Carll Cneut

Carll Cneut studied Graphic Design at the Sint-Lucas Institute in Ghent. His first illustrated book was published in 1996, and he has since been published in almost forty countries and received many awards. Carll also exhibits his paintings around the world and he teaches illustration at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent.

In this post, Carll talks about the creation of ‘De Gouden Kooi’ (The Golden Cage), and shares lots of stunning illustrations and work in progress. This equisite picturebook was written by Anna Castagnoli and is published in Belgium by De Eenhoorn.

Visit Carll Cneut’s Facebook page
Visit Carll Cneut’s Instagram page

Carll: I met Anna Castagnoli many years ago in Italy. Shortly after our first meeting, Anna wrote to me saying she had written this story about a princess. I can’t say I was immediately enthusiastic on hearing it was about a princess. But when I read the first line, I was already smitten with it…

The daughter of the emperor was called Valentina. She was unbearable.

The full title of the book is: ‘The Golden Cage: The True Story of The Blood Princess’.

Illustration by Carll Cneut from ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Valentina, daughter of the emperor, is a spoiled brat, who loves and collects birds in the gardens of the palace. For her tenth birthday, she receives a golden cage from her father, and she decides she wants a talking bird to put in it. So lots of servants are sent off to all corners of the world, searching for a talking bird. But all they find are parrots who can only repeat. Days, weeks and months go by and the golden cage remains empty.

Illustration by Carll Cneut from ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Until one day, a handsome young servant with blue eyes arrives at the palace…

And that’s all I can say!

Anna’s story has everything of a classic fairy tale.

Illustration by Carll Cneut from ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

To start with, I sat down and sketched, and made endless dummies of the book until I got everything as I felt it should be. Then I painted for months and months. I painted from dark to light, the opposite of what is usually done. I picked that up from painters like Anthony van Dyck in his Italian period. It is painstakingly slow as a process. For example, to paint a yellow plume (every plume is painted separately), first I paint the plume dark brown. On top of that goes a layer of dark red, then a layer of bright red. Then orange. Then dark yellow, mid yellow, yellow, light yellow… I paint with acrylics.

Sometimes I curse myself for working with this process!

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Illustration by Carll Cneut from ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Parts of the images in this book are left unfinished, and show my pencil drawings underneath. Being used to always completing every detail, this was a hard thing for me to do. I was doubting it, so I put an image on Facebook and got an awful lot of ‘don’t touch it anymore’ reactions. I tried to be brave and keep unfinished parts throughout the book. But throughout the whole process, I had this little voice in my head questioning: shouldn’t you finish every detail?

Illustration by Carll Cneut from ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

I have always felt that a picture book is an object to be used. An object which has a function and is not just a collection of words and accompanying images. So, every detail is important. The rhythm of the story, the turning of the pages, how the paper feels, the size of the book, and so on. I think a lot about all this before starting a book. So by the time I start work on a project, I usually have a defined idea of how the book should look, feel, and be designed.

Once the project is finished, I sit down with the graphic designer and we design the book together, search for the right paper, etc. Actually, I was originally a graphic designer who never meant to become an illustrator!

Spread from ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – by Anna Castagnoli and Carll Cneut – published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Spread from ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – by Anna Castagnoli and Carll Cneut – published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

With ‘The Golden Cage’, I knew what the book had to look like right away. It had to be big, and there had to be handwriting in it. (I did the handwriting in most language editions of this book.)

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

For years, I had wanted to do some kind of graphic activity book. When getting so into painting birds it just struck me that this was a good opportunity to make an activity book alongside ‘The Golden Cage’, using the same graphic design to create some visual unity between the two of them. But of course, both books can be read or used separately.

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘Vogels tekenen, krabbelen en kleuren / Birds drawing, scratching and colouring’ – published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘Vogels tekenen, krabbelen en kleuren / Birds drawing, scratching and colouring’ – published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ and ‘Vogels tekenen, krabbelen en kleuren / Birds drawing, scratching and colouring’ – published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

After ‘The Golden Cage’, I made another picture book with De Eenhoorn called ‘Witchfairy’, written by Brigitte Minne. It is actually a story I illustrated at the very start of my career. And so, many years later, I decided to illustrate it again. Same story. New illustrations. New book!

It will be published in English by Book Island in October 2017.

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘Heksenfee / Fairywitch’ – written by Brigitte Minne and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Illustration by Carll Cneut from by Carll Cneut for ‘Heksenfee / Fairywitch’ – written by Brigitte Minne and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘Heksenfee / Fairywitch’ – written by Brigitte Minne and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Illustration by Carll Cneut from by Carll Cneut for ‘Heksenfee / Fairywitch’ – written by Brigitte Minne and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

My main publisher, De Eenhoorn, has always given me an immense freedom. I have been working with them for many years, since their early days, so there is a complete trust between us. We both know we are trying to make the best book we can make at that very moment. And we both have the same vision of books and publishing. So they give me all the freedom I need.

Development work by Carll Cneut for ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Work in progress by Carll Cneut for ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

At the moment, I am starting work on a book with Dutch writer, Toon Tellegen. One of my long-time heroes. Exciting but also a bit scary. And I am preparing a big exhibition of illustrations in France, in Moulins, and also a show at an art gallery here in Belgium.

Alongside the books and exhibitions, I have taught illustration for many years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) in Ghent. Something I try to teach my students is that you should always try to safeguard your authenticity. I realise this is not always easy. But I believe it is imperative if you want a long career.

Illustration by Carll Cneut from ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – written by Anna Castagnoli and published De Eenhoorn, Belgium

Illustrations © Carll Cneut. Post edited by dPICTUS.

Front cover for ‘De Gouden Kooi / The Golden Cage’ – by Anna Castagnoli and Carll Cneut – published De Eenhoorn, BelgiumBuy this picturebook

De Gouden Kooi /

The Golden Cage

Anna Castagnoli & Carll Cneut
De Eenhoorn, Belgium, 2015

Valentina, the spoiled daughter of the emperor, loved birds very much. In the garden there were hundreds of cages with beautiful species. But Valentina wanted a special bird: one which she could talk with. Many servants died during their dangerous quest for this bird. And when they dared to come back empty-handed, or with a wrong bird, Valentina, the ‘blood princess’, had them beheaded. Until one day, a handsome servant comes to the palace gate…

Winner of a White Ravens Award.

  • Dutch: De Eenhoorn
  • French: Pastel
  • Italian: Topipittori
  • German: Bohem Verlag
  • Spanish: Barbara Fiore Editora
  • Polish: Wydawnictwo Dwie Siostry
  • Chinese (Simplified): Petrel Publishing House
Front cover for ‘Witchfairy’ – by Brigitte Minne and Carll Cneut – published De Eenhoorn, BelgiumPreorder the English edition

Heksenfee /

Witchfairy

Brigitte Minne & Carll Cneut
De Eenhoorn, Belgium, 2016

Rosemary is bored of being a fairy. She’d much rather be a witch. Much to the disapproval of her mother, she takes off to spend time with the witches in the dark wood. Rosemary thoroughly enjoys her new life as a witch but eventually decides to take the best of both worlds and becomes a witchfairy.

  • Dutch: De Eenhoorn
  • English: Book Island
  • French: Pastel
  • Italian: Topipittori
  • German: Bohem Verlag

Sign up for the Picturebook Makers Gallery