Artist and authoress Demi has produced a staggering number of illustrated books - more than 140 to date. In recent years, as well as continuing to publish her retellings of folktales from around the world, she has focused on creating beautiful picture-book biographies of iconic spiritual leaders.
The great grand-daughter of the Barbizon School painter William Morris Hunt, Demi was born with painting in her blood. She studied murals, weaving, ceramics, painting and drawing at the Instituto Allende in Mexico, from where she moved on to Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles. Since then, she has traveled widely, especially in Asia. In 1992 she represented the U.S. at the first International Children's Book Conference in Beijing, China. Over the years, her art projects have included creating murals in Mexico and a gold-painted church dome in California.
In her art Demi uses the four Chinese treasures– paintbrush, ink, inkstone and paper. She believes that capturing life on paper is magic.
Demi and her husband Tze Si (Jesse) Huang have recently moved to Yarrow Point, Washington.
How do you go about researching the cultural and historical detail in your illustrations?
The first thing I do is go into deep meditation: I have been practicing Buddhism for many years, guided by my Chinese Buddhist husband Tze-si Huang; and from that still center the creative process begins.
I also have a great library, and if I can travel to the places I draw, that helps my art too. For example, drawing Alexander the Great, I was fortunate to travel to Turkey and to see many of the places Alexander passed through; or when drawing Marco Polo, I was fortunate to have visited many places in China and India that Marco also saw.
Years ago I won a Fulbright scholarship to India, and the culture of India and the east enormously
In recent years, you have produced a stunning collection of picture-book biographies of figure-heads from a world-encompassing variety of religions, cultures and eras. How do you go about writing these books?
I think that the state of being of extraordinary people like Buddha and Muhammad is beyond our comprehension. It would be impossible to present the reality of their lives through intellectual speculation (or through the mind).The mind can only think, speculate, calculate, but the heart can feel.
I think that the only way for me to do these books is to let myself be a channel through which these
So these books are not done by the mind. They flow from the heart. It is not a process of mental construction: rather, it is an expression of joy and love from the heart!
I think books about extraordinary people point towards greatness and actually have a transformative power for the reader.
Gold has become one of your signature colors, if I can call it a color; and the smooth finish to many of your illustrations often resembles the fineness of mediaeval painting - how do you attain this?
Gold is the color of heaven – there’s nothing like it!
The paints are applied with brushes made of sheep, rabbit, goat, weasel and wolf hairs – picked in autumn for pliancy. For extremely fine work, a brush of one mouse whisker is used.
Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?
I just finished Alexander the Great for Marshall Cavendish, and after that will come Joan of Arc, and then Christopher Columbus.
This year I have also become a publisher, and have produced a book for adults called Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Life and Light. The book is based on the first printed book in the world in 868 A.D. China, which was stamped on paper, and my Amitabha is entirely gold stamped on indigo paper and has gilded edges and gold thread too!
My husband Tze-si Huang and I have also just written and illustrated The Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng, about the great Patriarch of Zen Buddhism.
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