Where words and pictures meet: Shaun Tan

August 23, 2011

The Self-Portrait by Shaun Tan. From 'The Red Tree' Image his.

Author/Illustrator: Shaun Tan

Genre: childrens picture books

Artists medium: painting, mixed media

Age Appropriateness: The pictures can be a little scary and melancholy, so probably not before school age…..and on. Think adult fables rather than children’s books.

Introduction: During a library visit about 7 years ago I first came across ‘The Red Tree’. I loved the book but it felt too sad to own. I remember being intrigued by the art of Jeffery Smart and Martin Sharp as an early teen and by the great skill of cartoon artists. Shaun Tan combines these artistic ‘looks’ in a thoughtful whimsical way to explore complex issues. His work reminds me a little of the ‘Wallace and Gromit’ creations of the Aardman group…..but with less of a sheen.

Other work: The Bird King, Tales from outer suburbia, eric, the arrival, Sketches from a nameless land, The Lost Thing, Lost and Found and What Miscellaneous Abnormality Is That?

Review: 

‘The lost thing of the title is a curious amalgam of what could be best described as a teapot melded with a crab. 

The environment Tan creates is deliberately unsettling. Buildings and concrete slabs are old and decayed with rusted pipes jutting out at strange angles. The city looks worn out and tired, and there is a complete abscence of plant life. 

The city is populated by self absorbed adults, preoccupied with their ritual habits. Too busy with their dreary and gray lives, they neither notice nor care about the lost thing. But the unnamed protagonist does care. He is a beacon of goodness and decency in a dark, detached environment. 

The youth, a tireless collector of bottle tops, takes on the responsibility of finding the lost thing a home. 

Shaun Tan’s illustrations are a homage to several artists, such as John Brack and Jeffrey Smart.’

Review from Speechlanguage- resources

Video Interviews: A preview of Tans Award winning short film The Lost Thing.

An interview with Shaun Tan on madness and Nonsense and the Writing and Illustrating process.

Tan talks about the idea of an adult fable and the process

Other things: As well as working on concept drawings for Wall-e and Horton Hears a who, Tan has created murals, made award winning short films and had his work adapted by artists in different fields. You may recognise his drawings from “Fuel Your Mind’ Book Week 2008 .

Shaun Tan's illustration for 'Fuel the mind' Book Week 2008

The ACO adapted ‘The Red Tree’ into a musical production, puppets have been used to bring his books to life and theatre productions have also been made of his works.

Art: Like many Illustrators Tan’s artwork can be purchased through the illustration cupboard and is the feature artist of the moment.…as it turns out.

Norseman by Shaun Tan.

'Estuary' by Shaun Tan.

'Fighting Crows' by Shaun Tan.

'Track Layers' by Shaun Tan.

'Alert but not armed' by Shaun Tan.

'Never leave a red sock on the line' by Shaun Tan.

'The Gift' by Shaun Tan.

* All images are the copyright of the artist. Click through on the images to go to original source.

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4 Responses to “Where words and pictures meet: Shaun Tan”

  1. I love Shaun Tan, I used to work as a children’s bookseller and made it my mission to tell as many people as I could about his wonderful books. Great post.

  2. Sarah Kelly said

    I have used his books lots to teach visual literacy! They are wonderful!

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