The Making of “Farewell,” an illustration about Traditional Hmong Burial Clothes


Today’s post is a behind the scenes look at the making of a recent illustration I did for the Light Grey Art Lab’s “The End is Nigh” exhibition.

“Farewell,” Digital, 2021.

My focus was on traditional Hmong burial clothes called “khaub ncaws laus,” which translates to elder/ancestral clothes.

Since I did not had much knowledge of these traditional garments, my process began with some online research. Little did I know, there was not much information online regarding this subject, so I had to dig a little further.

And so, I thought what better source than to ask my own parents regarding this matter. I paid them a visit and asked my mom about khaub ncaws laus. I was fortunate she was able to show me some that she had sewn or purchased over the years.

Female Outer Robe
Some sketchbook notes
More sketchbook notes

After doing my research, below were several thumbnails I created to figure out the composition I wanted for this piece.

Hmong burial clothes consists of several components. For this illustration, I thought it would be best to focus on a part that stood out most to me, which is the oversized collar on the female clothes known as the “dab tsho.” Unlike traditional Hmong clothes where the dab tsho is smaller, the female burial outfit collar is oversized. It is believed they were made large enough to support and carry the deceased person’s head when transporting the body to the burial site. The design on the dab tsho could vary from person to person or clan to clan. When I asked my mother about the meaning of the designs, she was unsure and told me they have always been made that way.

A different “dab tsho” design.

After doing my research and finalizing the composition, I sketched everything out. For this illustration, I worked digitally in Photoshop.

Rough Artwork

After the rough sketch, I would go over and finalize the line work.

Line Art

Once the line work was completed, I went in and finish the rest of the illustration with colors and texture.

Final Artwork, “Farewell”

The final illustration shows a Hmong women faced slightly back to us with an emphasize on the intricate design of the dab tsho.

I hope this “behind the scenes” post was insightful. I know I learned so much more about my culture and traditional Hmong burial clothes.

ART BOOK: If you would like to pre-order an art book featuring all the work from the entire exhibition, you can do so here!

IN-PERSON EXHIBITION: If you would like to get check out the artworks in-person, The End is Nigh exhibition is still open! It is held at the Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The exhibition will be displayed through the end of November 2021.