Motif Exploration

Initial Exploration

I first went with the basic exploration of sketching traditionally the more literal elements of the Butterfly Lovers, namely figures, butterflies, skulls and clouds.


I first attempted to see how composition would work and I drafted out several long horizontal thumbnail sketches.

However, that was very limiting and felt like this reduced my potential elements and ideas. Hence, ditching that, I just explored with the literal elements themselves, seeing what I liked, what worked and what could be expanded in meaning and variety.


Exploring motifs related to death and the unhappy characters who held the couple apart.


4 5


After I realised that the elements felt rather detached and typical, I decided to try and sketch the with elements that I enjoyed sketching- body parts (but mostly hands).

I thought about how the girl, Zhu, had to subtly show affection or even contain her affection for Liang because of how she had to pretend to be a boy and their families disagreeing with their being together.

I expanded on the idea of gestures and decided to experiment with different hand gestures or body parts that could be isolated in a way to show discomfort or a longing for the other.


The initial rough stages of sketching were very undecided but helped to direct where the following sketches were going.

I then went on to sketching these said gestures and body parts in a way that I felt were subtly expressive of longing and loneliness. Books were also added as part of them motif sketching because of how I liked that their time together in school was probably the most amount of time they would spend together unknowingly.

I used a brushpen for texture and the variation in line width to add more character to the body parts.

small1 small4 small3 small2


Butterfly Lovers



A young girl, Zhu Yingtai dresses as a boy in order to attend school and befriends a young scholar there. They grow close and as she matures, she realises her feelings for Liang Shan Bo.

Dressed as a boy, she tells him she has matchmade him  with his sister whom she is sure he will like. The boy quickly finds out after his arrival that the beautiful sister is indeed the boy he had gone to school with and realises his feelings as well.

Forbidden from seeing each other due to differences in social classes, Zhu is distraught when Liang passes away from an illness upon hearing the news of her being bethrothed.

On the day of her arranged marriage, strong winds prevent her from passing the cemetery where Liang is buried and she pays her respects by his grave. In sorrow, Zhu begs for the grave to open up and it does, allowing her to fall in and join Liang. 

There spirits turn into butterflies and they ascend into the sky away from this place of the dead. 

– Zhang Du,
Xuanshi Zhi


I first looked for an artist reference and then picked from her artworks, the few pieces I thought I could use as inspiration for my own motifs and elements.

I have been following Yuko Shimizu on social media platform Instagram for a while now and her brush work is extremely inspiring and detailed to me. I also really liked her technique of drawing traditionally and then adding colours digitally afterward.

In the mood board, we have three pieces from her original series Unwritten as well as another one of her original artworks (bottom).