Moli Ma ‘21 Expresses Distinct Individuality Through Paintings

Elyse Kim '21, Communications Editor

For one member of the St. Luke’s community, painting is more than just an art form: it is a unique opportunity to express her individuality. 

Though she has been drawing since childhood, Moli Ma ‘21 began painting when she was eleven years old. After following YouTube tutorials for a few years, she transitioned to traditional painting classes. Her artwork has quickly become a source of joy and an outlet for self-expression.

“People are always saying, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’ but it really, really is,” Moli shared. “And the fact that you can take whatever you’re thinking and put it into pigment and lines and shapes is crazy to me and I really, really like it. The fact that you’re making something out of nothing . . . it’s everything to me.”

Moli is constantly searching for inspiration for her art, both in everyday life and in her own imagination.

“I kind of just sit around and think a lot, and that’s just its own realm of horrible teen angst!” Moli joked. “On my Notes app, there’s just random ideas and fragmented sentences of me like, ‘This would be cool.’ And I have, like, a hundred of those. I have an album on my phone of reference pictures that I like. So it’s just whatever I feel speaks to me, I like to paint.”

One of the most intriguing aspects of Moli’s artwork is its unpredictability, which can be seen through her use of color. She frequently paints from reference photos, but rather than copying the pictures, she puts her own spin on them. 

“I like to add things, or I like to add colors that aren’t there,” Moli revealed. “I actually struggled a lot with mixing realistic colors. It’s never something that I learned. So I guess that’s why I supplement it with a bunch of different colors that don’t belong there. So on faces I’ll add blue or bright pink.” 

Though this painting was copied from a reference photo, Moli deviated from it by adding her own touches — notice the peering eyes in the grapefruit and pomegranate.


Moli’s variegated paintings mirror her artistic process. Rather than following traditional strategies, she creates her own, especially when mixing colors. However, Moli feels that her nonconformity adds another layer of depth to her artwork.

“Normally, the process [of mixing colors] is that you put down color blocks and then you blend it together in oils, but I never do that . . . I think it makes it look a lot more energetic.” 

Moli’s favorite type of paintings are portraits, because “you can get so much deeper with portraits than you can with anything else.”

One of her most recent portraits shows her grandmother sitting at a table, peeling a piece of fruit. The painting holds a special place in her heart not because of the finished product but because of the sentiment behind it. 

“It’s my grandmother, and this is really the first… really personal thing I’ve done. So everything else is kind of far away from me, but this is, kind of, how my grandmother is every day, and it’s how she’s been since I was a kid,” Moli shared. “This is a representation of somebody so close to me. I see a lot of issues technically with it, but I still like it. It’s my grandma.

Moli’s passion for her artwork is palpable in her paintings, and her talent has certainly not gone unnoticed. Her paintings evoke awe from fellow students as they pass the art gallery and Upper School art room, and her art has even reached viewers beyond the Hilltop. 

Last spring, her painting Smoking Man was awarded the Professor’s Choice Certificate at the CAEA Youth Art Celebration exhibition, meaning the judges found her work to be exceptionally remarkable. 

In addition, she won third place in the 4th Congressional District Art Competition — Representative Jim Himes selected her painting Outlook out of a field of 80 submissions, and currently displays her art in his office. 

Looking forward, Moli knows she wants to continue painting. Though the industry is replete with inconsistency and unpredictability, she believes her passion will eclipse these challenges. 

“That’s a question I struggle with — the future,” Moli admitted. “I really want to be this big-shot, gallery-selling artist selling to collectors and stuff like that. But it’s a risky thing to do, and it’s not a risk that a lot of people in my life want me to take . . . I feel like I’ll forever regret it if I don’t take it. So time will tell.”

When asked for advice for budding creators and people who do not yet identify as artists, Moli implored them to abandon their assumptions about art and instead channel their own personalities into their crafts. 

“If you think, or you exist, then you can do art. That’s the whole thing. You know, whatever technical things you need to learn, that comes with time and practice. But the fact that everybody has their own minds and everybody is thinking means that they can do art.” 

Moli’s paintings are emblematic of the individuality and creativity which makes art truly beautiful. So take a page out of her sketchbook — maybe you’ll be the next to create something extraordinary. 

To learn more about Moli and her art, check out this Eye of the Storm video.