Shirt Design

Shirt Design: Midwest Furfest ’17

Midwest Furfest Shirt Design


Midwest Furry Fandom LLC runs what is now the world’s largest “furry” convention each year in early December. The convention attracts a wonderful assortment of talented artists, costumers, dancers, musicians, animators and more who are fans of anthropomorphic animals or other fantasy creatures.

Like many conventions, MFF chooses a theme each year which attendees can voluntarily design their art, costumes and other activities around. The 2017 theme was Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

I was a regular attendee of MFF during my time in Chicago, and it easily became my favorite convention. They reached out to me in September of 2017 to create some art that would be seen by their 8,000+ attendees. Being chosen as the artist to design the 2017 shirt, logo, and two print designs was an honor.


Note: The same research notes below apply to all four art pieces commissioned by Midwest Furry Fandom. Skip to details on the shirt if you’re already read them.

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales” was a classic and enjoyable theme to create art around. Although well-known, I still wanted to do some research before getting started.

Reviewing Grimm’s Fairy Tales

I refreshed my memory on Grimm’s Fairy tales and was surprised to learn just how many they had written.

It’s well known that the tales are more gruesome than we were told as children. As much as darker themes intrigue me, I tried to keep in mind that due to the December timing of the convention, many fans regard it as “the Christmas con,” so my art would have to lean more mysterious than evil or spooky.

I narrowed my search for the most popular and well-known tales; While there are a lot of tales featuring animal characters, not everyone would be familiar with Grimm’s lesser-known stories. I wanted the shirt to be instantly recognizable and something that can be enjoyed at the convention and after it.

Among the top-known tales, these stood out to me as appropriate for MFF:

  • Little Red Riding Hood (as was already shown on the MFF site)
  • Sleepy Beauty
  • Snow White (and the Seven Dwarfs)
  • Rapunzel
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Puss in Boots
  • Cinderella
  • Pied Piper

Making Grimm recognizable for MFF attendees

Having done my research and picked out the best tales for MFF, I noted down symbols or iconic creatures and things from these stories that I could incorporate into my art.

The Big Bad Wolf was of course the most iconic and perfect for an anthropormophic-themed convention, but this was already used in the website and other promotional materials.

Puss in Boots, made popular again by the recent Dreamworks franchise, would work very well.

Other symbols that MFF attendees were likely to recognize from Disney and other’s interpretations of Grimm’s Tales:

  • Snow White’s poisoned apple
  • Cinderella’s glass slipper
  • Rapunzel’s long hair
  • Rumpelstiltskin’s spindle, or gold thread and straw
  • Hansel and Gretel’s candy house

Client’s parameters for the shirt design

The shirt design would be digitally printed, and as such I didn’t need to worry about color limitations and could create as detailed of a design as I felt appropriate.

The mascot of Midwest Furfest is a raccoon, and using this animal was mandatory for the shirt design.

The shirt needed to fit the Grimm’s Fairy Tale 2017 convention theme.

My shirt design process

Concept Thumbnails

I offered to show MFF two thumbnails per each requested piece, and let them choose which concept they preferred.

For the first concept, I drew from my love of the popular Once Upon a Time TV series, which heavily references Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and imagined a story teller with a heavy, leather-bound book in which the tales would be written. The poisoned apple from Snow White felt like a great way to nod to Grimm’s tales in particular. The raccoon mascot would be the one reading the book and offering the famed poisoned apple.

For the second concept, I wanted to lean into the Little Red Riding Hood motif that was already in use on their website and other branding. While I typically want to offer clients something unique and different, I felt creating something complimentary to the existing art and branding might prove popular with attendees and be that much more instantly recognizable. To help this idea stand out just a bit more, I blended in the “following the breadcrumb trail” imagery from Hanzel and Gretel.

Chosen concept

The client was overwhelmingly enthusiastic for the first concept, so I continued forward with that.

Art process

After the concept was approved I made headway privately to get the design to completion. I used some references of raccoons to ensure I drew the facial features and fur markings correctly, even if I would end up using unnatural colors.

For colors, there are several websites I use to get color palette ideas. I picked a range of colors I thought would work well for something mysterious (dark and cool, but bold), and simply inverted them to get a complimentary range of colors.

WIP Preview

The Photoshop symmetry tool had not been released yet. While I didn’t make the design an exact mirror, I did copy things from one side to another both to keep the facial proportions correct and to create something balanced for a shirt design.

Once I was in a nearly complete spot, I shared a preview with the client for any last-minute changes. I initially expected that they would want only the image and would add their own text in below, but their art director asked if I’d be willing to add a ribbon-like bookmark to the book since my Wolves with Ribbons series had grown so popular around the same time.

Sure enough, the ribbon was a brilliant touch.


I created a mock for the client of how the final design might look printed on a shirt. The end result would be up to them and their printer, but I didn’t want to leave them in the dark with only a design and no suggestion on where to go thereafter.

After discussing with their printer, they decided to go with a navy shirt color. While I was afraid that the dark artwork would get lost on the shirt, thanks to the bright eyes and book color, it ended up complimenting the shirt quite well and adding to the mysterious theme.

Final Artwork

Both the client and myself were thrilled with the final shirt design, and it was a hit at the convention itself.


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