Shaun Tan's work is amazing

My dad is a great finder of cool stuff. He’s a constant explorer, digging through mounds of music, books, art, cooking techniques, spices, and so on to find something new and interesting. A random drop by might find him cooking Moroccan food to Okinawan pop, or solving physics problems to Ry Cooder’s Chavez Ravine. The latest thing he shared with me was the work of Shaun Tan, an Australian illustrator whose work is powerful, beautifully detailed and wonderfully off center.

He’s got a long history of great work, but he’s new to me. As soon as I opened the first book, it blew me away. He ranges stylistically a bit, but there's a consistent synthesis of future and past, plus a loving care for details, fonts, misfits, creatures and humanity. His book The Arrival is remarkable in the way it conveys the experience of coming to a new land and culture. It's truly epic, and to think of the work it took to produce is astounding. He’s also recently released a collection of some of his shorter stories, which includes his wonderful meditation on depression/artistic struggle/life, The Red Tree.

Tan has done a great amount of sharing around his process, and there's some really honest and engaging writing about the creative process and all the failures, successes and work that come through it. I’ve excerpted some of his quotes as picture captions below, but you should really go check out his site, spend some time reading and look at some amazing pictures.

Some of his books. First found in the library and now being converted to private ownership. As he says,
“Good ideas don’t just turn up, you have to go looking for them.” His books are a source of much inspiration.

A detail from inside one of his works. Says Tan, “Research - reading, looking at pictures, playing with different media - provides freedom from the creative paralysis that comes with infinite possibility. I need specific points of reference to develop ideas, and also a kind of resistance to my own stylistic ‘default settings’ so that I think outside the usual circles, and actually learn something new.” Bottle caps, words, charts and drawings indeed.

A spread from within his epic Arrival. Says Tan of the process, “I know I’m on the right track when there is a sense of unfamiliarity about what I’m doing, that I’m actually being surprised by the way mixed drawings and words make their own novel sense.”

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