Masterclass with Shane W. Evans

Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it,‘ said Bob Dylan.  Yet on some days inspiration suddenly flows, so rich and sweetly available you go down on your hands and knees in gratitude and then quickly get to your desk to try catch it in words and ideas. I recently had such a day attending an inspiring masterclass by American illustrator Shane W Evans at the Johannesburg Children’s Theatre.  The talk was organised in partnership with the Public Affairs section of the US Consul in Johannesburg and Play Africa, an NGO focused on pioneering public learning spaces which enable children to interact and learn through play.

From the moment Shane started tuning and strumming his guitar and setting up his sound system there was a feeling of expectation. Was this a music concert?  Was he going to sing? Would we have to sing too? Well, we did have to sing a chorus (with varying degrees of expertise!), which Shane recorded and we did get to feel the wonderfully interactive way different elements such as words, music, audience participation, and illustrations all create a beautiful and colourful story.

Shane spoke about the joy an illustrator finds in telling the story beyond the written words. ‘There are many more stories beyond the words so I am always looking for ways to tell more of the story in the pictures. For example in Chocolate Me! I have the main character wearing T-Shirts with positive slogans such as ‘You are my sunshine, #1 Son, Be +, Be Super!’ to show that even though he is questioning himself, he is surrounded by positivity and good thoughts.’

Shane, who is a celebrated multimedia artist and award winning illustrator, was warm and down to earth and he made us feel part of his creative process.  This is his gift. He doesn’t stand aloof – he says, “come on, join in, see what you can create!’  This inspiring collaborative attitude has settled within me and feels particularly relevant to South African authors writing about issues our children face.  Shane asks authors and illustrators the question: What can your book achieve? He challenges us to think beyond the thrill of sharing our story but also to the influence we can have on so many levels in a child’s life.

Four top take-outs from his talk:

1. Books can be a community building project. Shane involves his local community in putting on plays of his works. Stories can bring children, families, schools, businesses and communities together.

2. Books can build self-esteem and confidence and connect dreams.

3. Books get children excited about the creative process, offering a unique way of learning.

4. Be brave! Find the braver version of you and use it to create a work that has a lasting impact.


** For more info on Play Africa, and the flagship centre in Johannesburg which will be a dream destination of play-based learning experiences through indoor and outdoor exhibits, contact




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1 Comment

  1. Gretchen Wilson Prangley

    Thank you so much to The Book Tree for featuring this inspiring masterclass in this post! After the masterclass, we loved seeing the children from Astari and Mimosa Montessori come together to get to know one another through storytelling and play. We loved seeing them engage in a call and response with Shane, singing along with his special machine, telling their own stories, and then giving one another high fives as friends. Play Africa is looking forward to hosting more events like this in the future, to catalyse more creative ways to engage with books and literacy.


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