Motif and Banner Exploration

Above Ground (Zhu)

After getting a better idea of how I wanted to proceed with the banner and what elements of the motifs I would like to explore, I then added some more to give variation.

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Cloud motifs were added to give the effect of a different world when Zhu reaches down for Liang.



Colour and texture exploration of the hands to differentiate Zhu and Liang’s from the other hands or gestures.

Banner Draft


Only the first half of the banner symbolizing Zhu’s surface world can be seen on the banner here.

Underground (Liang)

After drafting a banner with the motifs, I realised there was a lack of separation between the surface and underworld (where Liang had been laying before Zhu reached out to him in his grave). 

I wanted to stick with the theme of hands and it was suggested to me by our Professor that I could have a pile of hands that could only be identified as hands upon closer inspection.

Having watched Arrival just over the past weekend, I fell in love with the concept art of the aliens, or Heptapods, in the film. They were large slightly menacing beings with a mysterious air around them but not totally frightening. Their look however stuck out to me and made me think of spiders or squids. 

True enough, after doing some research, the concept art was mostly inspired by squids as well as by the image the director got from Ted Chiang’s short story- which Arrival was based on.


I started the process of the hands symbolising the underground by looking at creature design and spier leg anatomy. 

The idea of grotesque limbs with extra parts to them came to mind, with the spider legs being 7 parts and all. I imagined these thin, human limbs that looked peculiar and not entirely normal.


I then started sketching out potential arm positions for the next few larger drawings. The following 3 arms were then inked with a brushpen on an A2 sized paper which was later cut up for ease of scanning.


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.


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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.

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