Art Initiates Life

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A common power for many one shot villains and examples of Monster of the Week, Art Initiates Life is where a character can quite literally change their artworks into real versions of whatever they depict. Usually using some rare MacGuffin or Advanced Phlebotinum, this most often happens with a character bringing their paintings or drawings from canvas to reality, possibly using some form of Magic Crayon, but can also cover various other forms of art include sculptors bringing various statues to life.

This is also not always a wanted side effect of these drawings, as in some series there have been instances where a character with this ability was not aware that there was actually an effect. A villainous character whose method is this may well be a Mad Artist or in games, a Mook Maker for a level or area.

Compare with Rewriting Reality, where the written word becomes real. See also Portal Picture, Art Attacker. Not to be confused with The Red Stapler.

Examples of Art Initiates Life include:

Anime and Manga

  • Guilmon of Digimon Tamers was brought to life when his tamer's fanart of him got scanned through a digivice.
  • An early episode of Inuyasha had an artist who used magical sumi ink, made with human livers and powered by a jewel shard, to create paintings of demons that came to life.
  • Haruna in Mahou Sensei Negima has this in the form of a special notepad, pen and inkwell. Her creations start out looking incredibly over-the-top and goofy, but later along the line start looking like something you'd see in Final Fantasy.
  • Sai from Naruto specializes in this. Most of his combat techniques involve drawing fantastical creatures with ink on his artbook and bringing them to life to do his bidding.
  • This is a major plot point in D.N.Angel: A man named Hikari sold his soul to the devil to gain the ability to give life to his artwork. The power drove him insane, but gave birth to the cursed objects Dark steals in the series. Satoshi is the descendant of the original Hikari, and has these powers as well.
  • The first episode of Mushishi involves drawings coming to life.
  • A Chinese artist in Ranma ½, whose clan is famous for paintings that can trap spirits on the canvas... until some jerk comes by and releases them. And this particular artist is terrible at his work.
  • Ikkyu, the leader of the I-Jin in Read or Die, has this ability.
  • Reedus from Fairy Tail can use "picto magic" to bring anything he draws (usually on his body, which has quite a lot of surface) into reality. So can the members of a dark guild "Red Hood", even using multiple images at once for greater effect, but they use notebooks to sketch on, and pencils instead of paint.
  • Nagu from Arata Kangatari has a hayagami that brings anything drawn with it to life. Including his Dead Little Sister.
  • In the Magical Girl show Fancy Lala, Lala has a magical pen and sketchbook that she mostly uses to create new clothes for her disguises. In one episode, her experimenting with it creates a very small cat. It ends up being a Tear Jerker.
  • There's a very cruel inversion in Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas-everything the Big Bad Alone paints dies, as he found out when he painted his orphanage. Currently in the series, he's painting the entire world- he's almost done with it, too!
  • In Magic Knight Rayearth, Aska's magic revolves around bringing her drawings to life.
  • In Descendants of Darkness, the genki scientist Watari can do this. The only problem? He draws with the talent of a 5 year old...
  • Mutsumi from Keroro Gunsou has a "Reality Pen", given to him by his buddy Kululu, that lets him bring drawings to life.
  • In Flint the Time Detective, there was a bird shifter named Artie. Said shifter could bring drawings to life by tapping them with his beak.

Comic Books

  • An early issue of the Mirage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic featured comic book artist Kirby King, who found a crystal that would allow everything he drew come to life before disappearing to an alternate world. The story was later adapted to a picture book and the second cartoon. Much later on it is revealed that the crystal had been previously used by April's father, and that she was, in fact, one of the things he'd created with it.
  • The first book of Gorsky and Butch starts with a swat team trying to arrest the authors (after it turned out the comic makes no sense). they succeed but get re-drawn into anthropomorphic black ducks in the process.
    • Except for Maciek, who is turned into a girl.
  • In Usagi Yojimbo, Usagi's run-in with an artist with an evil paint set that could bring its paintings to life was used for Shout Outs to various Kaiju, such as Mothra, Daimajin, and Godzilla.
  • Calvin and Hobbes had to fight Calvin's Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons.
  • Daerick Gross' Reiki Force comic books involved a series of statues made from magical clay, which in turn fell to earth in a meteor. (Why the stuff stayed pliable is never adequately explained.) A master sculptor used it to fabricate bones, musculature, neural networks, etc. into the forms of various mythological creatures. His evil wizard patron then let the statue suck the artist dry of life-force, which animated the statue. The villain "Citation", in the form of a surprisingly agile centaur, is an example.
  • A one-off villain in a Fantastic Four spin-off story centered on the Human Torch was a painter who could bring whatever he painted into existence.
  • Chalky, in the British comic Buster.
  • Several times in the Douwe Dabbert comics. There are living books, whose contents will spill out of them if you're not careful (And if the book happened to be about monsters - good luck!), paintings that come to life and a huge dragon that escapes the kimono it was painted on.
  • The Golden Age Super Man villain Funny Face had a machine that could bring Newspaper Comics characters to life. Decades later, he reappeared in an issue of All-Star Squadron, and after his defeat, the heroes marvel that he was stupid enough to use his miraculous invention for something as petty as pulling robberies.
  • The Tattooed Man, a DC comics villain, can (you guessed it) make his tattoos come to life.
  • The story "Molded in Evil", from issue #5 of Plop!, featured a sculptor who, with the use of a "magic liquid", could cause his clay models to come to life.
  • In the story "Gargoyle", in issue #6 of Creepy, an alchemist believed that a local sculptor could turn stone into gold. The gold was actually an ingredient in the formula the sculptor used to bring the gargoyles he fashioned to life.
  • In the story "The Sands That Change", in issue #16 of Creepy, a comic book artist discovered that anything he drew in the Mojave Desert which wasn't already there would appear out of thin air. When he tried crumpling a sketch to get rid of a monster he'd drawn, the beast ended up looking like something by Picasso.

Fairy Tales

  • The Boy Who Drew Cats is about a boy who... well... draws cats all over the walls of an abandoned temple which, unbeknownst to him, is home to a monster. When the monster tries to attack him, the cat drawings come to life and defeat it.


  • The painting of Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II.
  • Mannequin.
  • Used extensively in the interpretation of Heaven in What Dreams May Come.
  • In Heavenly Creatures, the clay figurines created by the two girls become the people of the Fourth World.
  • The snowman in the Michael Keaton film Jack Frost 1998, based on the Frosty myth below, in which the snowman (made by the son) is possessed by the spirit of the main character.
  • This is how Floop's Fooglies are made in Spy Kids.
  • Night at the Museum: Everything in the museum comes to life at night, including mannequins, statues, and paintings.
  • In Disney's Mary Poppins, the title character makes Burt's sidewalk drawing something she and the kids can visit.
  • Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo.
  • The protagonist of the 1986 Cult Classic The Elm-Chanted Forest is a painter who awakens with these sorts of powers, along with the ability to communicate with the local wildlife.


  • In Roald Dahl's The Witches, the grandmother tells a story about a girl she knew as a child who was targeted by witches and trapped in a painting of a farmhouse. Her image was never seen moving, but appeared in different locations and positions in the painting, and aged at a normal human rate. Finally, she grew old and apparently died (her image disappeared), still trapped in the painting.
  • Harold and The Purple Crayon is probably the original "paint your]] own world" type.
  • Charles De Lint has a character in one of his books, Isabel, whose paintings come to life on their own.
  • A children's book by Italian author Gianni Rodari. In retrospective, it's a bit strange...
  • The Thieves' World universe had a painter who was granted the ability to create life with his drawings, although he didn't realize that this ability was real, for some time. He also got the ability, much earlier on, to paint an image of the soul of the person sitting for him. This made life more awkward than it sounds, since the majority of the wealthy patrons who wanted him to paint them did * not* like him painting the real them (especially since it rarely matched the outside).
  • The premise of Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr, complete with Nightmare Fuel when Marianne decides she doesn't quite like her drawing.
  • In Lloyd Alexander's The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen a tiger leaps in and out of a watercolor painting.
  • In The Picture of Dorian Gray, the titular character has a portrait painted of him, and he realizes that he would age, and the painting wouldn't. So he makes a Deal with the Devil, making the painting age rather than him.
  • Pinocchio.
  • In The Golden Key, a clan of artists secretly practices this kind of magic. The story deals with what happens when one of them diverges wildly from the bounds of acceptable behavior.
  • The last book of The Dark Tower series had Patrick, who could create or destroy anything by sketching it. Roland convinces him to use this power to defeat the Crimson King. Oddly enough, Roland doesn't think to use it to restore the lost fingers of his right hand.
  • In Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence, emperor Akhbar the Great imagines an ideal queen and orders painter Daswant to portrait her, hence making her real. In the same book, the musician Tansen see his body covered in flames when he sings the Fire Song. But Rushdie inverts the trope when he makes Daswant disappear from the real world by portraiting himself in a picture.
  • Ixidor from Magic: The Gathering who created his own paradise with paint from his own blood. As well as building an angel from his arm.
  • In Aaron Allston's Galatea in 2-D, the central power of both the hero and the villain.
  • The Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Demontage.
  • Such magic was featured several times in The Sword of Truth. Rather, these were actual spells drawn on a wall, which had the unpleasant drawback that if a spell was slow acting, you could change the drawn victim into someone else
  • In Stephen King's Rose Madder the heroine finds a strange and compelling painting that leads into a pagan world that is both beautiful and terrifying. This comes in handy - though, as in all King, not without a price - when the heroine's abusive cop husband hunts her down.
  • The title character of Minerva Wakes by Holly Lisle discovered she'd acquired this ability, while her husband Darryl had gained Rewriting Reality. Learning to use their powers together was about all that saved them, because the powers had been intended for somebody else, and now could only be passed to their "rightful" users by the death of Minerva and Darryl.
  • In I Shall Wear Midnight, the Cunning Man tries to attack Tiffany by emerging from an illustration of himself in an ancient copy of The Bonfire Of The Witches. A variant, in that it's known that he wrote the book, but unclear if he also drew the illustrations.
  • This is the main plot of the short story How Wang-Fo was saved (published in the book Oriental tales) by French author Marguerite Yourcenar. Wang-Fo is so talented that almost any creature he paints comes to life. Unfortunately this is what allows the servants of the Chinese emperor (who wants him do be executed for a very personal reason) to identify him.
  • Susan Green's Self Portait With Wings is based on this. Using some "special" pencils, a young figure skater draws a whimsical sketch of herself with huge gossamer wings. The next morning, the picture is wingless and she's got the wings. They're invisible to everyone else, but an awful inconvenience to her except when she's skating.

Live-Action TV

  • Doctor Who features an inversion in the episode "Fear Her": A character who drew various people and caused them to disappear. Reversing the process caused the trope to be played straight with a demonic picture of her father.
    • And remember: An image of a Weeping Angel becomes an Angel.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures both inverts this and plays it straight as well: the Mona Lisa, whose paint was made from materials from a space rock, can both bring painted objects (including herself, naturally) into the real world and trap people in paintings.
  • This forms the basis of Big Bad Beetleborgs, magic bringing comic book characters to life. Eventually, the artist of the comic books begins designing weapons for the heroes, while his brother, an insane artist, draws new monsters for the villains (ending the Beetleborgs' practice of going to the comics to see how the monster was defeated.)
  • Power Rangers has this trope come up multiple times:
  • The Charmed episode "Witches in Tights" featured a teenage boy with this power.
  • An episode of Amazing Stories involved magic paint that will bring a picture of anything to life. Naturally, the kid uses it to try and bring a pinup girl to life. Unfortunately, he spills it all over his monster magazines instead.
  • Inverted in the Are You Afraid of the Dark? Season 6 episode "The Tale of Oblivion". A boy has some charcoal and an eraser, nothing happens when he draws something, but when he erases it, it goes to a pocket dimension called "Oblivion". It even works if he just writes the name of something and then erases it. For example, to prove it to his sister Shelly, he writes "Shelly's Underpants", then erases those words. The boy travels to Oblivion to retrieve something important, and finds out his magic writing tools were once used as weapons against those who sought to abuse their power.
  • In an episode of Haven, a girl's first drawing of any subject holds power over that subject - bring on the man crumpled like a ball of paper, and the boy whose face was erased.
  • Emulated for illustrative purposes in Prehistoric Monsters Revealed, in which hand-drawn and painted images of ancient animals appear to animate and emerge from the paper as CGI representations.
  • One of the later episodes of The Worst Witch reveals that protagonist Mildred Hubble has the ability to turn her drawings to life. This previously unknown talent earns her a place in the prestigious Weirdsister College. Even Ms Hardbroom is impressed.
  • In an episode of Misfits, Simon attempts his first present-day rescue by trying to save a guy from a bully. The next day at Community Service, the boy recognized Simon by Simon's injury. He wants to befriend him but Simon declines. Little does Simon know that the boy has the power to make his drawings come to life. He draws Simon and him becoming friends. Of course, he takes it too far and messes up Simon's life. Buuuut, let's just say it gets fixed.


  • Frosty the Snowman, from the song of the same name.

Religion and Mythology

  • Pygmalion in Greek myth.
  • There's the Chinese folktale of a famous artist who drew dragons without dotting in their irises; one day a prankster bumped into him, causing him to spill ink onto the scroll...cue one dragon rising out of the painting and into the sky.
    • A variation of that tale, or possibly a similar one, involves the Emperor asking him why he never completes his paintings (by putting in the irises). When the painter explains that he doesn't want them to come to life, the Emperor tells him to finish them anyway. Cue the dragons.
  • Many religions have this as part of their creation story. God (or a god) sculpts humans and imbues it with "the breath of life". In Jewish tradition, this led to the legend of the Golem, where a mystic does the same thing using a Word Of Power, but with only enough intelligence to follow orders.

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • This is basis of the Paint and Thinner of Epic Mickey, and is also how the titular mouse accidentally created the Big Bad Eldritch Abomination. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero indeed.
  • Vincent Van Gore from Luigi's Mansion was a ghost artist that created the minor ghosts that were found in the mansion, and attacked by bringing 21 more of them to life from the paintings in his studio.
  • Hoggus from Wario Land 4 is a ghostly pig-like creature that draws one of two different types of pig monster on a notepad at a time and sends them to attack Wario.
  • Shadow Mario who is actually Bowser Jr. and his magic paintbrush.
  • One of the last bosses of Castle Crashers is a crazy painter with a treasure-chest for a head... and bunny-ears... whose painting-style was equal parts dadaistic and explosive.
  • Ado, Adeleine, and Paint Roller from the Kirby games attack by drawing monsters and bringing them to life. After her Heel Face Turn due to being cured of Demonic Possession, Adeleine uses her ability to help Kirby, painting powerups that become real... and at one point, saving the group from starvation and/or being eaten by Big Eater Extreme Omnivore Kirby while they're lost in the desert.
    • Drawcia from Kirby: Canvas Curse draws the bosses you face.
  • A quest in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion involved an artifact called the Brush of True Paint that made the things drawn in the canvas come to life. It helped an artist's incredible realism in his works, but it also lead to him being trapped in one of his paintings along with a small horde of "paint trolls".
  • A variation occurs in Comix Zone. A comic artist's villain comes to life as a living drawing and traps the artist in comic book. Several times during the game, you'll see his hand come onto the screen and draw an enemy onto the panel to fight. If you lose, the villain is replaced with a flesh-and-blood version, and goes off to Take Over the World. If you win, you escape from the comic. If you earn the best ending, you can bring your fictional love interest with you.
  • Variation: Relm from Final Fantasy VI has an ability called "Sketch", which copies a target and randomly uses one of its attacks.
    • At one point you fight a painting that's been possessed by a demon.
  • In Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, not only is a major part of the game exploring worlds inside paintings, but the Big Bad, Brauner, uses paintings to attack you. One of his attacks is becoming a painting and flying around the room to dive-bomb you. And you interrupt him in the middle of his plan to create a "piece" capable of destroying the world.
  • In Pac-Pix on the DS, the player must draw Pac Men which come to life and eat ghosts.
  • This is the whole point of Drawn to Life: the player draws the playable character and a ton of various objects in the game, like the weapons.
  • In Okami and Okamiden, art is the primary gameplay mechanic. Lilly pads, bombs and the sun spring to life from the strokes of your celestial paintbrush.
  • Just like Drawn to Life, the Rakugaki Oukoku duology (known as Magic Pengel and Graffiti Kingdom in the U.S.) revolves around you drawing monsters with your "mad artist skillz" and making them fight other monsters.
  • The artist dolls in Mendel Palace are capable of scribbling on panels and using them to animate stick figures in some levels. During their Boss Battle, they make clones of themselves. You can trick them into drawing on all of the panels to render them useless, and doing so nets you an extra life and a huge score bonus.
  • The obscure Game Cube game Amazing Island was a romp of mini-games where you made your own monsters to play them. By drawing them, and then sticking funny antenna and googly eyes on them. (Which somehow made them smarter...)
  • Occurs in a later level of The Simpsons Game where Matt Groening quickly pens sketches of Futurama characters Bender and Zoidberg to attack the Simpsons.
  • Illusion of Gaia features an odd - and creepy - inversion of this with the painter Ishtar. If he makes a portrait of someone, the person becomes trapped in the painting. It happens to Kara, but Will manages to bring her back with some magic dust and a True Love's Kiss. At the end of the sequence, Ishtar paints his own portrait.
  • Scribblenauts
    • Though Maxwell doesn't draw per se...
  • Dark Chronicle had the artist Pan who, after getting gold paint, was able to bring to life one of his paintings to be his wife.
  • Thief: Deadly Shadows features a witch who can animate statues, creating foes who are harder to sneak past and definitely too hard to fight in this "First Person Sneaker" game.
  • One of the informational videos in Soviet Strike implies that this is the reasoning behind the super helicopter the player flies. Specifically, the chief engineer of the project says that the reactive, adaptive armor was designed based on video games he'd played as a kid. He then specifically invokes the trope as an explanation.
  • Drawn: The Painted Tower and its sequels have this as their premise.
  • Much of the backstory in Charleston: The Witches' Legacy is provided by a child's torn-up drawings, which become animated as soon as you find all the pieces of one.
  • In Ib, the titular character unwittingly enters a parallel world while visiting a gallery of paintings by a Mad Artist where said paintings come to life. To kill her.

Web Original

  • In the Colour My... Series, clicking on things to color them can make flowers and plants bloom, light lightbulbs, make water flow, and defeat robots.
  • SCP-237, the Modern-Day Pygmalion, is a Hikikomori who can create homunculi from handmade miniature figures. He may or may not be a spy...
  • The events of Life Sketch are brought about by Koneko Tachimachi's use of a magic sketchbook which she uses to bring anime characters to life.
    • In fact, it appears that even characters who were created using the sketchbook are able to use it for their own purposes.
  • In the very short tale "Vividness", the trope is inverted, since the painter dies when he draws himself on the picture.
  • Homonculous, a supervillain from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, can make any object or creature he creates, using any artform (in the past he's used sculpture, painting, charcoal sketches, crayon scribbles, and a couple of quickly written lines of poetry), real. But he has to create it himself (he cannot, for example, bring something out of a picture in a magazine, or animate a statue that someone else created).

Western Animation

  • Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings has this as the premise, that anything Simon draws on his magic chalkboard come to life in the Land of Chalk Drawings, and he can interact with them there.
    • Considering how often Simon's drawings caused problems in the land of chalk drawings, you would think he would have stopped drawing things.
  • Harold and The Purple Crayon, the Ur Example which probably inspired all the latter chalk examples, has had numerous adaptations, including 3 short films and a 13-episode HBO series (Darker and Edgier?) narrated by Sharon Stone.
  • The Powerpuff Girls did this with an episode where Bubbles got a set of colored chalk from Him and her creations (which just happen to be evil monsters after a falling out with Buttercup) come to life.
  • The (barely) recurring Darkwing Duck villain Splatter Phoenix had this as her schtick. She had some kind of Applied Phlebotinum that could both bring her paintings to life and insert living people (including herself) into paintings, where they could then move from one painting to another. She also used it to steal the smile right off the Mona Lisa.
  • In the "Frankendoodle" episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, Spongebob gets a "magic pencil." However, when he draws a "Doodlebob" with it, it comes to life and tries to erase him.
  • ChalkZone is about magic chalk that brings the art to life, and gives it its own dimension, the Chalk Zone.
  • Penny Crayon was a British cartoon which had this as the entire premise. Penny Crayon can draw anything she wishes, and it becomes real. Get hit by water, and it's gone though.
  • On Frankenstein, Jr. and The Impossibles, one of the Impossibles' foes was the Diabolical Dauber (voiced by Paul Winchell), who used his paintbrush and canvas to create a giraffe and a laughing hyena.
  • Brushogun in Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo.
  • This is the plot of the celebrated Looney Tunes animation Duck Amuck.
  • Mc Gee And Me is about a boy's sketches of a cartoon man coming to life in order to teach him valuable life lessons.
  • In the Sushi Pack episode, "But is it Art?", The Collector, after devising a way to bring the images in paintings to life (which he can control using a pipe organ), plans to control all the great masterpieces in the world.
  • This is Michael's power in Fisher-Price's Little People.
  • In an adaptation of the original comic book story (see above) the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode "The King" featured April's tenant Kirby (a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of legendary comic artist Jack "King" Kirby), a comic-book artist who had gained possession of a crystal that allowed his drawings to come to life when strapped to his pencil.
  • Brendan in The Secret of Kells defeats Crom Cruach with a purple crayon piece of chalk with which to redraw the animation.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends has a variant with Duchess, an Imaginary Friend who seems to have been designed as a Cubist painting come to life (but still flat, as seen whenever she turns around).
  • Clyde Crashcup, a regular on the original Alvin Show, was an inventor who 'invented' common things that have been around forever, using a Magic Crayon to create them.
  • Lady Redundant Woman from Word Girl can bring pictures to life.
  • In an episode of W.I.T.C.H. the characters go into a painting which is being painted by a person in the painting. Plus, the painting is not one, by two paintings, one the hangs in an art gallery in the real world and one that hangs in the villains' castle.
  • In the ThunderCats (2011) episode, "The Forest of Magi Oar," the Wood Forgers, a trio of Paper Masters, have this as a secondary power thanks to use of magic paper. Gami's paper beasts animate, move and employ Breath Weapons. Zigg can paint a vessel with his brush to capture and contain evil spirits, or paint miniature animations. Snips can create self-propelling pinwheels, snowflake blizzards and people-sized cages.
  • In the Betty Boop cartoon Ha! Ha! Ha!, when Koko the clown got a toothache, Betty drew a dentist's office, complete with a tank of laughing gas. After they both got buzzed on the gas and forgot to turn off the nozzle, the gas started flowing out of the drawing board into the real world.
  • In Frozen Elsa's ice and snow powers inexplicably include sculpting animate, sentient snow men.