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Shaun Tan

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Subject: List of Australian Academy Award winners and nominees, (13633) Ivens, West Australian Opera, Postmodern picture book, List of science fiction and fantasy artists
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Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan
Shaun Tan in 2011
Born 1974
Perth, Australia
Nationality Australian
Area(s) Writer, Penciller, Artist
Notable works
The Red Tree
The Lost Thing
The Arrival

Shaun Tan is an Australian artist, writer and film maker. He won an Academy Award for The Lost Thing, a 2011 animated film adaptation of a 2000 picture book he wrote and illustrated. Beside The Lost Thing, The Red Tree and The Arrival are books he has written and illustrated.

Tan was born in Fremantle, Western Australia, in 1974 and grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. In 2006, his wordless graphic novel The Arrival won the Book of the Year prize as part of the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards.[1] The same book won the Children's Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year award in 2007.[2] and the Western Australian Premier's Book Awards Premier's Prize in 2006.[3]

Tan's work has been described as an "Australian vernacular" that is "at once banal and uncanny, familiar and strange, local and universal, reassuring and scary, intimate and remote, guttersnipe and sprezzatura. No rhetoric, no straining for effect. Never other than itself."[4]

For his career contribution to "children's and young adult literature in the broadest sense" Tan won the 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award from the Swedish Arts Council, the biggest prize in children's literature.[5]


Early life

As a boy, Tan spent time illustrating poems and stories and drawing dinosaurs, robots and spaceships. At school he was known as a talented artist.[6] At the age of eleven, he became a fan of The Twilight Zone television series as well as books that bore similar themes. Tan cites Ray Bradbury as a favorite at this time. These stories led to Tan writing his own short stories. Of his effort at writing as a youth, Tan tells, "I have a small pile of rejection letters as testament to this ambition!"[7] At the age of sixteen, Tan's first illustration appeared in the Australian magazine Aurealis in 1990.[7]

Transition to illustration

Tan almost studied to become a geneticist, and enjoyed chemistry, physics, history and English while in high school as well as art and claimed that he did not really know what he wanted to do.[7] During his university studies, Tan decided to move from academic studies to working as an artist.[8]

Tan continued his education at the University of Western Australia where he studied Fine Arts, English Literature and History. While this was of interest to him, there was little practical work involved.[8] In 1995, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.[9]

Work process

Initially, Tan worked in black and white because the final reproductions would be printed that way. Some black and white mediums he used included pens, inks, acrylics, charcoal, scraperboard, photocopies and linocuts.[7] Tan's current colour works still begin as black and white. He uses a graphite pencil to make sketches on ordinary copy paper. The sketches are then reproduced numerous times with different versions varying with parts added or removed. Sometimes scissors are used for this purpose. The cut and paste collage idea in these early stages often extend to the finished production with many of his illustrations using such materials as "glass, metal, cuttings from other books and dead insects."[7]

Tan describes himself as a slow worker who revises his work many times along the way. He is interested in loss and alienation, and believes that children in particular react well to issues of natural justice. He feels he is "like a translator" of ideas, and is happy and flattered to see his work adapted and interpreted in film and music (such as by the Australian Chamber Orchestra).[10]


Tan draws from a large source of inspiration and cites many influences on his work. His comment on the subject is: "I’m pretty omnivorous when it comes to influences, and I like to admit this openly."[7] Some influences are very direct. The Lost Thing is a strong example where Tan makes visual references to famous artworks. Many of his influences are a lot more subtle visually, some of the influences are ideological. Below are some influences he has named in various interviews:


The Shaun Tan Award for Young Artists is sponsored by the City of Subiaco and open to all Perth school children between 5 and 17 years. The award is aimed at encouraging creativity in two-dimensional works. It is held annually with award winners announced in May and finalists' works exhibited at the Subiaco Library throughout June.[12]



  • L. Ron Hubbard Illustrators of the Future Contest: First Australian to win[7]




  • Ditmar Award, Artwork, Winner for Eidolon Issue 19 (Cover)[13]


  • Ditmar Award, Professional Artwork, Nominated for artwork in Eidolon and the cover of The Stray Cat[13]



  • Aurealis Conveners' Award for Excellence for The Rabbits
  • Children's Book Council of Australia, Notable Book for The Playground
  • Children's Book Council of Australia, Picture Book of the Year, Winner for The Rabbits
  • Ditmar Award, Australian Professional Artwork, Nominated for The Rabbits[13]
  • Spectrum Gold Award for Book Illustration for The Rabbits


  • APA Design Award for Memorial
  • Children's Book Council of Australia, Picture Book of the Year, Honour Book for Memorial
  • Ditmar Award, Artwork, Winner for The Coode St Review Of Science Fiction[13]
  • Spectrum Gold Award for Book Illustration
  • Western Australian Premier's Book Awards, Writing for Young Adults award, Shortlisted for Lost Thing[14]




  • Premier's Prize and Children's Books category winner in the Western Australian Premier's Book Awards for The Arrival








  • The Red Tree, a play based on Tan's book of the same name, was commissioned by the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.[21]
  • The Red Tree, a music performance created by new composer Michael Yezerski with Richard Tognetti; performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra with the youth choir Gondwana Voices, and accompanied by images from the book.[22]
  • The Arrival. Images from this book were projected during a performance by the Australian Chamber Orchestra of conductor Richard Tognetti’s arrangement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 15[22]
  • The Lost Thing has been adapted as an Oscar-winning animated short film.[23]
  • The Lost Thing inspired an album by Sydney band Lo-Tel, complete with artwork from the book.
  • The Lost Thing has also been adapted as a play by the Jigsaw Theatre Company,[24] a youth theatre company in Canberra. This was the main event for the National Gallery of Australia's Children Festival (Canberra) and at the Chookahs! Kids Festival (Melbourne) in 2006.
  • The Lost Thing was the theme for the 2006 Chookahs! Kids Festival at The Arts Centre[25] in Melbourne, with many different activities based on concepts from the book.
  • The Arrival was adapted for the stage by Red Leap Theatre.[26]
  • The Arrival was again projected on a screen to an orchestral score, performed by Orkestra of the Underground with 18 pieces created by musician and composer Ben Walsh. This was performed in the Opera House in Sydney, The Melbourne Recital Centre and Her Majesty's Theatre in Adelaide.[27]
  • The Rabbits was the basis for an opera by Kate Miller-Heidke; its premiere was performed by the West Australian Opera during the 2015 Perth International Arts Festival.



As illustrator

  • Pipe, by James Moloney (1996)
  • The Stray Cat, by Steven Paulsen (1996)
  • The Doll, by Janine Burke (1997)
  • The Half Dead, by Garry Disher (1997)
  • The Viewer, written by Gary Crew (1997)
  • The Rabbits, written by John Marsden (1998)
  • The Hicksville Horror, by Nette Hilton (1999)
  • The Puppet, by Ian Bone (1999)
  • Memorial, written by Gary Crew (1999)
  • Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link (2008)

As author and illustrator


  • Mural in the Children's Section of the Subiaco Public Library (Perth, Western Australia).[28]


  1. ^
  2. ^ .
  3. ^ .
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b "2011: Shaun Tan: A masterly visual storyteller". The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Retrieved 2012-08-13.
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h
  8. ^ a b .
  9. ^ .
  10. ^
  11. ^ .
  12. ^ .
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^ .
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Queensland Performing Arts Centre Media Release
  22. ^ a b The Red TreeAustralian Chamber Orchestra Accessed: 2008-05-29
  23. ^ Lothian Books
  24. ^ Jigsaw Theatre Company
  25. ^ Homepage – The Arts Centre – the home of the performing arts in Melbourne
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^


  • Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness Program"About Shaun Tan" Retrieved 27 December 2005
  • Lothian Books"About Our Authors and Illustrators". Retrieved 27 December 2005
  • Locus magazineHaber, K. (2001) "Shaun Tan: Out Of Context", Retrieved 27 December 2005
  • Western Australia Department of Education and Training"Media Statement (2005)", Retrieved 27 December 2005
  • Queensland Performing Arts Centre"The Red Tree", Retrieved 27 December 2005
  • City of Subiaco"Shaun Tan Award For Young Artists", Retrieved 27 December 2005
  • Dreamstone"Shaun Tan: Biography", Retrieved 27 December 2005
  • The University of Melbourne"Shaun puts students in the picture (2000)", Retrieved 27 December 2005
  • AustLit"Tan, Shaun", Retrieved 27 December 2005
  • AATE/ALEA Joint National ConferenceTan, S. (2001) "Originality and Creativity", Retrieved 27 December 2005
  • AATE/ALEA Joint National ConferenceTan, S. (2001) "Picture Books: Who Are They For?", Retrieved 27 December 2005

External links

  • Official website
  • Shaun Tan at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
  • Shaun Tan at the Internet Movie Database
  • interview with Shaun Tan on the animated adaptation of his book The Lost Thing
  • The Lost Thing: Online interactive version
  • Interview with Shaun Tan on Australian Edge
  • Webquest on 'Representations of Belonging' – using the picture books of Shaun Tan by Julie Bain
  • Webquest on 'Viewing the Viewer' – postmodern picture books for teaching and learning in secondary English education by Julie Bain
  • Drawn Outsider – profile of Shaun Tan
  • Shaun Tan's Gallery with biography and artbooks on Inside Your ART
  • Shaun Tan at Library of Congress Authorities, with 19 catalogue records
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