Shaun Tan – Emphasis To Support Narrative

Rummaging though some old stuff I came across this drawing from about 15 years ago, one of the first test pieces for The Arrival which I’d forgotten about. At this time, long before the book was published or even fully sketched out, the drawing style was reminiscent of Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, When the Wind Blows), who has always had a big influence on my picture book work. The ‘reptiles’ I later felt were too defined here – better that we don’t see their heads or too much other detail, lest they become overly literal in the imagination. So the style and realisation here is not right, but the basic image of the family walking down a street with something dark migrating across the sky was one of two or three key images that seeded the rest of the story. -Shaun Tan, 2017

This post from Shaun Tan’s personal blog interested me, not only for the fact that he refers directly to his drawing style being reminiscent of another prolific artist, but also because he acknowledges the problem of too much emphasis and its ability to change the atmosphere and impact of the illustration.

It is refreshing that not only has Tan directly mentioned another artist, he has also stated that he can see the influence of that artist in his own work. My experience of illustrators, up to now, has shown very little evidence of the creator of any piece making this connection themselves. Whether this is viewed as a slight on their own talents, or there is shame in being influenced, I’m not sure. This is a small thing but worth mentioning here as it struck me as significant and indicated something appealing to me about the nature of Tan’s art: it is created for a purpose and not for the artist.

The second point is about emphasis. This is something, along with fine detail, that I struggle with, within my compositions. Looking at my own work, I have a tendency to make everything clear and fully recognisable rather than leave some room for the readers imagination to take over and join the dots. This is something I am gradually leaving behind as I become more aware of the practices of artists I’m inspired by, Tan being one of them. Deadlines have always forced me to work quickly and make amendments to existing pieces when I’ve noticed this flaw in my work in the past. It has always been about working quickly and efficiently. I feel that this is something that needs to be addressed and rectified. Amending a sketch ready for publication is not the same as redrawing a sketch with the knowledge of your previous mistakes.

TAN, S. (2017). The Bird King. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

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