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Demi's artwork
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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
Influenced the line, color and design of my artwork.

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
extraordinary people speak or present themselves. With this understanding, I go into deep meditation before doing these books.
When I say meditation, I don’t mean to meditate on something. The real meaning of meditation is entering into the state of thoughtless-ness. When the mind is empty, the heart opens. Just like the sky, when all clouds disappear and the sunlight shines through. Similarly, when all thoughts disappear from the mind, reality reveals itself.

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!
I love painting with traditional Chinese inks:
Black, made from ten parts pine soot.
Blues and greens from azurite.
Malachite and indigo.
Reds from cinnabar, realgar or orpiment.
Yellow from the sap of the rattan plant.
And white from lead or pulverized oyster shells.
To all, powdered jade is added for good fortune!

The paints are mixed with boiling water Chinese style:
In the first stage of the boil the water must look like fish eyes;
In the second, like innumerable pearls strung together;
In the third, like the rolling breakers.
Only then the water is ready to be mixed with paint!

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.


Demi's photo

by Demi (selected bibliography):

(Marshall Cavendish, 2009)

Genghis Khan
(Marshall Cavendish, 2009)

Rumi: Persian Poet, Whirling Dervish
(Marshall Cavendish, 2009)

The Girl Who Drew a Phoenix
(Margaret K. McElderry, 2008)

Marco Polo
(Marshall Cavendish, 2008)

The Magic Pillow
(Margaret K. McElderry, 2008)

The Boy Who Painted Dragons
(Margaret K. McElderry, 2007)

The Legend of Lao Tzu and Tao Te Ching
(Margaret K. McElderry, 2007)

Su Dongpo: Chinese Genius
(Lee & Low, 2006)

(Margaret K. McElderry, 2005)

Mother Theresa
(Margaret K. McElderry, 2005)

(Margaret K. McElderry, 2005)

The Hungry Coat: A Tale from Turkey
(Margaret K. McElderry, 2004)

The Greatest Power
(Margaret K. McElderry, 2004)

The Legend of St Nicholas
(Margaret K. McElderry, 2003)

Happy, Happy Chinese New Year!(Crown Books for Young Readers, 2003)

(Margaret K. McElderry, 2003)

King Midas: The Golden Touch
(Margaret K. McElderry, 2002)

(Margaret K. McElderry, 2001)

The Emperor's New Clothes: A Tale Set in China
(Margaret K. McElderry, 2000)

Happy New Year!/ Kung-Hsi Fa-Ts'ai!
(Dragonfly Books, 1999)

Kites: Magic Wishes That Fly Up to the Sky
(Knopf, 1999)

The Donkey and the Rock
(Henry Holt, 1999)

The Dalai Lama: Forward by his Holiness The Dalai Lama
(Henry Holt 1998)

One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical FolkTale
(Scholastic, 1997)

Buddha Stories
(Henry Holt, 1997)

(Henry Holt, 1996)

The Dragon's Tale: and Other Animal Fables of the Chinese Zodiac
(Henry Holt, 1996)

The Magic Gold Fish: A Russian Folktale
(Henry Holt, 1995)

The Stonecutter
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1995)

(Henry Holt, 1994)

The Magic Tapestry: A Chinese Folktale
(Henry Holt, 1994)

Demi's Dragons and Fantastic Creatures
(Henry Holt, 1993)

In the Eyes of the Cat: Japanese Poetry For All Seasons
(Henry Holt, 1992)

The Artist and the Architect
(Henry Holt, 1991)

The Empty Pot
(Henry Holt 1990)

Liang and the Magic Paintbrush
(Henry Holt, 1988)

The Hallowed Horse: A Folktale from India
(Dodd Mead, 1987)


More on PaperTigers:

Read our interview with Demi (2003)

More on the web:

Listen to Demi talking about her book Muhammad.










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