The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook
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The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook

4.35 of 5 stars 4.35  ·  rating details  ·  527 ratings  ·  114 reviews
The bird king. The heart bell.

A mechanical penguin.

And a portrait of the artist as a (very) young man.

What do they all have in common?

Nothing! Except that they all inhabit the unique world of Shaun Tan. Collected here for the first time are the fascinating beginnings of stories yet to come, illustrations for books and films, drawings from life, and creative doodles from w...more
Hardcover, 128 pages
Published February 2013 by Arthur A. Levine Books (first published 2010)
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Found while browsing. Tan's haunting The Arrival made me a fan (of Tan, har har). These are unfinished sketches and brainstorming doodles that are still bounds better than what I might draw. Most are cute, a few are beautiful. I liked seeing some of his thought processes, the notes that accompanied some of these drawings - the way art, Ahhhhhrt, gets described sometimes, the kind of lofty symbolism and almost pop psychology-speak, makes me impatient. But his slight notes made sense to me. Hah, m...more

(More pictures at

Shaun Tan is one of the most imaginative artists and storytellers around. I love his stories, simple yet always fascinating.

This sketchbook is a little 128-page hardcover. The spine area is clothed and it comes with a wraparound red rubber band and a ribbon bookmark.

The sketches collected are those he created for his other books, like The Arrival, Tales From Outer Suburbia, Lost and Found, and perhaps some other stories I've yet to discover.

There are also many n...more
This book opens the curtain to Tan’s creative process, allowing readers to view art from stories that have not yet been full formed, art from books that have been completed, and beautiful illustrations that may not be stories at all. The courage this book took to produce is to be applauded. Allowing readers and other artists to see a process of creativity is raw and soul baring.

This book is stellar. One turns the pages slowly, lingering in worlds undreamed of, wondering at ideas, and pausing to...more
This one really spoke to Clay the artist. In the drawers, flat files and cabinets of my studio, I have hundreds of tissues, drawings in notebooks, unpainted pen and ink drawings, unfinished book illustrations. This is Shaun Tan's collection with brief explanatory textual introductions--maybe more for adults artists--but the drawings will certainly speak to and draw in any artists of any age, doodlers, art teachers, fans of Tan--everybody really. A delightful and true glimpse of the creative proc...more
Michael Scott
I must admit from the start: I love Shaun Tan's stories and I think The Arrival is wonderful. The Bird King and Other Sketches is a collection of sketches drawn by Shaun Tan as preparation for his published work: from near-professional quality to scribbles, this book allows us to peek into the side alleys of Shaun's fantastic worlds. Overall, an enjoyable booklet which I already love.

Technical details: In 128 sketch pages, 2 internal covers and 1 extra page, and 2 covers, the book includes title...more
Talk about a book to make you want to sketch more.

"The artist Paul Klee refers to this simple act as 'taking a line for a walk,' an apt description of my own basic principles: allowing the tip of a pencil to wander through the landscape of a sketchbook, motivated by a vague impulse but hoping to find something much more interesting along the way. Strokes, hooks, squiggles, and loops can resolve into hills, faces, animals, machines -- even abstracted feelings -- the meanings of which are seconda...more
Having a glimpse into the mind and creative process of someone so unique as Shaun Tan is to marvel at the way he blends reality and fantasy. This artist's notebook contains brief introductory comments to the different sections--Untold Stories; Book, Theater, and Film; Drawings from Life; Notebooks; Endpapers--from the artist himself. Fans of Tan's work will be delighted to recognize some of the artwork contained here from their reading of The Arrival, Tales from Outer Suburbia, and Lost & Fo...more
Wes Young
Shaun Tan has to be one of the most interesting graphic artists and storytellers today. Perhaps what makes him this way is that he doesn't crank out new works frequently, and what does appear is a metaphorically rich, compelling and well-thought out work. So anyone interested in his process, or just the artistic process in general, will find The Bird King a fascinating insight. Don't expect this to be like your "typical" artist's sketchbook; Tan lays out many descriptions and what he tries to ac...more
Shaun Tan's graphic novels are always a mixture of fantasy and reality and we get to experience his stories even deeper because of the talent of him as not only a story teller, but as an artist. The Bird King takes us through many different pieces of art work from not only his other graphic novels, but from other projects. This book is beautiful and it is a must buy for any reading or writing teacher, any art fan, and definitely any Shaun Tan fan.
Rebecca Honeycutt
If I could only look at one illustrator's work for the rest of my life, that illustrator might be Shaun Tan. Though I prefer his narrative work, this volume was an especially engaging and enlightening look at his process, and the broader range of his skills.
Paul  Hankins
With Mr. Hankins's HIGHEST RECOMMENDATIONS. We will have more to say about this one at March 2013 approaches, but I have big plans for this book for use in the Writer's Workshop. So many possibilities here in a gorgeous book.
"Staring at a blank piece of paper, I can't think of anything original. I feel utterly uninspired and unreceptive. It's the familiar malaise of "artist's block" and in such circumstances there is only one thing to do: Just start drawing."

"I find good drawing requires conscientious effort: active research, careful observation of things around me, ongoing experimentation and reference-gathering, all of which exist "behind the scenes.""

"I was also interested in a spontaneity that can sometimes be m...more
The inner workings of an artist mind all set down on paper, kind of mind boggling,but at the same time very interesting
Jul 20, 2011 Adie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Adie by: Emma
a wonderful inspiring insight into the sketchbooks of one of my favourite illustrators. absoultely lovely!
An array of sketches and thoughts on the process of creating art. I enjoyed the introduction and short chapter intros where Tan talks about the sketch as part of the process and that "thinking" about a piece really requires setting pencil to paper. It really is unedited and real sketches, many from early versions of his published work (which I've never read but now will). It's really beautiful to get a glimpse into an artist's process and Tan draws such wonderfully adorable and funny scenes, it...more
Anja Manning
What an amazing book. Shaun Tan, who worked as a concept artist on the movies WALL-E and Horton Hears a Who, is clearly talented and inspiring.

The book that shares different types of his sketches, doodles and notebook drawings is a great way to share art with children, going beyond finished masterpieces, and discussing creativity and creation.

This book can speak to children of all ages and interests in art, and communicates many positive messages about art that may inspire children to do their...more
Lisa Yee
This man is brilliant.
A collection of sketches with some thoughts by the artist. A variety of subjects as well as media are used.

I responded most strongly to the sketch entitled "Furnace" in which a small girl sits in the palm of a winged mechanical creature whose face glows with warmth while she reads a book.

I also really enjoyed the piece entitled "Neighbourhood Watch" in which a one-eyed creature patrols a neighborhood during the night. The one eye of the creature shines a brilliant blue in the dark scene and is...more
Vidya Tiru
This book offers a fascinating glimpse into a wonderful artist’s mind. I must admit the title of the book drew me in – ‘The Bird King’ – with my son being so interested in birds, I promptly added this book to my NetGalley catalog. However, once I opened the book, the wonders within the book captured my interest fully.
Full of sketches, drawings, scribbles, doodles, paintings, and more, this book is a delight. It will be sure to inspire, bring smiles onto faces, make kids of all ages have ‘aha’ m...more
Feb 22, 2013 Jim rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: art
i love sketch books ( is the best place to get them), have a few by william stout and others, just seeing where an artist's mind and pen wander is inspiring.
this gleaning of Shaun Tan's work - sketches, storyboards, portraits, comics etc - is wonderful.
Some favorites:
"Summoning" a couple hides behind a fence as a GIANT blood red rabbit looks for them.
"Never Lost a Case" a stern, well dressed bird contemplates a glass of wine. Made me think of The Raven in reverse, perhaps a small...more
Shaun Tan, the multiple award-winning illustrator and author of picture books, writes about and illustrates his creative process in a wonderful “artist’s notebook.” An amalgam of his ideas about creativity, black and white sketches, and full color pictures fills the pages of this transfixing book. Bizarre, beautiful, lyrical, fantastical, nightmarish all describe Tan’s sketches and paintings. Words fail to capture the beauty of this book. One two page spread entitled “Portrait of the Artist as a...more
Bryce Holt
Wonderful stuff. I love seeing an artist's creative process, and this is, without almost any words, about as deep as you can get into an artist's mind.

Shaun Tan replaced Chris Van Allsburg as my favorite artist of children's books some time ago. It was no easy task. I've always loved "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick," but when I found Tan's "The Arrival" (especially in light of having a guest from Chennai, India that I was somewhat hosting at the time I first read it), it was life changing. The...more
Janne Varvára
It's a rather amputated Christmas celebration for me this year. First, the landlord breaks the law when he enters my apartment without giving notice, several times while I was out, and then one time when I was asleep, and now he proceeds to evict me, with 13 days notice (it's usually three months, minimum *one* month). So, I've mostly been packing like a madwoman, and haven't slept at home since I got that message. The house feels unsafe, and not like home, and all I want to do is get out.
My tour of Tan's work is almost complete. If you want a book of tattoo ideas, here it is. I was actually the most interested in what he had to say about his sketches than the actual sketches themselves -- he talks about how he draws, how he essentially mulches inspiration, and how there is something spontaneous and raw in his doodles that goes missing after they get refined & commercialized.
Have you ever considered the creative process of a book illustrator? Shaun Tan is the award-winning illustrator and author of award-winning children’s books (in 2011 he won his first Oscar for “Best Short Animated Film). “The Bird King:: An Artist’s Notebook” offers a window into Tan’s unique sensibility and insight into how he creates his critically acclaimed books.

Collected sketches are gathered from several of his books, including “Tales from Outer Suburbia,” “The Arrival,” and “Lost and Fou...more
Nov 07, 2013 Dolly rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: children who enjoy looking at artwork
This is a wonderful graphic novel/notebook/sketchbook that offers the reader a glimpse into the creative mind of Shaun Tan. The myriad fantastical creatures are amazing to look at and the details are fascinating.

I recognized characters and scenes from several of his books and I was a bit surprised at how long it took me to pore over the pages. Since there are mainly notes and short introductions to the different sections, I expected to fly through the pages. But instead, I found myself fixating...more
Jennifer Rayment
Jake's Review: The pictures are really unusual and the guy is seriously talented. But I am thinking this book is more for adults or kids who really, really want to become an illustrator or artist. It was neat to look through but not something I would keep.

Jake's Rating: 5/10

Mom's Review: Shaun Tan is a wonderful creative man with a truly outrageous imagination. His work is whimsical, fun, dreamlike and almost haunting at times. A truly fascinating look into the mind and process of an artist. I d...more
Wyatt Polt
Have you ever wanted to read a book that just is mainly pictures. Well this is the book for you. It has about 4 paragraphs and the rest is pictures. The pictures are kind of unusual because it has like a picture of a water buffalo standing up telling people what to do or there are alien creatures and lots of others. I like this book though because it only took me about 20 minutes to look at the pictures mainly and read the paragraphs that were in it. I really and not sure what it is about or the...more
Shaun Tan provides an excellent look into his artist process, which is very similar to the writing process:

He draws everyday and compares it to working out. Each drawing is a way to stay fit as an artist.

Take a notebook with you everywhere.

Don't worry about how it looks. Just get it on paper. His best ideas were loose and rough in the beginning and in this stage are the most pure and close to what he envisioned.

This book included many beginning sketches to some of his more famous books as well a...more
I adore Shaun Tan's artwork - it's wild, wonderful, and deeply meaningful in a muted, sad way. Naturally, I picked this up to see more of a glimpse into the artist's thoughts, and was not disappointed.
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Shaun Tan (born 1974) is the illustrator and author of award-winning children's books. After freelancing for some years from a studio at Mt. Lawley, Tan relocated to Melbourne, Victoria in 2007. Tan was the Illustrator in Residence at the University of Melbourne's Department of Language Literacy and Arts Education for two weeks through an annual Fellowship offered by the May Gibbs Children’s Liter...more
More about Shaun Tan...
The Arrival Tales from Outer Suburbia Lost and Found: Three by Shaun Tan The Red Tree The Lost Thing

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