PICTURE BOOKS: Who Are They For?
By Shaun Tan
"One of the questions I am most frequently asked as a maker of picture books is this:
‘Who do you write and illustrate for?’ It’s a little difficult to answer, as it’s not
something I think about much when I’m working alone in a small studio, quite
removed from any audience at all. In fact, few things could be more distracting in
trying to express an idea well enough to myself than having to consider how readers
In any case, I suspect that much art in any medium is produced without a primary
concern for how it will be received, or by whom. It often doesn’t set out to appeal to a
predefined audience but rather build one for itself. The artists’ responsibility lies first
and foremost with the work itself, trusting that it will invite the attention of others by
the force of its conviction. So it’s really quite unusual to ask “who do you do it for?”
Yet it is a question inevitably put to my work in picture books such as The Rabbits,
The Lost Thing and The Red Tree, which deal with subjects such as colonisation,
bureaucracy, whimsy, depression and loneliness, typically in a strange or unusual
The reason of course is quite obvious. The idea of a picture book, as a literary art
form, carries a number of tacit assumptions: picture books are quite large, colourful,
easy to read and very simple in their storyline and structure, not very long and (most
significantly) produced exclusively for a certain audience, namely children, especially
of the younger variety. Picture books are generally put on the shelves of bookstores,
libraries, lounge rooms and bedrooms for young children, where they apparently
belong. Picture books are synonymous with Children’s Literature. But is this is a
necessary condition of the art form itself? Or is it just a cultural convention, more to
do with existing expectations, marketing prejudices and literary discourse?
The simplicity of a picture book in terms of narrative structure, visual appeal and
often fable-like brevity might seem to suggest that it is indeed ideally suited to a
juvenile readership. It’s about showing and telling, a window for learning to ‘read’ in
a broad sense, exploring relationships between words, pictures and the world we
experience every day. But is this an activity that ends with childhood, when at some point we are sufficiently qualified to graduate from one medium to another?
Simplicity certainly does not exclude sophistication or complexity; we inherently
know that the truth is otherwise. “Art,” as Einstein reminds us, “is the expression of
the most profound thoughts in the simplest way.”
And it’s clear that older readers, including you and me, remain interested in the
imaginative play of drawings and paintings, telling stories, and learning how to look
at things in new ways. There is no reason why a 32-page illustrated story can’t have
equal appeal for teenagers or adults as they do for children. After all, other visual
media such as film, television, painting or sculpture do not suffer from narrow
preconceptions of audience. Why should picture books? It is interesting that observe
that when I paint pictures for gallery exhibitions, I am never asked who I am painting
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Images by Lili Scratchy
Homework Assignment #3 (NEW!)
Hello, hello! Since last weeks homework was fairly easy, this weeks is going to be a more challenging. Please note that this homework has 2 parts! A and B. This is not a choose which one assignment, but a 'please do both' assignment. Part A really shouldn't be very time consuming though, and really it should be an overall good time!
1) Go to the library downtown (preferably, or the closest one to you) and spend at least (!) half an hour in the kids book section.
2) Check out at least 3 books you love. Closely look at them and study the illustrations. Try to figure out what it is that makes you love this particular book so much.
3) Look up the illustrators online.
4) Note the publisher of the books and the publishing date
Make at least 10 illustration SKETCHES for the following text. And pick one of the sketches and turn it into a FINAL illustration!
I Don't Want to Travel (by Emmanuelle Houdart)
I Don't Want to Travel
Except in the hand of a giant
Except on a witch's broomstick
Except in the jaws of a wolf
Except in a bottle of raspberry syrup
Except on the back of my tortoise
Except with my catfish
Except by the light of the moon
Except under the sea
Except with my favorite book.
You can choose any size of paper you'd like, and any medium you'd like to use. Think of this assignment as if you were asked to provide a full set of sketches for a short story called 'I Don't Want to Travel', that is going to be published as a picture book. Since this is your first time making a series of images fit together coherently in combination with text, this does NOT have to be 32 pages. It does have to be at least 10 pages. Please don't spend a lot of time refining your images since they are only to be SKETCHES for final images. Here are the specs for the assignment in bullet form.
-At least 10 pages (loose,single sided, please don't staple yet), you can make it longer if you want
-Any format or size you want (but you have to be able to bring them into class obviously)
-Incorporate the text into the images, because this text is short I'd like you write it on the page and think of where you're placing it.
-Try to keep it loose and do what feels right. We will be talking more about how to go about this in our next class.
- Please bring at one of the picture books you got from the library along with your 1Final illustration and 10 sketches to Class.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I found these amazing kids magazine covers at Emma's blog something I stumbled upon while searching for something else as per usual. They are sooo great! Check out the whole entry on the magazine on her blog. Thanks Emma! I now want this magazine very badly.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
This is something I've been meaning to post for a long time, but then kept on waiting on it until it got a bit closer to the actual event. Two very talented students from my first session teaching at ECUAD made me aware of this event. I am thinking about attending this next month, but haven't registered yet...Check out the website for the Vancouver Children's Literature Roundtable and have a look at featured illustrator Pierre Preatt's portfolio should this be something you're interested in attending. Prices are $55 for non members (you can also become a member for an extra 15$) and 25$ for full time students. Priscilla Holmes who is working for this event has kindly sent me the following info about the organization...I wish they would also list what the actual breakfast menu is... I know that this is probably not as big of a concern to most and that the idea is to meet other people interested in the subject....HOWEVER... I do like a really good breakfast and if I'm going to spend 55$ I wanna make sure that there are some pancakes or waffles in there somewhere... hmmmm... pancakes and waffles...
*The Vancouver Children's Roundtable:
is* *a Canadian organization for librarians, teachers, and writers and
illustrators of children's literature (and a good number of students from
UBC, and now some from Emily Carr) to get together, learn and talk about
children's books and publications, celebrate new publications, and explore
new ideas and new media. Events in the past few years have included talks
and breakfasts with the likes of Sean Tan, Gregory Macguire, and others. So
mad I missed Sean Tan.
Website is under total reconstruction and missing most current info, but
hopefully will be updated in the fall.
Pierre Pratt Breakfast: Registration Form for Pierre Pratt breakfast on
October 16, and Pratt's bibliography, is available on the website. Paypal
is coming, but not up yet, so mail-in is the only option for now.
*Other upcoming events: *(I expect more info about these sometime this fall)
*Graphic Novel Event (*part of Serendipity)
*Serendipity:* Big conference of writers, illustrators, librarians and
teachers of children's literature -- probably plenty of academic
*Authorfest:* Panel of authors/Illustrators
*Hycroft*: Something to do with CWILL -- children's writers and
illustrators of BC
Friday, September 17, 2010
Ok, this is the last artist represented by Costume 3 Pieces I will showcase. Seriously. Reminds me of my hero Marc Boutavant and also a bit of Jean Jacque Sempe who illustrated Goscinny's Petit Nicolas. ... I should cover Jean Jacque Sempe next... also: I am aware that this is technically not illustration directly pertaining to Children's Picture books, but rather editorial and ad illustration, however, the style is fitting and the artist amazing, ... so 'hu-why' (as Helen Man from CBC would say) not? :)
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Another amazing artist represented by Costume 3 Pieces. I wonder how he creates his characters. Would be really great to find an interview on him!..... Wait, I just looked and found this here on Koikoikoi. He makes them out of found materials, then hires a friend photographer for capturing the final image.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Saturday, September 11, 2010
While searching for images for Helen Oxenbury I had come across an image which I love but knew was NOT Oxenbury but from a book called 'The Tiger who came for Tea' by Judith Kerr. While I have never actually held a copy of this book in my hands I have seen illustrations from it in several places and most recently also in an edition of one of my favorite magazines on the topic of illustration VAROOM. Here is an interesting link on Kerr and above a bunch of images of hers I have found.
Friday, September 10, 2010
So as it appears I'm a real fool for not knowing who Helen Oxenbury is! Good thing I was so into her husband otherwise who knows when I would have finally managed to look her up. Ha hahhhh... Here are some of her illustrations. Also, I realized that she is the illustrator behind 'Farmer Duck' which is a great book! Another thing learned today!