Friday, 22 November 2013

Oopsatoreum Exhibition, Sydney, from December 7

One of many Mintox inventions, both imaginary and real

This exhibition is my second collaboration with Sydney's Powerhouse Museumfollowing the successful weirdness of 2009's Odditoreum, with which I was invited to write fake histories for various strange objects found in the vast museum basement. This project takes a different tack, being a more cohesive survey of the work of one Henry Archibald Mintox – an inventor so ahead of his time he could only be fictional and, by his own account, grossly unrecognised.
The exhibition will feature actual mechanical inventions from the Powerhouse archive, re-imagined as creations by Henry A. Mintox, and with accompanying text from the previously published book, The Oopsatoreum: inventions of Henry A Mintox.

Aside from being fun, a deeper concept behind the project involves the importance of play in creativity and technical advancement, raising the important question: is success necessarily a measure of true originality? 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Tales from Outer Suburbia in Mandurah

After a whirlwind premiere season at Fremantle's Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Tales From Outer Suburbia will be heading to the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre for an encore season in November (see earlier post for more about this stage production). Performances will run on Tuesday 5 November at 6pm and Wednesday 6 November at 10am & 1pm; suitable for all ages and perfect for ages 5 - 12. To book tickets visit the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

RULES OF SUMMER App goes live (Australia)

 The Rules of Summer app, developed concurrently with the publication of the picture book of the same title, is launched today and will be available for Australian readers, with other territories to follow as the book is subsequently published overseas. What kind of app is this, and how is it different from the book? Both are adaptations of a series of large, unscripted paintings that form a visual narrative about two boys, but each form represents quite different reading experience. While I think there will never be a substitute for the charm and appeal of a physical picture book (especially a large format one like Rules of Summer), the app offers an extra depth of detail as users are able to zoom in and out of a canvas, courtesy of high-resolution photography and clever image compression and design by the Melbourne-based studio behind the app, Wheelbarrow. I also worked closely with an experimental sound artist and composer from New York, Sxip Shirey, whose surrealist soundtrack perfectly suits the intimate browsing of these mysterious pictures. The executive producer on the project, Sophie Byrne, was also the producer behind The Lost Thing; Tim Kentley of XYZ Studios (of which Wheelbarrow is a part) is the artistic director.

The app also includes a  sketch mode where you can see some of my concept and developmental drawings, which may be of particular interest to anyone with an interest in illustration (I'm a big fan of these kinds of features myself).

For more info, reviews and appstore link, go here.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

RULES OF SUMMER out and about in Australia

Never be late for a parade.

My latest picture book Rules of Summer is now in bookstores. To find out more about it, visit my wesbite or

Pictura - colouring in for everyone!

The March of Industry, a detail from Metropolis

UK publisher Templar is launching a series of colouring-in books for all ages this October under the collective title Pictura. Each book, created by a different illustrator, folds out as a single long black & white panorama that can be collected as they are or coloured in at whim. My own contribution is 'Metropolis', about the rise and fall of city over eight connected episodes. Find out more about Pictura here, and watch the launch on Vimeo

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Tales from Outer Suburbia: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle WA, September 28 to October 12

A lost deep sea diver with an undelivered gift - photo by Jessica Wyld courtesy of Spare Parts

Spare Parts is an established theatre in Fremantle, Western Australia, with whom I've had a long association having collaborated on the street theatre project Aquasapiens in 2005 and a more recent adaptation of The Arrival which was very successful. Tales from Outer Suburbia is another book adaptation, with the particular challenge of creating an flowing narrative based on my very fragmentary reflections on childhood in suburban Perth (and appropriate that the performance venue is not far from where I was born). Directed by Philip Mitchell, designed by Sohan Ariel Hayes and adapted by writer Michael Barlow, Tales from Outer Suburbia is presented as "a lively and imaginative mix of real-time animation, projection, miniature marionettes, gigantic rod puppets and playful performers; suitable for all ages, but perfect for ages 5 -12yrs"

For more information and bookings, visit Spare Parts, and you can also read reviews from ArtsHub, The West and The Australian.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

GRIMM TALES by Philip Pullman (Germany)

'Cat and Mouse' paper, clay, paint, 20cm tall

One of my most recent projects has been the creation of 50 small sculptures to illustrate a selection of Grimm's fairy tales re-written by Philip Pullman, the well-known British author of the His Dark Materials trilogy.  Published this month by Aladin Verlag, Grimms Märchen is only available as a German language edition for the moment (the original English language editions of Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman remain unillustrated). You can find out a little more about this project on my website.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Real & The Imaginary: Bendigo Art Gallery August 9 – September 1, 2013

'The Visitor' from Tales from Outer Suburbia, acrylic & oils on paper, 2007

Presented in partnership with La Trobe University for Bendigo Writers Festival, the exhibition Shaun Tan: The Real and the Imaginary presents an overview of my work as a painter and illustrator, from early childhood to the present (including work for as yet unpublished books), from tiny sketchbook doodles to large scale canvases, and from commercial illustration to personal artwork. Almost all of these pieces are from my own collection and many previously unexhibited. Admission is free: for more info, visit the Bendigo Art Gallery. (Bendigo is a major regional centre of Victoria, Australia, and has one of the country's oldest art galleries - always worth a visit.)

Friday, 26 July 2013

The Lost Thing exhibition at ACMI, July 2013 - January 2014

Illustration from the picture book The Lost Thing, Lothian Books, 2000. Acrylic and oils on paper.

Still from The Lost Thing animated film, Passion Pictures Australia & Screen Australia. 
Digital rendering by Tom Bryant.

Opening this month at ACMI, The Australian Centre for the Moving Image at Federation Square in Melbourne, is a free exhibition charting the process of creating the short animated film The Lost Thing, from early origins as kitchen table doodles to complex digital animation (you can also watch the film in it's entirely in previously unreleased HD). The Lost Thing is a story about a boy living in a bureaucratic metropolis, who discovers a lonely, unclassifiable creature that nobody else wants to know about. The animated adaptation spanned ten years and left behind many boxes and drives of concept sketches, developmental drawings, paintings, animation and sound tests; from these a selective representation has been displayed within a carefully designed 'Lost Thing' space (curated by Fiona Trigg).  Find out more about the exhibition at ACMI, including related programs.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

RULES OF SUMMER release date set

'Never eat the last olive at a party' (a cautionary detail from Rules of Summer)

The release date for my latest title has been set for October 8 this year (in Australia, UK, and some other territories, with a US edition planned for the following year). It's a large-format 48 page picture book which is more or less about two boys involved in several dramatic situations, based in part on my own memory of childhood which, like any good private universe, defies easy explanation. I'll post more info about this book both here and on my website as the release date approaches.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Arrival: Tamasha UK

Illustration for The Arrival satge production by Jane Laurie

A stage adaptation of my graphic novel The Arrival produced by Tamasha in collaboration with Circus Space recently opened in the UK to critical acclaim. Directed by Kristine Landon -Smith and written by Sita Brahmachar, The Arrival tells the story of one man's journey to a distant metropolis through a weaving together of theatre, circus and music, a production that has been in development since 2008 and is a highly inventive reinterpretation of my book's original themes. Tour venues include Southhampton, Coventry, Newcastle and London, from late March to mid-April. For more information, images and reviews, visit Tamasha.

Monday, 25 February 2013


On the eve of this year's Oscar announcements, I was interviewed by James Gartler of Animation World Network, interested in reviewing the consequences of short animation wins for their respective creators. I was a too late in replying for article inclusion, but here's what I had to say for anyone who wants to know - it's interesting to look back and then also reflect on the effects a couple of years on.

When you set out to work on what would become your Oscar-winning short, were you aiming for a nomination?  Was it a goal, or something you thought could be in the cards?

I suspect that most creators don't think much about awards while they are working, if they are serious artists at least, and our team was no exception. We just did the best work we could, and whatever transpired afterwards was not a great concern, it was out of our hands. Our main initial objective was to finish a film that might be suitable for the Cannes Festival (as it turned out, the jury did not agree!) and beyond that, just something we could be proud of, that we could enjoy watching over and over again. Of course, an Oscar was mentioned in the studio from time to time – who wouldn't want that recognition and exposure? – though very much as a joke. It seemed like such a distant possibility that we weren't even afraid of jinxing it with silly comments about picking out frocks and tuxedos. To be honest, I think if we'd thought too much about making an Oscar-nominated film, it would have been far too difficult. Instead of trusting our own choices and gut instincts, we might have ended up anxiously second-guessing an invisible offshore jury, or worrying about how to make a 'good film'. Instead we just made the kind of film that we wanted to see.

From either a personal or professional perspective, what did you
feel an Oscar nomination or win might bring you (back before it became
a reality)?

Mainly just getting people to look at the film. That's really what every artist hopes for, that there is some level of effective communication, and this is where big awards can make the difference between a cultural conversation and a forgotten obscurity. That's particularly true in the world of short animation, it's a medium that's as costly as it is ephemeral, and easy to pass below a mainstream radar. At the same time, it can reach a big audience very quickly, in comparison to an equivalent picture book for instance: the difference being whether people are curious about it. And there's nothing like an Oscar nomination to make people curious! On a personal level, I did hope that the film might lead a new audience back to some of my existing picture books, particularly an older audience who might otherwise think picture books are only for children, and not for them. The Lost Thing demonstrates that this isn’t necessarily true, even though it borrows are traditional children's book structure.

How did it feel when you learned you were, in fact, nominated?

That was the most exciting part, along with the lead-up long-list and short-list. Ever time we passed into the next round it was amazing, seeing our film pop up on the list. When it came to nomination announcement, my wife and I were compulsively checking online late at night as categories were published one by one - it seemed to take forever for ours to come around. To be honest, I didn't fancy our chances, but suddenly there we were! It was pretty unbelievable, just knowing that we would at least definitely be going to LA, and there was a consoling feeling that we weren't completely crazy after all in imagining that possibility.

Did winning Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards have an immediate effect on your career in any way?  Did doors open up for you?  What kinds of specific opportunities came your way?

Actually, I can't say that it had as big an effect as most people might expect, and there are a few reasons for that. Firstly, I had been working occasionally with large animation studios already, particularly Blue Sky and Pixar, during the preceding decade, and my books are well known in the US (at least within film art departments). In that sense, I'd already settled into a certain groove as an artist and freelance illustrator, and most industry people interested in our film were already interested long before Oscar season – or not! Secondly, my main interest as an artist is still books rather than film, so I was not actively seeking to open new animation doors. Also, my producer Sophie Byrne and I also did not have an immediate follow-up project in mind at the time of the win, otherwise we might have employed what Adam Elliot, the previous Oscar-winning Australian animator, amusingly called 'the golden crowbar' (he went on to produce the excellent Mary & Max). Of course, it may simply be too early to say: should Sophie and I need to use it, it's good to know that arranging meetings or seeking support and attention for a new project might now be easier, it’s just such a widely recognized award.

How would you say winning an Oscar for Best Animated Short is unique in term of its impact (compared to other awards and their impact on recipients, ex: best animated feature, or best picture,

I think it's quite different in that most nominees are coming from a position of public obscurity in this category, and are mainly independent, low-budget projects (and often first-timers like me). It's a very interesting, wild-card kind of category for this reason, and there's a sense of great opportunity for new artists, unknown surprises and discovery (and arguably the stylistic variety in this category far exceeds any other – it's genuinely experimental in a world that adores convention, even for the bigger studios it’s creative lab research). The same might not be said for Best Picture or Animated Feature, where it's more of a competition between known entities, with opinions already cementing about films already seen. The mainstream media certainly did not seem very aware of our film until it won an Oscar, and had we not been nominated, that may well have remained the case!

If you could hop into a time machine and share some wisdom with your pre-nominated self, what would you say about navigating the experience or managing your expectations?

That's a good question... probably not much! These kinds of things need to come completely out of left field, without any warning. If anything, I'd just try to tell myself to enjoy whatever happens and not worry too much. One thing that you don't notice until you are in the midst of such an event is the amount of anxiety it can engender: it can be quite stressful for all sorts of reasons, especially for artists more used to working quietly in a little studio. So my advice to anyone else in the same position: take a deep breathe and enjoy the crazy weirdness while it lasts!
Sun Dial  University of Western Australia

Close detail of the finished mosaic surface, a 'translation' of the original painted design.

The sun dial 'Hours to Sunset' was completed earlier this month, and the good news is that it's accurate when it comes to telling time (thanks to the calculations of our technical expert, Peter Kovesi - and just as well, because it's hard to adjust the angle of a wall!). You can see more about this project, including a short film about its installation at UWA's sun dial blog: 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

  The Bird King: an artist's notebook US Edition


A new edition of The Bird King (from which this blog gets its name) will be released by Arthur A Levine Books / Scholastic on February 1, 2013. For those unfamiliar with the earlier Australian edition, this is a 128 page collection of various drawings, doodles and preliminary sketches: no finished artwork, and each piece created in a single, relatively short sitting without any intention of publication. Presenting such under-the-desk material casts a little light on a working process that's often just as interesting as finished results. I also wanted to remind young artists that even the most unlikely chook-scratchings (casual drawings) can sometimes turn good. You just have to go with it. You can find out more about it at my site; click here for a review from Publishers Weekly

Monday, 7 January 2013

Sun Dial University of Western Australia

Painted plan for a mosaic mural, acrylic, gouche & gold paint on paper.

This project involves the construction of a large-scale mosaic on the side of a campus building, at once a decorative feature and a working sun dial. Initiated by the University of Western Australia (where I studied Fine Arts and Literature from 1992-95), this project has been  developed in collaboration with Susan Marie, who instigated two other large mural projects at Subiaco Library during 2002-4, and Peter Kovesi, an engineer, research professor and technical whizz at UWA. Peter developed a linear pattern which charts the movement of shadow cast by a gnomon (a small suspended object) over a west-facing wall during the last five hours of each day. I then designed a mural around this fixed element, anticipating that it be reproduced as a high resolution glass-tile mosaic.

My basic idea was to make playful references to the movement of celestial bodies over the coastal plain of Western Australia, something like an imaginary religious icon. Colours and patterns were inspired medieval ‘Book of Hours’ illuminated manuscripts, some of which are notable for their intense gold and lapis lazuli pigments. The shadow cast by the gnomon will radiate from just below the centre of the setting sun, represented here as a winged spirit, keeping an eye on it’s lunar companion as day gives way to night – below are some developmental sketches for this design. The completion of the mural in early 2013 will coincide with UWA’s centenary celebrations.