Photo of Hahn Zhang's t-shirt design for MFAVN '23. The image ia a colorful mix of characters emerging from a multi-eyed character's head, seeming to blend into an organic plant.

Hahn Zhang (’24) talks about his design for the MFAVN 2023 T-shirt

Hahn Zhang (’24) has created this year’s MFA Visual Narrative t-shirt and it’s a gorgeous piece of art. Hahn is an illustrator and painter who’s interested in “all things mysterious or weird.” He’s proficient in needle pen, acrylic marker and digital painting. All of this experience is clear in his t-shirt design.

We wanted to know the story behind this year’s design, so we asked Hahn a few questions about the process, including conception and collaboration.

How did the idea for the shirt’s design come to be?

When I received an invitation to make a t-shirt for our program, I knew I’d need to use some visual symbols and elements that reflect our program’s characteristics. So, I thought “Visual Narrative” as a research direction that combines storytellers and artists. I wanted to show how all-encompassing stories can produce strong chemical reactions in our minds. It can also inspire us to show our own stories in an unconstrained way. I used a lot of visual elements about observing, listening, imagination, surrealism, and the brain cocooning into a butterfly in the picture. And this is also a wish that we can break the shackles of thinking and create freely.


That’s a beautiful concept. Your style is so dynamic. How much effort went into making the design work well on a shirt?

Because this illustration is used as a print on t-shirts, my first consideration was the size and shape of the image. Considering that the printing technique we used is screen printing, I needed to determine a painting style suitable for this material. Then there were a lot of attempts with different color schemes, including matching the color of the image and the color of the t-shirt itself.


It turned out beautifully. Who did you work with and lean on throughout the process?

From design to press, Nathan Fox (Chair, MFAVN) gave me many suggestions, from the pattern silhouette to the matching of colors. Nathan suggested I could use a half-tone brush to let the base color of the T-shirt pass through the illustration to become the fifth color in the illustration, which is also very effective. As for the printing stage, since I was not in the United States at the time, Lucea Spinelli (Director of Operations) was in charge of the printing work. All this went very smoothly thanks to a team effort.

Thanks for talking with us, Hahn. And thanks for a t-shirt for the ages!

The t-shirt was handed out at orientation. It came wrapped with a message:

As we wander this world, we ingest the fluctuation of all things through our eyes, and piece them together into the universe of our minds. Finally, our brains will cocoon into butterflies, flying all over the sky with wonderful imagination. – Hahn Zhang (’24)

See more of Hahn’s work on his bio page. You can follow him on Instagram @hahnzhangg

Video by Olivia Li (’21)