Friday, November 25, 2011

Coyote Transforms

Coyote changes to hunter

Inspired by, but NOT intended to be an accurate representation of, the Wasco myth Coyote and Multnomah Falls, as well as other stories about coyote the shapeshifter from various Pacific Northwest tribes.

The myth was set in "that long ago time before this time, when all the people and all the animals spoke the same language." The clothing references I used for the illustration were from the 19th century, so no claims are being made to cultural authenticity or period accuracy here ;-)

In Coyote and Multnomah Falls, coyote turns into a young man. (This is the second image in my series of illustrations inspired by myths about wild canid spirits that shapeshift into human form.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Fox Phonologist

Nine tail fox changes into Chinese court official

Chen Pengnian (961-1017), Chinese courtier and scholar, was labeled a nine-tail fox.1 The 11th century Chinese court history document Rulin Gongyi states: "Chen Pengnian had a talent for interpreting omens concerning the nation, and was skilled at flattering and misleading (the emperor), therefore people of his time saw him as a nine-tail fox."2

The excerpt above probably refers to Chen's term as the vice-chair of the Department of Augury, the post he held prior to his death.3 The editor of Rulin Gongyi was Tian Kuang (1005-1063).4

Apparently, "nine tail fox", as used during the Song period, was not intended to be a flattering metaphor. But things had not always been so.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Merfolk from non-European mythology

Was reading up on merfolk mythology from around the world while working on my series of three mermaids from non-European cultures. Here is a partial list of mermaids I encountered during my research:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kshitigarbha Online

Boddhisatva in cyber landscape

The name of Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha / Ksitigarbha, aka Dizang (Chinese), Jizo (Japanese), Dia Tang (Vietnamese), Jijang (Korean), literally means 'Earth Store' or 'Earth Treasury.1 This illustration combines influences from Shirow Masamune's Ghost in the Shell and traditional East Asian religious iconography, notably medieval Dunhuang Buddhist paintings that also show concentric rings within double halos.

According to the Ksitigarbha Sutra given by Sakyamuni Buddha, the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha was, in a past life, a Brahmin woman who sought to save her mother from hell.2 The countless incarnated forms of the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha gathered in Trayastrimsa Heaven and coalesced into one form, vowing to Buddha to save all beings.3)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Myth of the Moon Toad

toad in Chinese costume flying to the moon
The Chinese belief concerning a toad in the moon predates the Warring States era.1 Late Warring States era statesman and poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BCE) wrote of a toad in the moon in his Songs of Chu.2

Moon Toad may predate other Chinese moon myths such as the Moon Hare.1 One version of the Moon Toad myth claims that the toad is the lady Chang E (aka Heng E) transformed. Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era (written between 977 and 983 CE3) quotes earlier works that mention a moon toad, including the astronomy book Ling Xian by Zhang Heng (78-139 CE)4:

Yi asked the Queen Mother of the West for the Medicine of Immortality. Yi's wife Heng E stole the medicine and flew to the moon. She installed herself on the moon and became a toad.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Guardian of the Gate

female figure standing in front of cyber portal

Background graphics combines influences from Shirow Masamune's Ghost in the Shell and decorative art from the Malay world.

Patterning on the costume also inspired by (but not claiming to be an authentic representation of) fabric designs from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Delinquent's Desk

pen and ink drawing of table top with calligraphy pen and origami animals
The writing on the page is an excerpt from "Song of My Hut Broken by the Autumn Wind". Du Fu (712-770 CE) , aka The Poet Saint, wrote this poem in Chengdu in 761 CE. has the full text of the original poem with English translations. Du Fu's work remains popular in China and Japan today.

(Those of you who know your paper folding will probably point out that some of those 'animals' must have been created from pieces of paper larger than what could be torn from the book ;-) Let's just assume there's a bigger book sitting right outside the picture plan, lol.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Just who exactly is Moon Hare / Jade Rabbit anyway?

hare with mortar and pestle in full moon
This character from Chinese folklore is known as 月兔 (usually translated as Moon Rabbit) or 玉兔 (commonly translated as Jade Rabbit). But while researching animal references for this illustration, I realized that the Chinese 月兔 was most likely NOT a rabbit ;-) Why? Because rabbits are not indigenous to China.1 There are rabbits in Southeast Asia and parts of Japan though.1

China, however, does have a number of native hare species.2 The rabbit/hare confusion in translation started with people applying the term 兔 tu to both indigenous hares and imported rabbits.3

Third century Chinese statesman and author Fu Xuan wrote about the Moon Hare in Ni Tian Wen: "What is in the moon? A white hare pounding medicine with a pestle." 4 Of the indigenous hare species living in/near China, only Lepus Timidus (aka Mountain Hare, Blue Hare, White Hare) has a white coat. (in winter)2  So this species conveniently became my reference for the Moon Hare.

So who exactly is Moon Hare/Jade Hare?

There seems to be no consensus, not even about the animal's gender. In one Beijing legend, Jade Hare  engages in repeated 'cross-dressing', casually switching between male and female attire (but more on that later ;-)

Some different versions of the Jade Hare myth:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Through the Gate

Woman flying through cyber portal

Influences: Ghost in the Shell meets Mangbetu style ;-)

Background graphics inspired by Mangbetu mural painting; character design inspired by (but not intended to be an authentic representation of) Mangbetu body painting and hairstyling.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Malay mermaid in coral reef
Mermaids appear in the folklore of the Malay world. The Malay Annals, a 16th century book that compiled the genealogies of the dynasties of the Malay Archipelago, recorded the legend of Raja Suran (or Chulan), who married a mermaid princess.1 Their three sons became the founders of Malay Dynasties of Southeast Asia.2
Other mentions of mermaid in Malay culture include:
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kadal Kanni

South Indian mermaid among schools of fishes

Was inspired to draw a South Asian mermaid after looking at Southeast Asian paintings of mermaids from the Ramayana epic, in which merfolk were deployed to destroy the bridge that Rama was building to Lanka.1 According to tradition, this bridge started in Rameswaram in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.2

Rama's ally Hanuman and his monkey army laid the bridge. In Indian tradition, Hanuman is celibate,4 but in the Thai retelling of the Ramayana, Hanuman fathered a son with Ravana's mermaid daughter,5 who had been ordered by her father to destroy the bridge.1
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Cameroonian mermaid
The inspiration for this illustration came from a Cameroonian friend who told me fascinating accounts of the worship of miengu (singular 'jengu'), mermaid-like water deities of the Duala and related ethnic groups in Cameroon.1 My friend also mentioned a similar Mami Wata tradition in neighboring Nigeria.2

Mermaid's accessories are inspired by (but NOT claiming to be an authentic representation of) Duala jewelry from Cameroon and Yoruba jewelry from Nigeria. Marine life in mermaid's environment inspired by (but not intended to be a scientifically accurate representation of ;-) species of underwater life in the Gulf of Guinea.
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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Longevity and Luck Greeting Card

Southern Mountain, Eastern Sea
Click thumbnail to launch Flash animation.

See below for the sources of the text and symbolism used in this piece.

Eastern Sea, Southern Mountain

The expression "longevity compared to the Southern Mountain, luck as (vast as) the Eastern Sea" was recorded in a short story from the Ming Dynasty compilation "Tales from Qingping Mountain Hall".1

The idiom "longevity compared to the Southern Mountain" can be traced back further to "The Book of Odes", a compilation of poems and songs dated between the 11th - 7th century BCE.2

What's the deal with peaches?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Made From Fire

jinn rising from flames in cave
Inspired by the Qu'ranic account of how God created humans from clay and djinn from smokeless fire.1

Character's clothing is referenced from (but by no means claiming to be an authentic representation of) men's attire from northern Cameroon and northern Nigeria, including, but not limited to, Hausa attire.

The djinn (genies) originated from Arabic folklore2; the spread of Islam circulated the mythology of genies beyond the Arab world, with non-Arab Muslim cultures applying the concept of djinn to native spirits from pre-Islamic traditions.3 The Hausa pronunciation for djinn is 'aljan', a term that is also applied to the Bori spirits of pre-Islamic Hausa religion, giving traditional spirits an Islamic context.4

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Interactive Flash environments

Click thumbnails to launch:

Gulf of Guinea

Penglai, Isle of the Immortals

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Resurrection of Third Prince Nezha

Lotus plant parts transform into boy
In the Chinese legend of Nezha, specifically the Fengshen Yanyi version, he was the third son of a military commander Li Jing. The child killed a dragon who happened to be a son of the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea. This slaying brought the wrath of the dragons upon his father's household, and the boy was obligated to take his own life. Nezha's teacher Taiyi Zhenren later created a new body for him out of lotus parts.1

The Taoist version of Nezha can be traced to the Buddhist deity Nalakuvara (Nezha being a Chinese transliteration of the original Sanskrit name).2 In Buddhist canon, Nalakuvara was a son of Kubera/Vaisravana, the Guardian King of the North, aka Pishamentian (Chinese) or Bishamonten (Japanese).3

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tiger Tears

Portrait of tiger weeping
Inspired by a weird dream in which I saw a tiger bawling.

To answer the question of why he was crying, here's the dream's story :-)

Three friends - a tiger, a human and a donkey were crossing a desert. By the dress and looks of the human, the setting was probably somewhere in South Asia, maybe the Indian state of Rajasthan, which does have a tiger preserve, btw.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fox spirit, mid-metamorphosis

Fox Fairy, Fox SpiritGrew up reading Chinese folktales about fox spirits/fairies/demons. In Chinese mythology, practically any animal or inanimate object can, after an extensive period of meditation, acquire the spiritual power to shapeshift into human form.1 Foxes seem to be the most popular subjects of shapeshifter lore.

Saw many beautiful illustrations for these fairy tales done in classical Chinese style, but none of them showed fox spirits in the process of transformation. The fox fairies were either portrayed in fox form or in full human form. (Not counting modern animation/comic book fox fairy characters drawn as humans with fox ears and tails.) Thought it would be interesting to visualize a fox spirit in mid-metamorphosis and in contemporary garb.

The reference used is an Arctic Fox, which has a shorter muzzle than the red fox.

Male fox spirits in Chinese lore