Recently, I was flipping through Shaun Tan's book of sketches, 'The Bird King', looking for inspiration. Namely, a character for a story I've been writing has this thing about illustrating and he ends up pasting his drawings on street walls. Also, I was looking at Tan's sketches because I simply love his work.
Inspiration is a tricky thing, and Tan makes some great comments about it in his introduction - about where he gets ideas for his work. Then there is the challenge of facing a blank piece of paper with no idea what to do. To get past the horrid 'block', Tan just starts drawing. And the outcome may or may not become part of a book, animation or finished artwork.
It's similar to writing. Sometimes the best thing to do is just write. It's the Nike philosophy of 'just do it'. Write without any sense of the end result. It's all about process and flexing those muscles - imagination, the act of creating and then actually getting something finished!
The first Shaun Tan book I came across was 'The Red Tree'. I was immediately entranced by the images and the simplicity of the words. Tan captured the essence of the girl's loneliness; her sadness and sense of not fitting in. And the wonderful unfurling of hope! Since then I've avidly engaged with his other work, but I keep returning to 'The Bird King'.
Tan speaks of the unselfconscious nature of these small sketches, how perhaps they capture a spontaneity that more polished work lacks. I wholeheartedly agree with this, yet I think I keep coming back to this book because it gives me some insight into his creative process. And when you're looking for inspiration, seeing someone else's process can be exactly what's needed.
At the end of the introduction, Tan comments on these sketches as evidence of the creative process by saying:
'There are few better expressions of the impulse to draw, an instinct that lingers from childhood, with all its absurdist daydreaming and playful seriousness.'
And looking at Tan's work is akin to letting the imagination out to play.