The Adam Tan Award

Cindy Tan
Illustrator based in Auckland, New Zealand.

Adam was a 2012 graduate of the Graphic Design degree at AUT’s School of Art and Design, where his focus was Pictorial Design. The award commemorates his talent and achievements as an illustrator and aims to encourage those studying in their final year of the Communication Design degree (previously known as Graphic Design) to submit illustrative work for the award. The chosen illustrator receives a monetary award of $1000. The submissions are judged by illustration lecturer Simon Clark, close friend of Adam’s and illustrator, Maxi Quy, and Adam’s sister Cindy Tan, who also graduated from AUT’s Graphic Design programme in 2014.

Students are asked to submit a single piece of illustrative work, or a series of images (up to three images per series), along with a short description of the concept and techniques used.

The recipient of the 2015 Adam Tan Award for Illustration was Toni Gill, and her award was presented at the opening of the ‘The End’ Graphic Design graduate exhibition. Toni creates ink and digital illustrations of modern-day geishas. She uses a vibrant yet minimal palette or creates black and white ink drawings. The judges agreed that she had a distinctive style, and they expressed confidence in her direction as an illustrator. Although judging is primarily based on the work submitted for the award, it was essential to look at the illustrator’s previous body of work to understand their intentions and development of style. The 2015 entries year were of a high standard and we hope to see more interest and involvement in the genre of illustration with the continuation of this annual award.

At university Adam begun experimenting and using digital painting as one of his primary mediums for illustrating. This was also the time when he developed an online presence to share the work he was making. He had a Tumblr website that gained a large following internationally, and this led to opportunities to be a part of overseas exhibitions as well as approaches for freelance work. As far as illustration goes in New Zealand, the community has always been small but diverse. When like-minded individuals come together there is room for friendly competition and encouragement within their field. This was certainly the case when Adam became friends with fellow illustrators at AUT. Although a year or two above him, Henry Christian-Slane, Maxi Quy, Nicholas Blazey and Alexander Martin—all illustrators who shared a similar mind-set and drive to develop their artistic skills—were his friends. For Adam it was important to have people in his life who not only pushed him as an artist but gave him a purpose to keep making work.   

Adam drew a lot from his imagination and the results were always staggering. Perhaps this was only possible in the first place because he was highly skilled in his technical ability and was constantly drawing from observation. He advocated learning the fundamentals first in order to illustrate a story or image that would translate well for the viewer. Adam enjoyed visiting the West Coast beaches and forests near his home in West Auckland. He would go off some days just to walk and sketch the surroundings which appear in many of his finished works. Adam’s subjects and style varied from highly skilled portraits, comic-style narratives, and surreal imagery. Even so, there are certain motifs, colour use, and drawing techniques which identify the work of Adam Tan.

Although Adam passed away while only at the start of his artistic career, at the age of 22 he has left us with a body of work that may take others a lifetime to accumulate. Most of his work exists online, however there is also a large amount of art that went unpublished. Currently, Adam’s friends and family are planning a memorial exhibition to showcase a back catalogue of Adam’s work, while also putting together an art book to be released at the show. Along with the Illustration Award dedicated to his name, it is without a doubt that Adam’s legacy will live on, through up-and-coming generations of illustrators at AUT and through his friends and admirers who continue to share his art.