I had already, in my own way, had started illustrating books by drawing on the blank pages in printed books – usually at the beginning or end of the book, and at the end of chapters. Several of my mother’s cookbooks became permanently decorated. I believe it was after this book that I decided I wished to become an artist.
The book is Ma Lien and the Magic Brush by Hisako Kimishima. I believe this is a retelling of an old Chinese folk tale.
Ma Lien is a poor Chinese peasant boy, who longs to become a painter – a true artist. He drew with whatever he could on whatever he could; charcoal on the walls of his hut, scratching stone against stone, or with his finger in sand. He has an amazing gift because his drawings are so good they appear to be real – even the sheep were afraid to go near the stone where he drawn the wolf. But he is a poor peasant boy – he has nothing. He begged an artist for just one paintbrush but was chased off.
An old man came to him – a wizard – and gave him a fine brush. He immediately ran home and painted a beautiful rooster on his wall, and as he painted the last tail feather it flew off the wall. It wasn’t just a paintbrush, it was magic, and everything he painted became real and was brought to life.
He used this power for good, helping his community and doing good deeds, but it wasn’t long before he ran afoul of the local mandarin who was a greedy man. He arrested Ma Lien and took away his brush only to find out that it would not work in anyone’s hand but Ma Lien’s. So he demanded the boy make him rich, and Ma lien painted him a mountain of gold, and then began painting water around it, explaining he was not yet done with the painting. He then painted a fine ship for the mandarin and his men to sail to the mountain of gold, and when they were all on it he painted a storm, and sank the ship.
He spent the rest of his life helping others and was never forced to use the brush, or it’s power, for evil ever again.
I immediately understood. It also became the book that inspired me to read.
The magic was never in the brush, it was in Ma Lien. He used his power for good, to help people. It was never meant to be used in a bad way, although it became necessary. The true power of the brush was in the heart of its user.
It also teaches humility and the importance of using one's gifts to help others. Ma Lien stayed true to himself, and his own integrity, and did not allow greed to deter him from his path.
The illustrations are lovely, and stylized – I used to look at it again and again, studying the pictures. It spoke to my soul, and I believed that if I tried as hard as I could to create art that was realistic, it too might become alive – just like in the story.
These things have stayed with me all these years. I began by creating realistic art, and as I grew older, I began infusing myself into the art, sometimes also infusing something more. A number of people commented that they could see things in my art that was expressive to the point of almost making it seem as if it was alive. It wasn’t by accident. It was deliberate.
I stopped painting and drawing about twenty years ago. Something happened to me that caused a blockage so that I could not create art without it becoming mentally painful – and so I pretty much stopped. The art didn’t flow. Creating graphics on the computer didn’t have the same effect, and so that became my career. It wasn’t until I began drumming – playing the djembe – that I was able to start drawing and painting again, although working through these blockages has been a real struggle. Working through pain on a subconscious level isn’t easy and there was no way around it. Recently I was able to show my dear friend and drum teacher Baba David Coleman the murals I had created. I wanted him to know that the only reason I could create once again was because of him. If I didn’t have such a kind, loving, and patient drum teacher, I likely would have given up on that too. And then he told me that most people don’t learn the drum to learn it as a musical instrument – what they are actually looking for is healing.
Painting these murals, my latest work, has been on heck of a struggle as I had to push myself beyond what I thought I could do. The first one of the unnamed Goddess with Fruit came to life as I painted Her – it glowed. That old fire within me had returned, my Muse had returned, and so she became my first ‘living painting’ that I had created in over twenty years.
Artemis was my next painting, and She, allow with Apollo I originally attempted to create quickly to meet a short deadline. It didn’t work. They weren’t my best work, and my friend said she wanted ‘the Gods’ in the paintings and she didn’t care if it took longer, but I had to redo them. Ever redo a painting? Let me tell you that is painful – to paint over what you have already created. Each painting was about six months worth of work, and it shows. I struggled with each one, but as I was painting Artemis, I asked this Goddess to please show me how She would like to be painted. She did, and became part of the painting. That was a surprise. As a priestess I have invoked deity in my rituals, and They have come down for me, but I did not expect They would come down for my paintings. Once called, They insisted.
Apollo was particularly demanding, and I felt repeatedly as if He had taken over my hand, and although the painting was late, He would not let me cut corners. Everything had to be just so. He knew what He wanted me to paint, and so I painted. The painting and its components are far better than the reference photos I used, which as most artists know, that isn’t supposed to happen. And the wolf in the painting, that’s me, my alter ego.
I have just completed my fourth painting – Le Morte d’Amore. It too took on a life of its own. Things seem to be happening to people just by viewing it on the computer screen, but as with my other paintings, it is viewing them in person that has the strongest effect.
I may be between jobs right now, and I’m barely alive financially, but like Ma Lien I seem to have found my gift. I can create spiritually ‘alive’ paintings that are bridges between the worlds. I don’t know of any other artist who can do this, although I expect their will be imitators as I have announced that I can. They don’t have my Muse, and I doubt they have the same kind of connection I do. It’s how I do my readings, it’s how I communicate with living things, and it’s how I work my magick. Some of are just born between the worlds to begin with.
But I also know that this gift cannot be faked.
So if you are looking for devotional artwork for your altar, sacred space, or temple, I will be happy to create a commission for you. Artwork for magickal purposes is another possibility.
Or I can just create lovely portraits, fine art, murals, and graphic design. I need work.
It seems this is what I am supposed to be doing. It is supposed to be my new career.
As I was leaving the Norwich Medieval 12th Night event, one fellow complimented me on my artwork. He said, “That is some gift you have there." He looked straight into my eyes, "Don’t stop.”
I’ll take that as my message from the universe.