Monday, April 1, 2013

Shaun Tan – Wary of ‘inspiration’--“Just start drawing.”

My byword for this year is creativity.  (See here to learn more.)  With this in mind, I'm very interested in reading about how creative people think.  In children’s literature this means gaining insight into the words and illustrations of some of my favourite children’s books.

So imagine my utter delight to learn that Shaun Tan (one of my all time favourite illustrator/authors of The Rabbits, The Arrival and The Lost Thing) had published a book with a selection of sketches/draft illustrations for many of his published and unpublished works.

The Bird King: an Artist’s Notebook presents the idea that there is value in our random ‘doodles’ and early stages of visualization of creative projects. Exploring ideas as they emerge, following along to see where they go or don’t go, being spontaneous and not too rigid in thinking is all part of the creative process.

These drawings are taken from over a twelve year period, “ranging from fairly precise drawings to scruffy scribbles” of mostly imaginary creatures, some familiar and found in his books and others we've yet to meet (maybe someday?).  He also includes a few sketches of real landscapes, real people and studies of museum artefacts.  Most images are colourless line drawings with a few coloured ones scattered throughout. 

A few of my favourites drawings include ‘Reading’ (pages 28 & 29) of a fantastical beast carrying adults and children on its broad back as they read books.  This one should be made into a poster to promote books, I think.  ‘Automatic teller’ on page 11 is very clever with a human or part human ATM machine waiting to help customers.  And on pages 34 and 35, he has a ‘portrait of the artist as a young man’ leading a parade of his imaginary creatures (also on the cover of the book).

The book has been designed to feel like a journal so we feel invited to delve a little further into Tan's private world. Overall, there is a sense of playfulness that comes through this book.  That Tan is letting his imagination ‘go’ and willing to see what happens.  Not everything is planned out.  Because he’s a good artist even his most ‘scruffy’ sketches are pretty good, a pleasure to peruse and dissect.

But then again, maybe it’s just my bias as he is one of my favourites (in case you missed that point.)

Check out Wendie's Wanderings for this weeks roundup of nonfiction children's literature.


Jeff Barger said...

This would be a great book to encourage students to keep a journal whether it is drawing or writing. You can talk about how practice is part of the creative process.

GatheringBooks said...

Hi there dear Tammy, Shaun Tan is an absolute favorite! I'm featuring him in my blog til end of April. I have The Bird King - but not this one, I think. There are two of them, and I think I have the older one. I also enjoyed The Rabbits and reviewed it - that one was particularly powerful and truly riveting. Have you seen the works he has done with Gary Crew? I would be doing a review of The Viewer and The Memorial very soon. Those are wonderful wonderful picture books too. :)

Perogyo said...

This looks very interesting. I know nothing about the process of illustration so it would be great to see what ideas go into the book compared to the finished product!

Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for the heads up about Shaun Tan's work with Gary Crew. I'm not familiar with these titles.

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