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Shaun Tan at 3 years (1977) - "Three dinosaurs" - pen and watercolour on paper

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Three dinosaurs

Pen and watercolour on paper by 3 year old Shaun Tan (1977)

Drawing size: 21 x 29.7 cm (8.2" x 11.6")

This is the first drawing I remember making. While not necessarily the first thing I ever drew, it’s the first that I remember drawing, I guess the thought behind it was so impressionable, the action of the pen on the back of builder’s stationary from my dad’s office seemed effortlessly urgent and the daubs of watercolour so pleasing. In the picture there are three dinosaurs: a mother, a father and a baby, the last visible only as a small coil inside the mother’s belly. I think I drew it in response to hearing vague stories about babies and seeing a strange picture of a foetus in an encyclopedia, a thing that I myself must have been once upon a time, complete with a tail. In retrospect I suppose it’s a picture about being human, the mystery of existence, and the importance of family in perpetuating that mystery. At the time, though, my three-year-old mind would have entertained no such meaning, at least not consciously. I only wanted to draw a creature. To grab a pen, a bit of paper, prop my elbows high on the dining table and draw an eye, a mouth, a nose. Then a very long neck. Then the zig-zag of a reptilian spine, and so on. Not much has changed since. I’m still drawing creatures, a practice that feels perpetually childish in the best possible way: primary, elemental, instinctive and strange, the qualities I trust above all others. Every time I draw an imaginary creature, I feel a clear connection to this very first memory of image-making. - Shaun Tan

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