In mid-October, Bloomsbury will be publishing a collection of Susanna Clarke’s short stories, ‘The Ladies of Grace Adieu’ which will contain almost 20 illustrations by myself. I was thrilled when asked to contribute to this book as I’ve long been a fan of Susanna’s writing and knew that it would bring out the very best in my art. However the due date was tight and even with a great deal of deadline manipulation on the publishers part (thanks to the the redoubtable Polly Napper!) and all my good intentions 5 planned for illustrations were never completed, much to my sorrow. So here’s a taste of some of what I did manage to finish…


And here’s my initial sketch for the same:


Each of the 8 stories have their own full page illustration as well as its own illumunated as well as hand lettered title page design. Then there are the fun extras that I like to include in any book. Here are a few of my interior illustrations accompanied by its pencil sketch.



As you can see I reversed the density of the foreground and background in the inking stage. That hedgerow just seemed to call out for some texture. So hours later, in the midst of inking all those thousands of tiny little lines, with the ever present sense that my deadline was approaching at the speed of a train wreck I caught myself wondering why my mind works the way it does? Just lucky, I guess…

This is my intial pass on this idea. Nine Fairy Princesses greet the story’s ‘hero’ in a palace library. When I read this tale, ‘Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge was built at Thorsby’ I immediately started thinking in terms of Aubrey Beardsley and his Rococo ornamented rooms and his ladies with their elaborately styled hair. But I felt like something was amiss with the over all perspective in the layout so art pal, Michael Kaluta came to my rescue…


Thanks Michael!!

Susanna was later to inform me, days before the deadline, that it was morning here and those young ladies would never be wearing such elaborate dresses or hair at that particular time of day. Too late, I marched on to the finish line, pleading Susanna’s forgiveness all the way. But I did give David a much needed wig…

Here’s one last piece for you. The story is set in Derbyshire, a landscape, unlike much of England with high rough hills. Luckily I had some lovely landscape reference to draw from and a rainy, cloud filled day to depict. The river surrounding the ‘Fairy House’ was described as deep and black but Susanna and I agreed that making it so in this particular illustration would have ruined the composition so I was able to leave it as you see it.

Here is the pencil sketch:


And the finished inks:

This was one of three pieces completed over a 38 hour workday in a desperate effort to get them to Bloomsbury by deadline. After years of drawing I’ve learned that I really can’t work any faster than I normally do, its just that, occassionally, I have to put in longer hours at the drawing board.

And several more completed illustrations as well as one title page design:




Anyway I hope that you enjoy the book when it hits the book sellers next month.


14 Responses to “”

  1. segundus says:

    As always, Charles, a fantastic set of illustrations and very much look forward to the final book. Thank you, as well, for sharing in the design and creation process.

  2. erica says:


    Not that it helps you now & all, but I just finished a really super informative book about 19th century English customs: “What Jane Austen Ate & Charles Dickens Knew.”

    Super informative but, you know, a dumb title.


  3. JohnPotten says:

    Hi Charles

    Lovely stuff as always – really looking forward to the book.

    Just seen the new Issue of Mythic Journal over at Endicott and didn’t recognise quite a few images – and chance of a quick rundown of where things were/ will be published?



  4. charles says:

    Okay, a list of what I’m working on… Lordy, but here goes:

    An extensive interview will be appearing in the Fall issue of ‘The journal of the Fantastic in the Arts’ along with 2 illustrations from LoGA.

    Speaking of which, ‘The Ladies of Grace Adieu’ (Bloomsbury) will be out in mid-October in bookstores everywhere with 19 b/w illustrations.

    Also out in October will be, ‘1001 Nights of Snowfall’, a Fables, original graphic novel with among other artists, 20 full color paintings by Michael Kaluta and myself.

    A feature article on myself with loads of images will be in the Fall issue of ‘Faerie Magazine’, a full color, newstand periodical.

    A reissued hardcover edition of ‘Stardust’ with a new cover, Fairy Market endpapers and 6 never seen before paintings based on the text or in one case a far-in-the-future sequel.

    Stardust art and other goodies for the Paramount Pictures movie website.

    Art for ‘A Making of Stardust, the Movie’ book from Titan Books.

    In early October I will be participating in an extensive interview that will cover my career in comics and appear in Two-Morrows “Masters of…’ series. There will, of course, be tons of art used to fill out this oversized trade paperback due out early next year.

    Dark Horse is planning a 200 page, full color, hardcover art book on myself to be titled, ‘Drawing Down the Moon, The Art of Charles Vess’ and due out next September. This book will concentrate on my work in the field of illustration, although there will be some overlap between the two books.

    Also in conjunction with Dark Horse I’ve a few mystery projects up my sleave that I’ll let you know about later.

    For HarperCollins I’m in the midst of completing a picture book with Neil Gaiman, ‘Blueberry Girl’.

    For Viking I’m working on the third book in the Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling series of YA anthologies, ‘Coyote Road, Trickster Tales’ with a cover and some 20 pieces of b/w art.

    Locally, I’ve designed and am helping to sculpt a 16 ft. bronze, sculptural fountain based on ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’.

    And finally, I’m participating in a community arts project as the designor of a 100 ft mural that will wrap around the local cinema. It will feature a parade of characters from animated fantasy films from around the world.

    This same movie house will be home for the local gala premier of Stardust next March 9th. It should be fun!

    So there, I knew it would be a bit overwhelming to list it all in one place and start to wonder who I can possibly do it all…


  5. igallo says:

    Hi Charles,

    Beautiful work, as usual. I love seeing the process shots.

    Looks like it’ll be a good couple of years for Vess fans!


  6. Amazing inking work you do!!
    Just amazing!!!


  7. Mark R. says:

    I’m curious, how do you go from the initial pencil sketch to the pen drawing? The shapes are so identical that I’m assuming you trace them? What tools are used for that?

  8. Charles says:


    All my drawing is done on the actual paper that I will be inking on, a 2 ply Strathmore (400 series). So there is no need to trace anything. I only have to transfer images when I’m painting and I want to make the finished image much larger than the original sketch. Then I use a xerox enlargement and transfer paper.


  9. Mark R. says:

    Aah, got it. Thanks for the really quick response. I’m new to this type of art, so I’m still learning how these things are done.

  10. isobel says:

    38 hours all of this??
    And it seems you still think you’re slow… O.O
    Well I’m 157 year old turtle!
    And yet, I thought I was with a lot of stuff going on, I really can’t imagine you.
    You’re my hero. I wanna be you when I grow up. ;)

  11. Jonas says:

    Being from Sweden I can allways look at your artwork and remember all the gnomes, trolls and other critters I used to think I spotted in the Swedish sub-arctic pine forrests.

    To my surprise I just realised you live in Virginia..were I now find myself living.

    Any chance I can interview you for a Swedish Magazine AND comicbook called Rocky??

  12. blackholly says:


    Even more gorgeous than I remember.

  13. Sylvinstar says:


    The new village of wall is terrific. I love the point of view, and it compliments the text nicely.

    The new black and whites are good to see. I especially like the Derbyshire landscape piece. I would love to see some of these inkings first hand!

    One question:
    Do you use Crystal Clear fixative for protecting your FW ink paintings? I use FW inks a lot, but am unsure what to use to protect them.

    p.s. Using Beardsley as a style reference was a great idea for the fairy princesses piece.

  14. [...] by the incomparable Charles Vess. You can see examples of his finished works for this collection here. As with Jonathan Strange, reviews seemed to be pretty mixed on Susanna Clarke’s short story [...]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.