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SCBWI-NYC Takeaway #1: Shaun Tan & The Importance of Maintaining A Bubble Of Delusion

For those who haven’t yet heard the term, conference takeaways are generally regarded as insights or key points that someone who attends brings away from the event. It differs for everyone, based on their own level of experience and context. 

I’m going to be sharing some of my takeaways, starting with Shaun Tan.

I’ve long admired Shaun Tan‘s work. The quirky/dark have always had a strong appeal to me (see my Little Nightmares Flickr set from ten years ago as an example), and someday I’m going to write and illustrate a picture book in this style. My main challenge: to figure out a way of doing dark without overwhelming the book with too much dark, if that makes any sense. Having a good story is the most important, of course. I’ve been working on ideas for ages but haven’t been happy with any of them yet. Someday, though. These Little Nightmare guys keep bugging me to find the right story for them.

But I digress.

One of my biggest takeaways from the conference was Shaun Tan’s advice to artists about the necessity of creating a Bubble of Delusion in which they feel safe to experiment and create. This applies to writers just as much as illustrators, I believe. 


A few of Shaun Tan’s thoughts on the Bubble Of Delusion:

(Please note that these are my notes taken during the Illustrators’ Intensive, so are subject to interpretation/misinterpretation)

– Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and know that you will do great work.

– Surround yourself with encouraging people.

– Avoid negativity, and try to steer clear when you see it coming. Shaun says he doesn’t read reviews. I don’t think I’d have the willpower to avoid reading reviews completely, but I do what I can to keep from interacting with negative people. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but I do what I can in the future to limit the interaction.


I’ve experienced this myself recently, though it was necessary bad stuff (like getting an injured limb re-broken so it could heal properly).Trying to work on anything creative, however, was like walking against a gale force wind…I could do it, but it was an effort rather than the fun it usually is. Not good.

What I’m Doing To Help Maintain My Own Bubble Of Delusion:

1. Doodling something purely for the fun of it every day, no matter how busy I am. I used to draw for fun all the time! I need start doing that again. I’ll post some of these daily doodles online (on, but some I won’t…these drawings are for myself.

2. Write something purely for the fun of it every day, no matter how busy I am. I’m getting back to my private journal again, my equivalent of Morning Pages.

3. Do what I can to avoid industry angst. I love social media and online communities, but sometimes I let myself get too caught up in worrying about sales figures, publishing politics, conflicting advice, peer envy.

My advice to you all, especially those who are trying to find their own writing or illustration style: do what you can to create your own Bubble of Delusion. And then when you’re doing something creative, STAY IN THE BUBBLE. It’s impractical and inadvisable to stay in the Bubble all the time, of course — we all need to deal with the other Stuff in life, plus the other Stuff helps to inspire and motivate us.

For me, one of the keys is staying off the Internet when I’m trying to create. What do you do to maintain your Bubble? Feel free to post below. 

For more info about Shaun Tan and his work, see his website.

For more info about the SCBWI, see the SCBWI website.

Tags: Inkygirl