True Thomas

I thought that you might get a kick out of seeing this piece. ‘True Thomas’ was a private commission from a ballad enthusiast who’s had very few stipulations except that I select my image from out of one of those same ballads. I choose a favorite scene out of a favorite Scottish border ballad, ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ wherein our hero first meets The Queen of Fair Elfand . She will then take him across the river of all the blood shed on earth into her fae kingdom and there Thomas will live for seven years. When he, at last, returns to this earth The Queen will have gifted him with a tongue that can only speak the truth, for good or ill.  With Robin Williamson’s lovely version of the ballad playing on my CD I happily sat down at the drawing board and this image just flowed off my fingertips. Not something that happens very often but you wont catch me ever objecting when it does. A gift from The Kindly Ones as it were. Here’s my initial pencil drawing:


And then my inks. Here I tried out a dry brush technique using a hand made mixture of brown and black FW inks and a sable brush. At first I was only going to use this technique for Thomas’ cloak but it was  working so well that I just kept on going over the whole surface. I liked how it came out quite a bit.


As I do with all my painted work ,I then I overlaid that with many, many layers  of FW ink, diluted so that the colors were fairly  transparent. This allows me to continually adjust the hue and saturation of my color pallet  over the entire surface of the piece. These adjustments are completely instinctual, learned from many years of slapping paint down onto paper, as I have absolutely no knowledge of institutional color theory. Here is the completed image:


I choose to set the scene in  that most magical and  liminal time between sunset and dark. If you look hard enough, between the horse’s legs, the road they are about to take to fair Elfland can be seen, glimmering in the dusk.



9 Responses to “True Thomas”

  1. JFerguson says:

    What a beautiful piece. I had no idea that you “layered” your work with color over black inks. I’ve noticed that Dark Horse is releasing a book of your art very soon. I sure would like to see more info about that book on this sight. Also, I was wondering why you use FR inks? How do they compare to other inks, such as Speedball, Higgins, Dr. Martin’s, etc?

  2. Rob de Wolfe says:

    Do you always use coloured inks for your colours or do you sometimes use watercolours instead? If you don’t use watercolours why do you choose coloured inks?


  3. [...] Charles Vess shows progress photos of a painting commission. Some amazing stuff. LINK [...]

  4. Charles Vess says:


    I’ve re-worked my text around each image in this entry to answer most of the questions you’ve asked concerning the technique that I used for painting the piece.

    Also, I’ve devoted an entire chapter in my up-coming art book, Drawing Down the Moon, The Art of Charles Vess (Dark Horse Books, May of this yerar, I think?) to accurately describe my paint application technique. So be on the look out for the book if you’re interested, okay?


  5. Rob de Wolfe says:

    Thanks alot! I have your book preordered from Amazon too, I can’t wait to see it!

  6. Matt Dauer says:

    Will there be a limited print run of this fine commission for the rest of your fan(atic)s?

  7. Charles Vess says:

    A few more answers to your questions,

    I use FW colored inks exclusively because they are color fast. Unlike Winsor Newton inks which I used for years and years. WN inks have gorgeous color and depth but they will, most of the time, just fade away. So after repainting one too many paintings that were mere shadows of their former selves I switched over. Dr. Martin’s Dyes are even more fugitive. So, if you have any inclination at all towards posterity then don’t use them!

    Only once have I used watercolors and that was because I was in southern France with no other painting materials and I needed to get an image down onto paper. It was fun trying out that medium and I was very happy with the results but, I still prefer inks for their transparency and its almost impossible to layer color in the way that I do with watercolors.


  8. JFerguson says:

    Dear Mr. Vess,
    Thank you so much for your reply. That saves me a whole lot of money experimenting with the different inks and I very much appreciate it. I hope you include a photo or two of your studio in your new book. I’ve always been fascinated with that aspect of an artist’s life and have enjoyed the book out (by dark horse I believe) that shows photos of comic books artists’ “dwellings.” :)

    I’ve been a fan of yours for quite some time (since “Spirits of the Earth” came out. I was quite young and merely a comics fan, but your book kind of took my interests in new directions and possibilities not only in the comic book medium, but in art generally). There was a great pencil sketchbook of your work that was released a long time ago that somebody bought for me and I looked at that until the pages were ragged :) I saw you at the Bristol mall once when I was young and kind of followed you around till I had the nerve to talk to you :) And then I was so nervous… I think I said something stupid about how much I liked SpiderMan or something :)

    Anyway, I’ve learned a lot from just looking at your work and I appreciate your comments. I’ve been recently taken with Carl Larsson’s work and bought a book from Amazon on all his pieces. There is a softness and delicacy (for lack of a better description) in his work that sometimes reminds me of your own stuff – even though it’s in watercolor.

    One more note… I hope Mr. Vess, that you include much of your pencil work for your paintings in your upcoming book. I can’t get enough of that stuff. Seeing the smudges and sweat stains of Glen Keane’s Tarzan (Disney) drawings were better than seeing the movie. I really like seeing the “behind the scenes” sketches stuff, but this is of course, just another comment :) I’ll pick up the book either way.

    Best to you.

  9. [...] News from Green Man Press Blog Archive True Thomas Posted by root 19 hours ago ( She will then take him across the river of all the blood shed on earth into her fae if you look hard enough between the horse legs the road they are about to take will there be a limited print run of this fine commission for the rest of your fan atic s ne Discuss  |  Bury |  News | news from green man press blog archive true thomas [...]

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