A reflection on Asian myths and re-contextualizing it for the modern day

Understanding the increasing damage of our dying oceans.

Understanding the increasing damage of our dying oceans.




Sept 2019 - April 2020




Undergraduate Thesis




Research, Illustration, Print, Design Thinking




Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop




RGD Forge Media + Design Award for Storytelling Honourable Mention / 2020

Ghost explores the notion of how myths survive the test of time by evolving with the era they are told in. It plays on the interconnectedness between modernity and tradition, in content and structure. The scroll is a celebration and exploration of identity and culture. It describes the story of a young girl who gets whisked away to the spirit world with her grandmother. Through the use of illustrations and a 16ft scroll, Ghost, delves into particular Chinese myths and how they've shaped my upbringing and understanding of the world.

As a young child armed with my local aquarium pass, I loved the ocean and learning about the beautiful world that lived under the sea. Having lived on the west coast it is clear that the ocean has become interwoven with our way of life. However, this makes overfishing a growing problem that could leave thousands of people without jobs and without food. This informational brochure and app aims to raise awareness of the drastic changes overfishing has causing to the ecosystem and the potential impacts it has on humans. 


How do past myths find relevancy in the modern day and how do the universal themes in these stories carry through in our everyday lives?



Myths Significance in the Modern Day

Although myths are stories drawn from the past, they can give us insight on the human experience that informs us on who we are in modern day.  With a focus on Asian culture, I discovered that they continue to play a large role in society, and remains relevant due to the fundamental questions they attempt to answer and the contexts in which they are put in. Myths provide us with the ability to gain greater understanding of the underlying problems that affect us all in addition to our own personal experiences.

Modernizing Past Forms

Through my research I also touched upon the forms that myths and scrolls had taken in the past as well as in the modern day. I first took a look at ancient scrolls and their historic significance and how artists nowadays have digitalized and animated scrolls. This inspired me to try to rethink how scrolls are usually displayed within my own project. 



Sprint #1

This scroll was inspired by one of my favourite stories my grandmother told me was of her childhood. Her ten siblings and her parents were said to have been saved by the buddhist goddess of mercy, Guanyin, during a terrible storm. A testament of how belief and myth has specifically impacted her life. 


*This scroll is read right to left. 

Sprint #2 

The first iteration of a scroll mechanism, I attempted to create a more type based approach as opposed to the illustrative scroll in the previous sprint. The scroll, printed on vellum is of the poem "Quiet Night Thought" by Li Bai, written in the Tang dynasty. The content of the poem ties back to the human condition of yearning for a sense of belonging and is still relevant today. This lead me to create a larger version of this scroll for the final project. 




The story plays homage to my grandmother who passed away when I was in high school. Her favourite stories to tell where ghost stories.The scroll describes how Kit sees her grandmother during the ghost festival after she passes away. This meeting brings them on an adventure along with the Monkey King in order to return an old family heirloom to the Jade Emperor. Kit attempts to restore peace to Earth and learns to confront loss. After fleshing out the story I sketched out how each part of the scroll would flow onto the next with simple thumbnails. 



Character Design

For the characters based off of Chinese myths I referenced different depictions throughout history and created their designs. I also experimented with colour schemes indicating when they were alive or in the spirit world. Kit and the grandmother were based on my own family and the outfits my grandma's had worn. 


Content Mockups

As I illustrated the scroll digitally I often printed it out in black and white and stitched it together to reference sizing and ensuring that nothing was out of place. The illustration style was created in vector format where texture and line was used to add more character. Colour was utilized to showcase shift in tone and mood.

Handscroll Sketches

The handscroll iterations were a little more hands on as I had to ensure I measured everything out properly so I wouldn't have any trouble when assembling all the components together. Inspired by East Asian scrolls and Japanese book binding I incorporated many of these elements in the final design- using Japanese fabrics and bone clasps. 


Handscroll Prototypes

I created small prototypes of the scroll but as I scaled up, I had more trouble when larger amounts of paper were added as the dowels were not strong enough to alleviate all the tension the paper held when it was rolled up. Through this, I had a help of a friend to add gears within the scroll to allow the 16ft roll of paper to be read through manually. 


Ghost presents problems of the human condition that would be analyzed by the reader, such as themes of loss, family and coming of age. It is intended for the user to engage with the piece and to consider how myths have influenced their own lives. The users would leave with a deeper understanding of Chinese myths and why Chinese culture and traditions are practiced.




Create conversations, critique is welcomed. 
Through this project I learned that different perspectives and talking to people about the project can give you direction and the understanding to move forward with the project. 

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© 2021 Hillary Chen