How I grew up to draw what I knew at two

If you read signatures on drawings, you may have noticed a small ''Demi'' in The New Yorker and other publications. If you read title pages of children's books, you could have seen Demi on 40 of them as artist or author-and-artist (with two more, ''Demi's ABC Animal Game'' and ''The Emperor's Nightingale,'' in progress for next year). How did she join her family's long tradition in the arts? We had a chance to ask the person behind the signature when the William Morris Hunt Memorial Library, named for her great-grandfather, was dedicated at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts earlier this year.

My first memorable wish in life was to draw on walls, or to work on any large surface with anything. So at the age of 2, I was doing walls with lipstick, the Steinway piano with a long and sharp nail, and the neighbor's hand-hewn boat, in an adjacent summer workshed, with green creosote mural designs. I also wanted to take everything apart. So at the age of 2 I was working on the family's antique book collection, in particular the leather and gold-tooled bindings, antique clocks, Renaissance music boxes, my mother's vacuum cleaner, and heirloom jewelry.

Punishments for my searchings and inquisitive achievements always puzzled me, because even at 2 I knew that there could be nothing more important and valid than the serious investigations of a curious mind.

So these punishments had no other effect than the variance of my medium. I realized that anyone over approximately four feet tall preferred pencils, charcoal, brushes, and paper, and so, being really very young and very agreeable , I changed to those more widely acceptable media.

At this time, my father, William Morris Hunt - grandson of a great American painter, William Morris Hunt, and grandnephew of a great American architect, Richard Morris Hunt - was deeply involved in founding the Cambridge Drama Festival, in Cambridge, Mass., and in bringing John Gielgud, Marcel Marceau, Jean-Louis Barrault, Madeleine Renaud, et al. to the United States.

My father was also an architect. On the first floor of our huge old New England barn in Milton, Mass., were his architectural tools of every description , for painting, drilling, caulking, assembling, dismantling, etc. Also on that floor were various stage sets, props, curtains, costumes, and makeup. To me the whole environment was simply magical.

Above on the third floor, in great sunlight, was my mother's painting studio, with her beautiful watercolors jumping with life and signed Rosamond Pier Hunt. There simply was nothing more wonderful than her studio, smelling of every kind of paint, with every kind of brush and paper, canvas and board.

I tended to listen and not say very much but look a lot and make a lot of things. The clear direction of what I loved in art, in line, in form, and in color, I feel now is simply a development of what I intrinsically knew at the age of 2 or before.

In high school I wondered at the heavy looks and gray, cavernous words people used while discussing art. To me, art was always spontaneous, natural, alive, and life itself.

My mother was acutely aware of the problems of keeping the life in art, and steered me away from any of its deadly aspects. She shied at formulas and sought out life. In her mind it was better to get an overload of quantum physics than a drop of artistic mordacity.

She guided me to the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, which seemed a good place for a free spirit. Murals of every medium, weaving, ceramics, painting and drawing were freely and joyfully and abundantly done.

She next guided me to the art department of Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood, Calif., where I met my great teachers, Sister Magdalen Mary and Sister Mary Corita. There, any formula I knew, any trick, any slickness, was immediately undone, any preconception was unpreconceived, and I began living and looking again as a child, on the true and simple and spontaneous edge of daring to become.

All my future work was supported by this idea, and the challenge to dare, to change, to work hard, to have patience, to never stop or dwell on words of praise or failure, and to expect that the best surprises and joys were still to be found.

Propelled by challenge, I went to India on a Fulbright scholarship, to Brazil , and to New York. In New York I began making books, which was easy to do when my son, John Hitz, was born, being my new inspiration. I began drawing and painting a lot, and I really loved to play with pens and brushes, lines and color. I began looking at all drawings and paintings in a new way after I read a Chinese book called ''The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting,'' by Wang Kai, written in 1679. The joy, life, spontaneity, and peace that the book still evokes make all aspects of Chinese art my present challenge today.

A good example to remember goes like this:

Take ten days to paint a stream and five to paint a rock.

Above all, learn to hold your thoughts on the five peaks; the harmony of the universe, the inner and outer harmony of man.

Study all things in all seasons.

See the different shape of the wind blowing through willow branches in summer and fall.

Study ten thousand volumes. Walk ten thousand miles.

Study the great; with one stroke of the brush, they can release a kite on a thousand-foot string.

When they paint, mountains soar, springs flow, waters run clear, and forests spread vast and lonely.

If you aim at facility, work hard.

If you aim at simplicity, master complexity.

If you aim to dispense with method, learn method, for the end of all method is to seem to have no method.

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