A horse-like animal with a horn, similar to unicorn in Western mythology . (Photo provided to China Daily)
Shi Lin, a Chinese artist born in 1989, uses an ancient classic, his knowledge of animal anatomy and his imagination to feed the imagination.
What did China's mythical beasts look like? A recently published book offers a glimpse.
Mythic Beasts, illustrated by Shi Lin, a Chinese artist born in 1989, contains more than 30 pictures of mythical beasts, such as the nine-tail fox as well as a horse-like animal with a horn on its head and a dog-like nine-headed animal.
Shi's inspiration comes from the ancient Chinese classic Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas), which dates back 2,200 years.
Shan Hai Jing has both a cultural and geographical account of China before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). And it contains geography, folklore, legends and fairy tales.
It is a major source of Chinese mythology, including the tales of Kuafu Chasing After the Sun and Nyu Wa Patches up the Sky, which have been passed down the generations in China.
Shi was interested in reading ancient Chinese literature and drawing animals since a young age.
When Shi was studying at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, he received a collection of different versions of the Shan Hai Jing from his mentor and was fascinated by it, especially the descriptions of mythical beasts.
"I appreciated the wisdom and romanticism of our ancestors through the book. And although the description of the mythical beasts is limited, I got a vivid picture in my mind making me eager to offer my take on these unique creatures," says Shi.
Shi, who painted 16 pictures of mythical beasts in 2012 as part of his graduation project, used the classic, his knowledge of animal anatomy and his imagination to get the job done.
He then shared the pictures online, and they attracted wide attention.
Now, with the increasing popularity of fantasy-themed literature and games in China, some companies want to cash in on his pictures, but he wants to maintain the integrity of his work.
Earlier, he visited zoos to observe animals, including their joints, facial expressions and movements.
However, he gradually realized the limitations of a strictly realistic painting style.
"The caged animals lack movement and an animal spirit. So, how can they be compared with unfettered and powerful mythical beasts," says Shi.