When the Painter is bound to the physical world his four higher magics are bound as well, and a side effect of this is Tawa's inability to paint. His hands began to tremble and he can't even sketch out his iconic double-circle sun. Painting is his life, so he must re-learn how to paint in a new way.
Tawa meets an egotistical shaman who's convinced he's amazing at painting. Tawa, seeing one of the shaman's "masterpieces" is not impressed and is vocal about it. The shaman, offended, challenges Tawa to do better. Tawa scoffs and agrees. But when he picks up the paintbrush, his hand shakes. He switches the brush to the other. It shakes as well. Tawa can't so much as put a splotch of paint on the skin.
Tawa tries painting again and again, in secret these times because he's embarrassed and in disbelief. He can't do it, and eventually he stops altogether and refuses to have anything with it.
On their travels Tawa meets a woman who paints in a way he's never seen before, and it angers him. She notices and mocks him and he leaves in a huff. Later she saves their lives from a grass cat and tells them she's joining them so she can teach Tawa painting. They both object but don't have much choice.
Tawa reluctantly learns about different methods of painting and making art. At first he refuses to learn, but seeing her make beautiful things and hearing her taunts and feeling that ache of not-painting grow every day finally forces him to let her teach him. He hates every lesson, hates her, but it's working. These new techniques and styles, they don't make his hands shake, and with practice he gets better and better.
Then he tries to paint as he once had again. She had forbidden him from it, but he gets so confident that he believes he can do it again and so one night beneath the full moon he pulls out some paints, a brush, a skin. He mixes the paints. All good. He dips the brush into the bowl. Still good. He lifts the brush to the skin. And it begins. Just a faint tremble, but it takes all the determination he's got to push the brush forward and press the tip to the soft leather and for a moment, it works, his hand is steady, he's made a dot. Then the shaking starts again, so hard and painful that he drops the brush, falls to his knees, hurts.
She had been watching and now comes, touches his shoulder. Tawa breaks down into tears, sobbing and rocking back and forth, hurting so bad, and he just wanted it to stop, he just wanted to go back, he just wanted to be himself again. But he'll never be the same again, and he's only just realizing that and it hurts. It hurts. She knows, she understands, she's been changing and adapting ever since she existed, and sometimes it hurts to do so. But each new body she's lived as, she's found, has its own function and ability to do great things, even if that great thing is different from others. Each form has helped her grow and learn and build this current body, this person that she is, and though it's constantly changing it's still her. She is she, Tawa is he, and that is not a permanent thing.
They sit a while, he staring at the skin, she at the moon as it makes its slow descent toward the horizon. The paint splotch looks like a comet, Tawa realizes, a shooting star streaking across the sky. He never would've thought of that splotch that way before. Before, he would've just seen it as a mistake on the skin, a failure of a painter. This new way, it was much prettier, held much more potential. So maybe there was something good to the woman's lessons after all.
A few days later the woman leaves. They're both reluctant to let her go, but again they can't stop her. She encourages Tawa to keep trying out new painting methods and challenges him to a painting contest if they meet again. She suggests he try painting Stormfire's coat whenever he feels he wants to.
Throughout the story Tawa continues to discover and create new methods of painting. One day he paints Stormfire's coat, and the old mare returns to the beautiful buffalo horse she once was, in all her war pony glory.
Recovery is a long, difficult process and a constant battle, but it is possible.
Be open to change and allow yourself to grow.
The Painter was bound and Tawa cannot paint. He's struggling with not being who he once was and not being able to do things he once could.
Tawa considers painting a key part of who he is, and now that he cannot paint he doesn't know who he is or what will happen to him.
Tawa meets a woman who teaches him new methods and styles of painting. He hates her lessons but begins to learn that through hard work, practice, and patience he's starting to get better at these new things.
Tawa begins to accept that he isn't the same person he once was and there's no going back.
Tawa continues to struggle and learn new painting methods. He fails every time he tries to paint a skin or horse coat as he once did, but isn't discouraged by it as he once was.
Tawa paints Stormfire's coat and turns her into a beautiful, strong warhorse that defies her old age.
Be able to paint as he once could so he can be himself again.
There's an unconscious line of thinking going on in his brain that if he can fix this one aspect about himself, if he can paint again, then things will go back to normal. He'll be the Painter again, he'll be with the Star Mare again, all of this will simply be a bad dream he'll never have to worry about again. That's what he wants, that's what he's aiming for. He doesn't realize it can't happen like that.
That ache inside him, that hurting, that wanting of things to be as they once were.
The woman makes Tawa do the opposite of what he wants to do.
Even these new methods aren't like how it once was. Before, things just clicked. He understood how things worked in the spiritual world and that place in-between. Painting came naturally, it was him. But this is nothing like that, therefore it isn't right or good, it isn't working, it isn't him.
These new methods are a disgrace to the old ways--it isn't "proper" painting techniques. But the outcome is still beautiful? Tawa can't understand that.
All of Tawa's paintings get ruined. Tawa's hand gets cramps and injuries. He makes a mistake and ruins the painting.
Tawa practices holding brushes and mixing paints and such. He's happy when his hands shake less and thinks soon he'll be back as he was.