Shaun Tan on “Illustration and visual narrative”

Shaun-Tan_ReadingsHawthornShaun Tan is one of my favourite illustrators/authors.

The old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is particularly true in his case.

I have been lucky enough to listen to him discuss some of his newly published books and he always very eloquently describes his journey with his story.

Shaun has become more widely recognised as he received numerous awards for his picture books, including the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award for The Rabbits, with John Marsden in 1988.

On the international stage, he was named Best Artist at the World Fantasy Awards in 2001 in Montreal and in 2005 his book, The Arrival, which was a universal story about migration, told in a series of wordless images, became an international best-seller.

asaOn 28th March, 2009 in Sydney, Shaun Tan gave the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture. This is an annual event of the Australian Society of Authors.

Shaun spoke with great insight about using illustration as a narrative device. He commented on a range of other interesting picture books and graphic novels written by others as well as discussing some of his own work. Shaun spoke about starting to seriously think about the play of word and image in his twenties. It was then that he realised that “picture books seemed especially good at presenting a reader with complex questions in a concise way” and that “the best illustrated stories prompt us to think about familiar concepts in an unexpected way, offering up a new and interesting perspective

I enjoyed his description of the family photo album. “Photo albums are actually perfect examples of how illustrated narrative works most effectively, their power is not so much in documenting particulars, but triggering memory and imagination, urging us to fill the empty space around frozen snapshots, to build on fragments and constantly revisit our own storyline, a kind of visual literacy we all understand intuitively.”

 Towards the end of the lecture, Shaun offers up the observation that the key to the success for any illustrated story is the invitation for the reader to interpret the story for themselves. This, he believes, is “the thing most likely to fire up the imagination of both adults and children and should not be underestimated”.

Early in the lecture Shaun also credits teachers and librarians with changing the way illustrated books are regarded. Today they are not considered to belong solely in the world of the young child and he credits this change to the open approach to picture books by teachers and librarians.

The video is well worth watching and you call also get a transcript of his lecture in PDF format. Shaun Tan Delivers Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture 2009 from Australian Society of Authors on Vimeo.

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3 Responses

  1. […] Shaun Tan on âIllustration and visual narrativeâ « Rhondda's … […]

  2. Some readers at recommended that I look at graphic novels as well as picture books when making recommendations for teachers. I recently picked up Shauns’ book The Arrival and was totally blown away by it. Really powerful stuff and such a discussion starter. Thanks for letting me know about this interview and providing the links as well. Keep up the good work!

  3. […] with great insight about using illustration as a narrative device and I summarised his lecture in a post earlier. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Shaun Tan on “Illustration and […]

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