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The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook

Written & Illustrated by Shaun Tan

A new book of sketches, artwork, and personal reflection from the brilliant mind of award-winning, bestselling author and illustrator Shaun Tan.

"I'm often wary of using the word 'inspiration' to introduce my work -- it sounds too much like a sun shower from the heavens, absorbed by a passive individual enjoying an especially receptive moment. While that may be the case on rare occasions, the reality is usually far more prosaic. Staring at a blank piece of paper, I can't think of anything original. I feel utterly uninspired and unreceptive. It's the familiar malaise of 'artist's block' and in such circumstances there is only one thing to do: just start drawing." - Shaun Tan

And when Shaun Tan starts drawing, the results are stunning. In The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook, we find a window into the creative process: the stops and starts, the ideas that never took off, and the ones that grew into something much bigger. Fans of The Arrival will recognize the quirky, surreal sensibility that is so distinctly Shaun Tan in this stunning collection, and gain insight into how his many gorgeous books were made.

Reviews and Awards

Reviews USBBY Outstanding International Book
2014 Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices

⋆ “‘Why isn’t the finished work as good as the sketch?’ Tan (The Arrival) asks in the introduction to this collection of loose illustrations and rough ideas, wondering why drawings lose their spontaneity as they undergo revision. These sketches took little time to make, he says, and some ‘barely escaped the paper-recycling bin.’ Fascinated with hybrids, Tan draws cyclopean monsters with claws and tentacles, light bulbs with tails, cars with antennae, and a flower whose bloom is a single human eye. A section of full-color paintings and drawings offers rich and complex layers of pigment, lush shadows, and startling highlights of scarlet and magenta. In one, an Asian man wearing glasses holds the hand of a small boy on a sidewalk; ‘Dad + me,’ reads the legend. A careful set of sketches records pre-Columbian artifacts; another, just as earnest, invents a character alphabet for an undersea civilization; a cover sketch for Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels also appears. The sharing of unfinished work is a generous gesture, and the collection is a treasure trove for any young artist who wants to know more about how ideas are captured on paper.” - Publishers Weekly, starred review

⋆ “Tan, the mastermind behind the incomparable The Arrival (2007) and Lost and Found (2011), opens up his sketchbooks and offers up an array of drawings, doodles, and visual experiments. Separated into works for books, theater, and film; life drawings; notebooks; and tantalizing glimpses of untold stories, the entries all share Tan’s unique trademarks. Unmistakable are his flawless craftsmanship, his organically industrial yet timeless aesthetic, and his lyrically haunting style and tone. Given their own page and focus, many details that might have attracted merely a glance in larger works are turned here from a flourish into a full-fledged character or visual idea. Simultaneously, mechanics of his world-building skill come clear, like a penchant for embellishing illustrations to make them appear a part of a larger blueprint or schematic, giving the sense of a small image within a vast tapestry that is itself an infinitely branching world of imagination. The author’s stated hope is that, in their evolutionary examination of images and narratives, the sketchbook pages ‘offer a privileged insight into the creative process.’ So it does, making it an invaluable resource for burgeoning visual storytellers. But even for those interested in little more than pondering and daydreaming, this is a powerful springboard for the imagination.” - Booklist, starred review

⋆ “From a master of visual mystery, a beguiling gathering of sketches, doodles, portraits and written thoughts about art and creativity…. With rare exceptions, the figures are fantasy creatures sporting beaks, armor or other strange features—but all (even a series of quick studies of pre-Columbian pottery) not only look alive, but display the artist’s distinctive whimsy and innate poignancy…. Rewarding territory to explore not just for budding artists or writers, but for daydreamers in general.” - Kirkus

Purchase Options
Indiebound Scholastic • Amazon • Barnes & Noble

Spring 2013
Non-fiction Picture Book
ISBN: 978-0-545-46513-7
Price: $19.99/$21.99
Trim Size: 6 1/8" x 8 1/4"
Page Count: 128
Foreign Rights: Passion Pictures Pty. Ltd.
Translation Rights: Passion Pictures Pty. Ltd.
Rights Available? yes

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