Instructive Instructions

While Karen and I have been correcting last minute details on my art book, Drawing Down the Moon (see the post below this one) I’ve also been pretty busy at my drawing board.

Because our previous picture book, Blueberry Girl did so well  (5 weeks on the NY Times bestsellers list, a summer Independent Booksellers pick, etc.) our lovely editor, Elise Howard at Harper’s asked Neil and I for another. Right away! Neil suggested  Instructions, everyone agreed and so here I am deep into a intense deadline adapting the poem in 3-4 months time, instead of the 3 years it took for BG.

Originally I had thought to make our protagonist a young androgynous boy/girl.

Instructions Cvr Art  human blog

I worked up a cover and a title page design.

Instructions title pg. blogBut after worrying quite a bit about that visual choice taking away from the universality of Neil’s words I finally settled on the idea (thanks Joe!) of using instead, a sort of Puss-in-Boots character that could then be either male/female as well as any nationality or race.

Instructions Cvr Art cat blogEveryone signed off on that choice and off to the art races I went.

Instructions-title-pg-finalOne very fortunate consequence of being asked to limit my color choices was my decision to NOT try to be totally naturalistic in those choices. The pure red wolves above are an example. You’ll see LOTS more as we go along.

Instructions pg#4&5 blogI also started experimenting with watercolor pencils as a medium. You draw with them exactly as you would with colored pencils but then you can play a brush dipped in water over them to dissolve that color. It’s really a lot of fun to play with!

Here’s my rough pencils for an art spread that I would first try them out on…

Instructions pg#14&15 layout blogThen the actual finished color. It certainly adds a lot of texture that I just couldn’t get with my inks.

Instructions pg#14&15 blog

Note: There are four and twenty blackbirds in that tree. Go ahead, count them. And can anyone guess who that small dancing figure is in the crook of the tree limb is?

Of course there were a few false starts along the way…

Instructions pg#21 1st layout blogThe giant became a witch cooking a bit of unsavory flesh for her meal.

Instructions pg#21 finalAnd here’s a particularly nasty wood, with a few cavorting beasties, all in red too…

Instructions pg#13 blogRight now, I’m a little over half way through the art chores on the book but I’m pretty much on track to meeting my deadline.

Instructions will be out late next March so look for it then, okay?



22 Responses to “Instructive Instructions”

  1. danguyf says:

    I have always loved “Instructions”, so seeing it illustrated by you will be quite a treat!

    Your universal protagonist is an excellent solution, though I would have enjoyed seeing how cleverly you straddled the androgyny line for the entire book with your first idea.

    The art looks amazing. I’m looking forward to this!

  2. strugglingwriter says:

    That looks great Charles. Any collaboration between you and Mr. Gaiman is good in my book, but I love this poem so much. I don’t know how I’ll wait until March.

    I think this is one I’ll be able to read to my 3 year old daughter too.

  3. Petra Sky says:


  4. Marc says:

    This is GREAT news! I have been under the spell of Instructions since first reading it (I keep it on file as a constant inspiration ). Now it is perfected. To think I thought Blueberry Girl was a wonder -this is going to be a treasure. I hope you plan on visiting Spoutwood again this year, as I would love to be able to get it there.


  5. janni518 says:

    I love that the Puss N Boots character has a cat. Purrfect!

  6. ces says:

    I wish that there were books like this one when I was a kid!


  7. [...] of all favourite of Mr. Gaiman’s poems – Instructions -  is being illustrated by Charles Vess for 2010 publication. Woohoo! So [...]

  8. Where to begin!? I love your concept of a character that all children can identify with (yay puss in boots!) The illustrations are spectacular of course and fit the poem perfectly.

    This poem is so magical, I often read it to my classes and have them add instructions and illustrations of their own. I so look forward to this book to use in class and for myself.

  9. JenniferWriter says:

    I absolutely love your art and I’m so happy that you’ll be collaborating with Neil Gaiman once again. I have to tell you that I treasure my illustrated hard copy of Stardust more so than my original paperback. There’s magic in your art just as there’s magic in Neil Gaiman’s words. Together you make spectacular books. Thank you.

  10. Scott Conner says:

    Very nice new work, Charles! The texture on that tree is exquisite.

  11. Cooper C says:

    Love the use of red; especially the red on red wolves & trees!

  12. Shadow_Faerie says:

    Instructions is my favorite Gaiman Poem(Actually it is probably my favorite of any poem, it just enchants and pulls me along~) and I am excited that it is going to be illustrated. I have to say at first I wasn’t too sure how I would like your drawings to depict what up until now had only been this wonderfully magical thing in my head, but your work with the watercolor pencils is amazing and I just love it! Not only does it color your drawings beautifully, but it brings texture and life to your pictures. I am very much looking forward to this book and being able to share it with people! :)

  13. [...] PS: See rough drawings for the upcoming children’s book here. [...]

  14. [...] a happier note: Neil Gaiman collaborated with Charles Vess for this beautiful illustrated poem [...]

  15. [...] of a collaboration with Charles Vess. In the trailer he is reading his poem Instructions, and Charles Vess illustrations accompanying the words. In the trailer we see the illustrations of Vess developing [...]

  16. [...] News from Green Man Press » Blog Archive » Instructive Instructions The blog for Charles Vess, an illustrator and artist. Has illustrated Neil Gaiman’s book “Instructions” [...]

  17. [...] Charles Vess himself gives us a few more and discusses some of the design process here: [...]

  18. [...] found this lovely page where Charles Vess who illustrated a couple of Neil Gaiman books, shows drafts and then finished [...]

  19. [...] CUMPLEAÑOS DE MAÑANA…   Por su atención, muchas gracias. Ah, y Charles Vess es un capo. En [...]

  20. [...] Charles Vess has some progress work on his [...]

  21. [...] written by Neil GaimanWonderfully illustrated by Charles Vess Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like [...]

  22. [...] that the reader walks through while they read. Originally, the main character was a young man, but according to Vess this was changed to a more Puss-in-boots style character to allow for both boys and girls to relate [...]

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