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Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: The Bird King

The Bird KingAn Artist's NotebookShaun TanScholastic

When I was a lad, I visited my mother's classroom and, if she hadn't anything for me to do, I'd pull down picture books and read.  Book selection was almost entirely based on the illustrator.  Did she show imagination and stylistic flair?

Shaun Tan's illustrations would have sold me on a number of such books.  Bird samurai carrying a club?  I'm there.  Giant bunnies roaming city streets, searching rooftops.  An artist paints inside his robot.  A sun inside his space suit shares its reading experience with a young lady. A light-bulb fish, standing in the bathtub, looks longingly outside the bathroom window.  A creature drawing face parts for itself as parts of himself fly away in the wind.  Not to mention giant frolicking beasts who'll give you a ride about town. What an imagination.

Tan's unique style flashes a splash of color among pencil sketches.  The characters tend to have paradoxically elongated yet round appearances, like Silly Putty characters pulled and squashed again.  Something about this style is disarming through its charm.  You immediately want to be their friends and hike on an adventure with them and their wan smiles.

For artists Tan provides notes on his process, the non-inspired inspiration of simply "following the line" among other advice.  Also, he shows his art in their early stages, giving insight into how he moved from one imagistic aspect to another, assuming the reader is aware of the final products.  Finally, Tan displays artist exercises to expand his way of seeing.  For writers, you'd have to have a systolic pressure equal to your diastolic not to come up with some funky ideas.

Artists and writers of all ages should find inspiration here.

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