Austin, Texas, to further her career as an art director and UX designer. Over the next two decades, she worked with and freelanced for iconic advertising agencies including GSD&M, Frog Design, Tocquigny Advertising (now Archer Malmo),  SicolaMartin (now WPP’s Y&R), and the legendary animation studio Human Code. Project clients included Harvard University, Microsoft, Facebook, Dell, HP, and a lot of dotcoms that no longer exist.

Along the way she won an Addy Award for a University of Texas Alumni Association campaign, served on the board of AIGA as Web Design Chair, and collabed with stupendously talented people.

In addition to her core job description of art direction, she typically took on expanded roles including artist, photographer, and writer depending on the project’s needs. She was particularly drawn to photography. #foreshadowing


Intermission: Key West


Having nurtured a lifelong desire to live on a tropical island, she purchased a house in Key West in 2014. Shortly afterwards, she withdrew from the world of digital marketing with the intention of becoming a professional… well, she wasn’t sure what was next actually. Sabbaticals are like that.

In the three years she spent on the island, it was a rare day that she wasn’t roaming the shoreline. Early on she felt the pull to document it, so she bought herself a Nikon D750 as a birthday present. As it turned out, this was more than a gift; it was a life changing decision. So much for early retirement..

She also developed a deep fondness for both travel & landscape photography, which she continues to indulge via her Instagram feed.


Act III: Honolulu


In 2017, she leveled up her island game by relocating to the Hawaiian island of Oahu and launching Modern Tropical, an art & illustration studio.

TikiKat Royal

When not in the studio creating new work, she can be found photographing the waves (and surfers) of Oahu’s famed North Shore, and helpfully showing tourists how to get the best shots. Sometimes she even waits until they ask.

Words & images © Kristian Gallagher