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The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook

The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook

5.0 1
by 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


"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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“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. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

Praise for The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook

* "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

* "Unmistakable are his flawless craftsmanship, his organically industrial yet timeless aesthetic, and his lyrically haunting style and tone... A powerful springboard for the imagination." -- Booklist, starred review

Praise for The Arrival

A New York Times Best Illustrated Book
An ALA Top Ten Great Graphic Novel for Teens
A Publishers Weekly Best Book

"Mesmerizing... Such visual eloquence can only motivate readers to seek out any future graphic novels from Shaun Tan, regardless of where they might be shelved." -- New York Times Book Review

"Astonishing." -- The Washington Post

* "Filled with both subtlety and grandeur, the book is a unique work that not only fulfills but also expands the potential of its form." -- Booklist, starred review

* "An unashamed paean to the immigrant's spirit, tenacity and guts, perfectly crafted for maximum effect." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* "Few will remain unaffected by this timeless stunner." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review

Praise for Tales from Outer Suburbia

A New York Times Best Illustrated Book
A Publishers Weekly Best Book

"You almost can't stop yourself from saying 'Wow...' Tan's work overflows with human warmth and childlike wonder." -- New York Times Book Review

* "The thoughtful and engaged reader will take from these stories an experience as deep and profound as with anything he has ever read." -- Booklist, starred review

* "Graphic-novel and text enthusiasts alike will be drawn to this breathtaking combination of words and images." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Praise for Lost & Found: Three by Shaun Tan

* "These stories representing the visionary work of a master storyteller, illustrator, and designer who cares deeply about his message deserve a place in almost every collection." -- Booklist, starred review

"Shaun Tan rocks my retinas... The book is gorgeously designed, the stories are evocative and mysterious, and every page of Tan's paintings -- I can't bring myself to call them mere illustrations -- commands long moments of study." -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
"Draw, draw, draw!" That's Tan's emphatic advice for artists of all ages. In these pages from his sketchbooks, we are privileged to see a selection of his own drawings in various media and of many kinds: some are incipient story ideas, some are from his books and projects, others, he says, are "exercises to keep fit as an artist," and some of the most interesting are just for fun. The book is divided into sections with each page numbered to correspond to endnotes giving information about the image. An "Untold Stories" chapter is full of intriguing drawings of odd creatures with ambiguous titles; for example, a dark pastel and charcoal sketch, "Never Lost a Case," of a fierce falcon suggesting a barrister holding a glass of blood-red wine. A section on Tan's work in books, theater, and film shows quick preliminary sketches, some in color, for art later developed and finished. Though much of his work is intricate fantasy, Tan finds it important to connect with real people and places; especially touching is a painting of himself as a small child with his father while another shows a scene (pastel and ink) of a coral tree and kangaroo from his native Australia. "Notebooks" teems with small sketches made while traveling—anything from sea creatures to "thumbnail doodles" that Tan finds useful to jog his memory or suggest connections. Young artists can learn from the work of a successful professional—Tan has won acclaim for his wordless novel, The Arrival (2006), and an Academy Award for his short animated film, The Lost Thing—though anyone attracted to the art of the picture book will find his sketches fascinating. For a look at other artists' sketchbooks, aspiring illustrators might examine Children's Picturebooks by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles (Laurence King, 2012). Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
VOYA - Anjeanette Alexander-Smith
When people view a sculpture, a painting, or any other visual art, the piece evokes emotion, inquiry, and change. They only see the final product, not the artist's process. Shaun Tan invites readers into his creative mind. Once inside, adolescents interact with whimsical images that show them how to push the boundaries of their imagination. Tan's introduction outlines the concept of the book as a loose compilation of his illustrations. Every piece is open to various ways of interpretation, such as "The Water Woman." It is an illustration depicting a hunchback woman rowing a boat in mid-air with rainwater filling one of the pots while animals run freely through the lawn. Tan ends the book with an annotated list of the works and a bibliography. This book helps adolescents understand that the creative process is neither linear nor static. Tan displays a range of images that span the fantastical to the ordinary. His broad use of techniques would give the aspiring (or weekend) artist motivation to tap into his or her talent. Teachers can use this nonfiction text as a prewriting springboard for writing ideas of any genre. It would also add value and depth to a library's arts section because of its conceptual and creative depiction of an artist. Reviewer: Anjeanette Alexander-Smith
School Library Journal
Gr 3 Up—A collection of sketches, drafts, and scanned ephemera from the artist who created The Arrival (2007) and Tales from Outer Suburbia (2009, both Scholastic). The initial section, "untold stories," is a series of visuals and captions, sometimes inspired by the accompanying turn of phrase and sometimes only illuminated by it, like a particularly enigmatic New Yorker cartoon. The "book, theatre, and film" section contains images familiar to readers of Tan's other works, while the "drawings from life" and closing "notebooks" sections are excellent examples of the skill and practice required of an inventive illustrator. Not only can one see the breadth of Tan's technical ability here, but the reproduction of the originals is also top-notch; the marginalia of its origins intact with creases, scuffs, erasures, and signs of assembly all photographically preserved. These show the work and the physical reality of getting to an end product, as well as revealing, by implication, the gradual process of creative invention. While not so much a graphic novel or an illustrated book, this is an excellent archive of what might be found if one peeks into the recesses of an artist's portfolio. For those interested in illustration as a career, it could be a superb, if daunting, inspiration.—Benjamin Russell, Belmont High School, NH
Kirkus Reviews
From a master of visual mystery, a beguiling gathering of sketches, doodles, portraits and written thoughts about art and creativity. To set up his gallery, Tan quotes Paul Klee's definition of "drawing" as "taking a line for a walk," and then he ruminates on how his ideas and his efforts to express them act on one another. The images themselves range from tiny scribbles to finished pastels or storyboards. Most are figure studies, with an admixture of alien landscapes, mazelike warrens of rooms or sustained imaginative flights, such as a full spread of nautically themed characters labeled "language of the sea." 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. Many, though not all, of the images later appeared in his published works, and most come with discreet, often oblique identifiers: "The thing in the bathroom"; "heart-bell"; "Talk it over in the Bird Room." Rewarding territory to explore not just for budding artists or writers, but for daydreamers in general. (media and production notes) (Artist's sampler/showcase. 6 & up)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 8.36(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Shaun Tan is the author and illustrator of the award-winning, bestselling graphic novel The Arrival, and also Tales from Outer Suburbia, a collection of illustrated short stories. Both books were named to the New York Times list of Best Illustrated Children's Books. He won an Oscar for his short film "The Lost Thing" based on a story in the book Lost & Found: Three by Shaun Tan, and he is also the recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award of his contribution to children's literature. Shaun Tan lives in Melbourne, Australia.

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The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
crayolakym More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Avery, age 9 I could not get enough of this book. I LOVED it so much and was super-excited to find out Shaun Tan has more books like this. This book is exactly what the title says: “an artist’s notebook.” Each page is filled with something amazing that came from his imagination. It is neat because some of it is downright silly or doesn’t make sense, and I like abstract art. I draw all the time and have since I could pick up my first pencil. “What a sorrowful thing it was, haunting the empty supermarket isles.” On page fifty-six is a submarine/car-looking thing and I want one so bad because my dad is on a submarine. This book shows how important it is to keep being creative and to draw on everything, about everything, and to keep everything we draw, even if at the time we don’t like what we drew. The book features everything from one-eyed monsters, weird animals, and exotic creatures to flying magical dinosaurs. After I first read this book it inspired me to draw more. Maybe someday I can make a book like this too. *This book was provided in exchange for an honest review* *You can view the original review at San Francisco & Sacramento City Book Review