Tales from Inner Perth

Quite recently, you may have heard of an Australian Illustrator/Author/Film Maker named Shaun Tan, who won an Oscar for "Best Animated Short Film", beating seasoned veterans Pixar. 

Last night, I had the amazing privilege of attending a talk by Shaun Tan on his career and creative process. I've been an admirer of his work since I read "The Rabbits" in Primary School, so to listen to him speak about how he grew up, how his career began and then see his childhood drawings and early sketches from his books and what inspired them was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience! I'M NOT KIDDING!!! 

He did a book signing afterwards and I bought "Eric" and "The Bird King and Other Sketches". It only took ten minutes of waiting in line for me to be reduced to a gibbering fan-girl who couldn't string two sentences together... I started yammering about how I great I thought "The Rabbits" was and that it was really amazing to hear about how another creative person works and that I found his book really inspirational as kid. He then asked me what field I was in, and I told him I'm a graphic designer... It went downhill from there... 

I asked if I could take a photo with him. This was my equivalent of meeting a sporting hero/famous actor. I know it was a little too crazy-fan-girl, but he'll probably forget anyway... That's the face I made when I thought to myself "OMG, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING", but it was too late to be normal again and bail out! So what if I got a little carried away and made a huge ass of myself in front of one of my idols, big deal. I GOT A WICKED PHOTO OUT OF IT!!! 
I wish I was more photogenic... Or maybe I should stop grinning like a JACKASS?
Now to the INTERESTING part of this post... This is what Shaun Tan talked about. I'll have to finish it off in another post. There's too much for just one!!! 
The last time I wrote this much was for essays in highschool, so please bear with me, I'll try my best to be coherent!

*** EARLY LIFE ***
Shaun Tan was born in WA and grew up in a really suburban part of Hillarys and drew a lot of inspiration from the scenery there. It's quite prevalent in works like "The Lost Thing" and "Tales From Outer Suburbia". He started off by showing slides of his childhood drawings and admitted that he wasn't one of those prodigies that didn't need to study in Uni. Also, when he was younger he didn't really want to be an Illustrator when he grew up either. As the pictures progressed, it showed his steady improvement and how he revisited themes he drew as a child in later drawings without even realising. When he was young, his friends in school really encouraged him to draw more and said he was really good and it was always cool to be good at drawing in Primary School. His dad, who was an architect, always gave him scrap drafting paper to draw on as well. Plus he got praise and encouragement from his parents and teachers too. 

He then went on to describe how he works from day-to-day with a cute little series of illustration. As much as he'd like to sit around drawing and painting all day, he also has to deal with the business side too. Which equates to spending a lot of time writing countless emails.

What he strives to do is find the "beauty in the banal" and would go on walks around the neighbourhood painting the most ordinary looking streets and houses. He then realised that ordinary things become extraordinary if you look at them long enough. To him, art is about seeing and re-seeing the world around you. 

E. Phillips Fox — The Landing of James Cook in Botany Bay
Shaun Tan — They came by water

***The Rabbits***
The part I found most fascinating was when he showed the sketches and described the process behind my favourite illustrated book ever "The Rabbits"! The picture above is from the cover.

So, for those of you who may not know, "The Rabbits" is a children's book that deals with the issues of the colonisation of Australia. It was written by John Marsden, the copy was then given to Shaun Tan to illustrate with almost no creative input from John at all. This was Shaun's first major project, he was 22 at the time and had around a year to work on it. Having such an open brief was daunting and exciting at the same time. At first, he thought it would be quite difficult to do a story about rabbits, then he realised that he didn't have to be so literal and that they could be creatures that vaguely resembled rabbits...

He then went on to explain how "They came by water" — one of my favourite illustrations — came to be. 
He used a painting of Captain Cooks landing by E. Phillps Fox as a reference for the composition. He once heard a story about how a man who saw one of those ships for the first time could not comprehend how a single ship could carry all of those people, their animals and all of their things as well! In the final illustration he emphasised the boat and made it the focal point. 

He tried to present the story as a children's book for adults. And I think in the end, it's nïeve and simply told and really powerful at the same time. It left such a lasting impression on me and I was only 11 when I read it! Also, it's not every day that one of your idols talks about one of your favourite works! I feel so lucky to have heard it!!! 

I'll do another post with more from the Shaun Tan talk. That is, of course, if anyone actually read this EXTRA-LONG post to the end! Also, I should point out, nothing here is word-for-word accurate! I just felt the need to mention that. 


  1. that's awesome. and I can completely imagine you being reduced to a gibbering fan girl, and doing a little giggle! yaaaaay!

  2. Yes... I can't really remember what I said, my brain and mouth completely disconnected!!! The photo says it all!!! @_@