INTERNATIONAL EVENTS Connecting with Allen Shaw

These days, many of us are travelling virtually across frontiers in search of webinars and workshops. Janet Bingham went to a SCBWI India illustration event and found many ways that an illustrator’s work could help her make writerly connections.

The November 2020 session of SCBWI India’s Artist Spotlight series celebrated the work of Allen Shaw. Allen graduated in Communication Design, specialising in Animation, from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, and he now works from Berlin as an independent artist, illustrator and storyteller.

Dipping into Allen’s Instagram page The Old Drifter I noticed that he loves bicycles, and he likes autumn leaves, and he has the kind of talent for making connections that’s coveted by both writers and illustrators.

'Autumn Here She Comes', by Allen Shaw. 

The zoom session revealed a lot more. Allen’s work includes everything from simple logos to exuberant, complex compositions and, of course, children’s book illustrations. He is a keeper of travelogues, spending a great deal of his time travelling with his sketchbook. For Allen, living and working are indivisible, and he has great fun with both.

His work ethic is to gather ideas all the time, not least when he’s playing in the park with his young daughter. He showed us some of his work, focusing on two projects. One was the illustrations for an early-word picture book, Kaisa kaisa khana, written by Prabhat and published by Ektara in which a mother and child are out and about, exploring how the word ‘khana’ is used in the names for different places.

Cover illustration of Kaisa kaisa khana. (Picture credit: Ektara)

When he received that commission, Allen already had a character-sketch that he’d done of a woman and daughter in his doctor’s waiting room. It wasn’t foresight, but just a happy accident due to having a stockpile of images, gathered day by day, available for adaptation. If only all we creators were so ahead of the game in our work!

One of the questions in the Artist Spotlight Q&A session is of perennial interest to picture book writers and illustrators: ‘Who do you think a picture book belongs to more, the writer or the illustrator?’ Acknowledging that publishers need to start respecting everyone involved in the creation of a book, Allen had two answers: ‘It’s our book’, and also, ‘It belongs to the reader’. Both true SCBWI sentiments.

The other project Allen showed us was an animated work from his ‘Stainimation Studio’, where coffee stains become everything from bicycle wheels to the solar system, to a wartime barbed wire fence, in a mesmerising sequence of imagery. Allen is highly tuned to such visual connections. Once, on a camping holiday, he saw an elephant ‘in’ the tent. He drew the elephant-tent, beginning an endearing tradition for all future camping trips.

'Elephant in the tent', by Allen Shaw.

As a writer, I know the value of making such connections when creating story. I also know how elusive they can be, and I wondered how Allen captures them so easily.

In the Q&A session, I asked whether he ever dreams up his surreal associations while sleeping, or if daydreaming is more important to him. His answer was ‘both’ – if you sketch every day, you put your dreams into your work. Watching Allen dip into spilled tea, and coax figures from the puddle, it really did feel like he was catching dreams on paper.

And perhaps that’s Allen’s secret – he is ‘dreaming all the time’, even while his eyes are open, his mind is thinking, and his sketchbook is to hand. I think all of us, writers and illustrators alike, would benefit from giving ourselves the mental space to take a leaf out of Allen’s book and turn it into a bicycle (or anything else) more often.

*Header image: 'Baloon waale chacha' by Allen Shaw.


Janet Bingham writes picture books including the enduring Daddy’s Little Star, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (first published by Scholastic as My Little Star in 2007). Janet is also a ghost writer and author of Young Readers and children’s nonfiction.


Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures, the online magazine for SCBWI-BI.  Contact her at

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