Friday, December 25, 2015

Fantasy, Mythology and Folklore art inspired by Southeast Asia

Click below to view Illustrations, fine art, and graphic novels created by artists from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and the United States:

Friday, November 27, 2015


girl on cliff
Detail from "Therru's Star", Fanart for Ursula Le Guin's Tehanu. The titular character Tehanu (aka Therru), is a survivor of horrific childhood abuse.

I wouldn't say I enjoyed reading "Tehanu". The pages provide continual reminders of the ever-present threat of rape and torture directed towards women of all ages and social circumstances: innocent children born into abusive families; young women who run away from home, only to run into abuse and exploitation; and middle aged widows whose only crime was to be female.

You don't have to read a fantasy novel to see stories like these. Just read the news from around the world.

On a more positive note, you don't have to read a fantasy novel to find people who triumphed over their experiences of childhood abuse. Here are some real life Tehanus. Some transcended their trauma and went on to impact the lives of many other people in a positive way. Some may be more controversial figures. But none of them allowed the rest of their lives to be defined by past victimhood. Like Tehanu, they became dragons, each in their own way :

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Banana tree spirits in Chinese and Southeast Asian oral tradition

Interesting similarities and differences between concepts of banana tree ghosts in various countries:

Pontianak/ Kuntilanak
Region: Malaysia/ Singapore/ Indonesia
Ghosts of women who died during pregnancy, pontianaks are believed to reside in banana trees during the daytime.1

Appearance and behavior:
A pontianak manifests as a white-skinned, long-haired woman. Dressed in white, she flies about in the night.2 She can also take the appearance of a normal, attractive woman to entice men.3

The pontianak rips her victims open to devour their organs.1 Pontianaks also haunt pregnant women and cause miscarriages.4
Nang Tani
Region: Thailand
A nature spirit that lives in Kluai Tani, a species of wild banana, she is also known as Phi (Ghost) Tani or Phrai (Nymph) Tani.5

Appearance and behavior:
Nang Tani manifests as a green-skinned young woman in green Thai traditional dress. She appears on full moon nights. Nang Tani is thought to a gentle spirit that a man can summon through ritual to become his wife. But conjugal relations with her is said to drain a man's vitality.6
Ba Jiao Jing /Ba Jiao Gui (banana demon/ ghost)
One regional tale attributed this demon's origin to the grisly murder of a woman by bandits. Her parents buried her dismembered body under a banana tree.

Appearance and behavior:
The woman's vengeful spirit would leave the tree at night to suck the blood of her killers.7
Ba Jiao Jing can be summoned by tying a red string to the banana tree. According to rural oral lore, placing the other end of the string under the bedchamber window of one's enemy would lead the banana spirit to him. After nights of carnal relations with the blood-sucking demon, the man would wither and die.7

Modern accounts from Chinese communities in Southeast Asia tell of men blackmailing/ torturing banana tree spirits into divulging winning lottery numbers.8 Such acts by humans don't always go unpunished.
Not all accounts of human-banana spirit relations are negative. Here are a couple of stories that provide a different take on banana spirits:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fantasy and folklore art inspired by the African diaspora in the Americas

Click below to view Illustrations, fine art, and decorative figurines created by artists from Jamaica, Europe and the United States:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Therru's Star

girl on cliff on starry night
Fanart for Ursula Le Guin's "Tehanu". The titular character Tehanu (aka Therru) lived on the island of Gont.

Available as prints, iPhone/iPad cases and other products on

For painting the "shelf of reddish sandstone" north of the village of Re Albi, I looked at numerous references of sandstone formations in the United States. Some of these sandstone cliffs were from Navajo Land. Coincidentally or not, the Navajo were one of my inspirations for envisioning Gontish clothing styles.

Other real world cultural influences on my design of Gontish attire: Tibetan, Uzbek, Kazakh.
Reasons for looking to these particular cultures:
  • Presence of a sheep herding/goat-herding economy, which is practiced on Gont.
  • Use of clothing elements mentioned in the Earthsea Cycle's description of Gontish people, such as jerkins, aprons and ruffles. (Not necessarily common or native to each of the societies mentioned, but between all of them, there is the use of such items, or something pretty close, in traditional clothing.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rock-cut architecture in Africa and Asia

Rock-hewn monuments from North African, East African, West Asian and South Asian civilizations:
Temple entrance in Egypt
Abu Simbel Temple (photo by Than217)
Bet Medhane Alem church in Ethiopia
Bet Medhane Alem church (photo by Julien_Demade)
Mada'in Saleh in Saudi Arabia
Mada'in Saleh" (photo by SammySix)
Ellora Caves in India
Cave 21 at Ellora (photo by Nandanupadhyay)
Naqsh-e-Rustam in Iran
Detail of Naqsh-e Rustam (photo by Pastaitaken)
Click on thumbnails to view images on wikipedia.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fantasy and mythology art inspired by the Middle East

Click image below to view Art from animation, book illustrations and graphic novels, produced by artists from diverse locales, including Turkey, Iran, Europe and North America:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Barking at a Dragon

Dog and West Asian/Central Asian sea dragon
Detail from Dragons of the Oil Sea.

Research sources used for the dragon:
  • Ahmed Al Rawi's "The Religious connotation of the Islamic dragon":
    ..the dragon is usually perceived as having two different forms: ... a huge snake and/or (lind)worm, while in the traditions of the Mediterranean area and of Asia Minor it is a combination of a crocodile and a predatory bird. This corresponds to the other popular descriptions of the dragon in Arabic sources...
  • Artistic representations from 14th century Syria and 15th century Afghanistan.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Part 2 of How NOT to Get a Wife: Stealing Skins

Myths of very different cultures contain the theme of the human male acquiring a wife of non-human origin by stealing her property and then withholding information from her. Three folktales from Chad, Sweden and Scotland all share these elements:
  • An human man.
  • A wild animal who becomes a woman after shedding her skin.
  • The man steals the skin of the animal-woman.
  • Unable to return to her animal form, she stays and becomes the man's wife.
  • The animal-wife eventually finds the stolen skin and leaves the marriage.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Two women on desert island
Detail from Dragons of the Oil Sea.

Stylistic inspirations:
  • 8th century palm mosaic from Umayyad Mosque in Syria.
  • 13th century paintings from Iraw
  • 15th century paintings from Azerbaijan

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Part 1 of How NOT to Get a Wife: Stealing Wings

A recurring theme in myths and folktales from very different cultures is the earthly or mortal man acquiring a wife of non-human origin by stealing her property, deceptively withholding information from her or otherwise limiting her options. Four stories from Vanuatu, Philippines, China and Pakistan all share these elements:
  • An earthbound or mortal man.
  • Celestial women or fairies who come to earth to bathe.
  • The man steals the wings/clothing of one of the women, preventing her from returning to the heavens.
  • Lacking other options, she stays and becomes his wife.
  • The wife eventually returns to her home.
  • He finds a way to follow her. (Outcomes vary)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hissing at a Dragon

Cat and West Asian/South Asian sea dragon
Detail from Dragons of the Oil Sea. In support of a former art school classmate Sahar Al Saud presently confined without adequate nutrition or healthcare. See Channel 4 interview with her mother: 'They are hanging to life' - Saudi king's ex-wife speaks out.

The cat is Tosca, beloved companion to Sahar and her younger sister Jawaher during their long years of confinement. Tosca passed away in 2009, leaving behind a grieving Sahar and Jawaher, who are currently surviving by distilling water and scavenging for food from the sea.

For the women's story, see

Research sources used for the dragon: