Hilma Josal of Monroe used her daughters as models for her paintings that illustrate “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch.” Author Mark Blair wrote the story for his daughters about 40 years ago.

Hilma Josal of Monroe used her daughters as models for her paintings that illustrate “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch.” Author Mark Blair wrote the story for his daughters about 40 years ago.

Monroe artist’s oil paintings illustrate dark children’s fable

Hilma Josal used her daughters as models for “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch.” You can see her paintings, and hear the story, Feb. 27 in Snohomish.

SNOHOMISH — If your kids love Disney’s “Frozen,” they might also like the yet-to-be-published children’s book “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch.”

Monroe’s Hilma Josal is illustrating the dark children’s fable by Mark Blair with oil paintings. She will have about 16 illustrations when she is finished.

Arts of Snohomish, on the corner of First Street and Avenue B, is showing Josal’s paintings for “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch” through Feb. 28. In an artist reception scheduled for Feb. 27 at the gallery, Josal will reveal Blair’s story in its entirety. You’ll have an opportunity to preorder the book at the event.

Blair, 64, wrote “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch” in ABCB rhyming verse nearly 40 years ago. In a poem with the rhyme scheme ABCB, the second line rhymes with the fourth line, but the first and third lines don’t rhyme with each other.

“I have two daughters, Heila and Silver, and when they were really little I decided to write a children’s story for them — and then I just parked in a drawer for about 40 years,” said Blair, adding that his daughter Heila, now 38, is working to get it published.

In the story, Hjilmer and The Fire Witch are brother and sister. Hjilmer wishes he could cast spells like his sister, so she grants his request, but not without a warning: You must be careful with magic. As Hjilmer casts spells here and there, he starts to get careless. When Hjilmer’s magic turns dangerous, The Fire Witch is forced to kill her brother.

“It’s a lot of figure drawing plus impressionistic landscapes with a neon color palette,” Hilma Josal said of the illustrations for “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch.”

“It’s a lot of figure drawing plus impressionistic landscapes with a neon color palette,” Hilma Josal said of the illustrations for “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch.”

“It’s a little bit like ‘Frozen,’” said Josal, a former music teacher for K-12 students in the Snohomish School District. Although, with its dark storyline, “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch” might be closer to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” than Disney’s loose adaptation of the fairy tale.

Josal, 37, specializes in oil paintings, but she also likes to illustrate with charcoal and colored pencils. She’s been an artist for three years.

“It’s a lot of figure drawing plus impressionistic landscapes with a neon color palette,” Josal said of the book’s illustrations.

The book’s characters, Hjilmer and the Fire Witch, are painted in the likeness of Josal’s daughters, Ayla and Lana. Lana, 7, is Hjilmer and Ayla, 9, is The Fire Witch. She needed her daughters to pose for her to get the figure drawings just right. Especially their faces and hands.

“They’re very supportive,” Josal said of her daughters. “They draw pictures of me and cheer me on every day. They are my biggest fans.”

The fable was originally titled “Bimbo and The Fire Witch” — until Blair offered to name the main character “Hilma,” after the illustrator. They compromised with “Hjilmer,” which is a Norwegian nickname Josal’s singing teacher gave her years ago.

Josal said she doesn’t know of many artists painting in oil to illustrate a book. “It’s pretty rare,” she said. “Oil painters are a dying breed. We’re the last of the unicorns.”

It has taken Josal about six months to illustrate “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch.” You can watch her paint every other Saturday at the gallery. She plans to finish illustrating the last page of the book on Feb. 27.

“I’m painting my last page right now,” Josal said. “The first draft will be completely done.”

The book’s characters, Hjilmer and the Fire Witch, are painted in the likeness of Hilma Josal’s daughters, Ayla and Lana. Lana, 7, is Hjilmer and Ayla, 9, is The Fire Witch.

The book’s characters, Hjilmer and the Fire Witch, are painted in the likeness of Hilma Josal’s daughters, Ayla and Lana. Lana, 7, is Hjilmer and Ayla, 9, is The Fire Witch.

She quit her teaching job in 2017 when she realized she wanted to be an artist. Josal, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Washington, decided to continue her education by taking courses on figure drawing and oil painting there.

“It turned out I was really good at art,” she said. “Everything that I tried to be, I was kind of forcing it as a music teacher, but when I was painting before or after school, it was natural. It was who I was, but I didn’t realize it. It burned me out. I found myself as an artist.”

In addition to having her paintings up at Arts of Snohomish, Josal has shown her work at the Shelton Rotation Art Gallery, the Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show in Tacoma and the Equine Life Solutions Medieval Fair in Snohomish.

“My students come and visit me at the Snohomish art gallery,” Josal said. “I’ve done paintings for a lot of families.”

Blair, who lives in Tahuya at the southern end of Hood Canal, has written two more books that he hopes his daughter Heila will also publish. They are “Pearls on the Halfshell,” featuring reimagined pearls of wisdom, and “The History of the Coleman Indians,” a fictional history of a Native American tribe that establishes the Coleman camping gear company.

He was supposed to go to college on scholarship to become a journalist, but instead he became bricklayer and tile setter.

Blair broke his neck in 2001 when the truck he was driving rolled over. He was on his way home from work to take a nap when he fell asleep at the wheel. He said an undiagnosed sleep disorder led him to crash his truck. Though he wasn’t paralyzed in the accident, Blair now suffers from short-term memory loss.

“I have the same injury as Christopher Reeve, except I got myself out of my truck and walked away from it,” he said.

Blair’s daughter and granddaughter were helping to retile a bathroom in Josal’s home — the elder Blair was giving them direction — when they started talking about the book “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch.” Heila proposed that Hilma illustrate her father’s story.

Heila and Hilma were best friends when they attended Hawkins Middle School in Belfair. They met because Heila played saxophone and Hilma played trumpet in the band.

Mark Blair cried when he saw the illustrations for “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch” for the first time.

“If you see the artwork, it is awesome,” he said. “I am super-impressed by what that lady does.”

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com; @sarabruestle.

If you go

February’s featured artist at Arts of Snohomish is Hilma Josal, who is illustrating a dark children’s story called “Hjilmer and The Fire Witch” by Mark Blair. An artist’s reception is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 27. The gallery, 1024 First St., Suite 104, Snohomish, is open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Call 360-568-8648 or go to www.artsofsnohomish.com.

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