I first experienced the art of Charles Vess through the issues and cover art of the Vertigo/DC Comics series The Sandman and Swamp Thing during the 1990's. Along with the stories in those comic books, his artwork definitely left it's impression on me as well. An ethereal feel to the art, sort of a blend of the old fashioned Art Nouveau style with classic fantasy art. And a few years later I read through the Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess illustrated novel Stardust (after I watched the movie, which I also love), and fell in love with his artwork all over again.
Fast forward a few years later and, from Dark Horse Books, comes 'Drawing Down The Moon: The Art Of Charles Vess'. This is a superb collection of paintings, pencil sketches, pen and inks from a legend of fantasy art. Over 200 pages of luscious artwork, some with descriptions by Charles himself, and includes some of his work for Swamp Thing, Stardust as well as other works such as for George RR Martin's 'A Storm Of Swords', and 'Spiderman' and 'The Books Of Magic'.
Presented as a large format book, with most of the art taking up the full page, and with a foreword by Susanna Clarke (author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell), this book is a joy to read and must for those that love quality art and fantasy art in particular! Totally recommended!
Charles Vess is one of those illustrators that every fantasy fan has seen -- he's done comics and illustrations for Neil Gaiman, mainstream graphic novels, and covers for authors like Charles de Lint, Diana Wynne-Jones, Terri Windling and George R.R. Martin. "Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess" brings together countless pieces of Vess's gorgeous art.
The artwork is divided into Vess's early artwork, "Playing in Someone Else's Sandbox" (comic book artwork, such as Spiderman, Bone and Sandman), "Drawing Between the Lines" (adaptations of classic tales and various gorgeous illustration works for "Stardust," "Deep Secret," "Peter Pan" and various Charles de Lint stories), "Ballads and Sagas," and "Odds and Ends."
There are also a lot of other, random tidbits of artwork throughout the book, such as flyers and advertisements, such as an illustration depicting Tori Amos as a floating fairy. And there are odds and ends that have been just sort of in the ether, like previously unpublished illustrations.
Each picture has a title, and quite a few have an explanatory paragraph showing why Vess drew what he drew, the thought processes behind it, and something of the progression of his art. For instance, his love of hit comics like Prince Valiant and Fables, or his desire to take more "personal" projects.
But Vess' artwork is the real star here -- luminous colors, delicate lines, and beautiful fey creatures that are just a little freaky and unearthly. Some are black-and-white pencil sketches, and they are full of fragile beauty.
But the pictures with color simply seem to float out of the pages, glowing with soft mossy greens, rich leathery browns, pale yellows, shadowy blacks and a layer of pale starlight. Some are simple depictions of a solid image (the cover of Diana Wynne-Jones' "Deep Secret" has a centaur jumping over a bunch of convention-goers), but others are entwined with tree boughs, crumbling stone walls, low-hanging moons and old-world buildings.
Those who love fantasy art will probably adore "Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess," which brings together the works of this talented artist. Gorgeous and luminous.
I like Charles Vess' style. The scenes and images are magical, watercolours are beautiful, and there's a classic feel to his art. He's perfect for illustrating fantasy stories. By the way, he was won three Eisner Awards among others.
Drawing Down the Moon is a well constructed hardcover from Dark Horse. There are 200 pages and a couple are translucent with line art that overlays on the finished coloured piece beneath on the next page. Unfortunately, the overlay is just slightly misaligned, for my copy.
Over two hundred pieces of paintings and comic art are featured, from covers, comics, private commissions and personal pieces, along with them notes from Charle Vess. Creating enchanting backgrounds and fairytale characters is his specialty. So much so that it makes you want to find out more about the story after looking at the pictures.
He has created a whole lot of art for countless publications. The most notable ones are probably the paintings he did for Neil Gaiman's Stardust, which was made into a movie (I love that movie!). A few of the 175 pieces created for Stardust are featured here, not the concept art though. He's able to capture Neil Gaiman's imagination perfectly and make them come real.
The book finishes off with an interesting look at his creation process, how he handles a commissioned project, though there are no pictures of how he actually paints.
This is an inspiring retrospective for Charles Vess. Highly recommended to fantasy artists.
(There are more pictures of the book on my blog. Just visit my Amazon profile for the link.)