EDITOR’S NOTE: Tragically author Robert Jordan died in 2007 after struggling with a rare blood disease. Fans feared his work would go unfinished, but his widow and longtime editor Harriet McDougal enlisted author Brandon Sanderson to complete The Wheel of Time based on notes left by Jordan.

With the publication of A MEMORY OF LIGHT, which debuts at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, Jordan’s signature series stands complete, spanning 14 books (plus a prequel) with sales exceeding 44 million copies worldwide.

The publisher commissioned Michael Whelan to illustrate the last cover after Darrell Sweet, cover artist for the series since it began in 1990, passed away. Harriet McDougal said of Whelan’s bold vision of Rand al’Thor, “that is the Rand I have waited to see for twenty years.”


My approach to A MEMORY OF LIGHT was dictated by unfamiliarity with the series. Not having read The Wheel of Time books, I focused on the scene provided and the characters therein while also keeping in mind that this book was the culmination of many years of reading for devoted fans.

It seemed best to start with the focus of the painting: Rand himself.

My initial sketches explored the pose he might adopt as he entered the dark confines of the cave. I attached light sticks to a wooden bokken and descended a flight of stairs with the lights off, trying to get a feel for how he would be holding the sword to light his way into darkness. (Since early in my career, I’ve found a kinesthetic sense of the figure’s pose is helpful before attempting to recreate it in it’s variations.)

With an idea of the drama and abstract design qualities I felt had to be part of the picture, I went back to my drawing board and sketched out poses that might work. These started as scribbles on waste paper which soon transitioned to line drawings on a short stack of Yupo paper I had.

wg variations were either sprayed with fixative and painted on (so I could better evaluate their fitness for the task) or scanned into a digital file, printed, and painted over on watercolor paper with the line drawing underneath as my guide.




After I had a set of poses that offered possibilities, I set about visualizing the cave entrance, both from the inside and without. For these I primarily used pages from a 9″ x 12″ pad of Fredrix canvas, which I find handy for quick studies.

The interior scenes were interesting but I was especially taken with the idea of showing the cave entrance from the outside. The fracturing in the rock surrounding the cave, I felt, could work as a suggestive metaphor for the tentacles of dark power emanating from the evil forces within.




I kept painting compositional approaches—from inside the cave and outside it. Soon they littered the floor of my workplace. It was hard to step anywhere without treading on one. Of course, having all these alternatives didn’t make my choices any easier!




I re-read the manuscript to reacquaint myself with the feeling and drama of the scene described.

I questioned whether to include all the characters in the scene or only the two women who actually descended into the cave with Rand. Portraying all the characters outside at the mouth of the cave would clutter up the composition too much; the background itself was already too busy to read well.

I abandoned the approach outside of the cave in favor of scenes from within the cave, featuring Rand and his two female companions following behind.




My attention then was devoted to featuring Rand front and center on the front cover. Having examined all the previous Jordan covers, I was aware that there hadn’t yet been a close-in portrayal of Rand. I felt it might be a welcome change of pace for the readers, especially in this final volume of the series, to have him thus singled out for attention and decided to try to make that happen.




I digitized all the existing cave and figure visualizations I had accumulated. In Photoshop, I played around with combining them in ways that might work. On my studio laptop, I set up a slideshow of the more appealing approaches and painted the figures selected into the backgrounds I had chosen. These I sent to Irene Gallo at TOR books for selection as a cover approach.

Some were more highly developed than others—I learned long ago that the powers that choose such things tend to favor more finished concepts than looser ones—so naturally I tended to favor the concepts I was most interested in developing into a full scale painting.

TOR selected an approach that was essentially the same as what ended up on the cover, only the version I had shown them was much looser (of course) and painted in monochrome (browns and blacks), not in full color.



I saved pinning down the color scheme until just before beginning the painting. My usual practice is to paint many small abstract color treatments. Each color sketch here was 3″ x 4.75″, and I did 8 of them in all.

Deciding between the different options was extremely difficult as they all looked like viable to me. In frustration, I seriously considered pinning them to the wall and throwing a dart. But instead I brought them to Audrey, and as usual she helped me make up my mind.

While talking with her, I recalled how much I enjoyed the blue background in my cover painting for A Princess of Mars many years ago. I came around to thinking I’d really enjoy revisiting that territory and voila! The color scheme evolved from the one on the lower right.



To view progressive shots of the painting in development, go to the “Memory of Light” cover reveal on (May 3, 2012). Listen to a sample of the audio book narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading.

About the author


Michael Whelan (Michael Whelan)

Since 1980, Michael Whelan has been one of the world’s premier fantasy and science fiction artists. He is currently working full time on his fine art paintings, but in the past three decades he has created more than 350 book and album covers for authors and artists like Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen King, the Jacksons, Sepultura, and MeatLoaf.
Read more on Michael’s Biography page.

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  • shanerebenschied

    Amazing process. Thank you very much for sharing it. The final is amazing.

    • Michael Raymond Whelan

      Thanks for all the nice comments! I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

      • Ricardo Carbajal Moss

        Dear Michael. I like your art work more than the fine images for other peoples writing. Now in your art life and showing in Trees Place Gallery I think your mind will take you to worlds where artist live.

  • TwiztedZero

    My thanks Michael for the fantastic cover art, as always your artwork blows me away.

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  • Awesome! I loved seeing some of the other preliminary concepts. Very interesting. Beautiful art!

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  • I LOVE THIS! Finally a great cover and picture of actually Rand! It makes me so happy to see a good cover! This is better then the part 1 of the “Geat Hunt” book covers for the Young Adult versions of the Wheel of Time. However, I only thing I have to say, is that isn’t what I thought what Nyneave Al’Meara would look like. Face, skin tone,and where is her braid? :S

    • Thanks, Sarah. Nynaeve lost a good length of hair in Towers of Midnight. At the end of the book, the text indicated it was only long enough to fall to her shoulders. Editorial direction from Harriet McDougal, was that in AMOL it wouldn’t be long enough to braid.

      My personal feeling is that since Nynaeve is beyond her block and has finally gone through testing to become Aes Sedai, she’s not the same young woman that left Emond’s Field. She no longer needs that braid to tug on.

      That being said, I think her hair color should be darker. Not sure about skin tone. Was there ever a textual reference on that? She’s described as being slender, short and somewhat pretty. I’m not sure if Jordan or Sanderson ever got more detailed than that.

  • Rand looks great here

  • Charlie

    The final version is definitely the best. Love it.

  • Thanks! Beautiful job!

  • Bobbyyyyyy

    Awesome. Only critique would be that the sky outside is far too nice. The book describes it as churning dark clouds all the time, this looks like a nice summer evening. 😀

    • Doesn’t Rand blast a blue sky hole above him throughout the final few books? I don’t remember it saying in the book that the gloom of the Dark Ones territorial weather overcame this ability, but I might have missed it, I have only read it the one time, so far

    • MRW

      Hi, Michael here. RE: the sky: as the book hadn’t been written yet when I did the cover [!], I only had a first draft description of the scene to work from. [ I only found out about the eclipse in the sky after I was well on my way into rendering the concepts, for example]. One last thing: I wanted to keep the sky light so there would be enough contrast for the figure to “pop out” on the front cover. All that being said, however, I will concede that if I were to do another cover for this book I’d make it less saturated and more somber in color overall.

  • Thanks for sharing! I love the cover!

  • Yes, I used to read book that only had Michael Whelan covers 😀 I admit, I found the style of “Memory of Light” so old/outdated. I quickly realized that opinion was coming from the recent trend of easily photoshopped covers. This was ART. Princess of Mars blue and orange = so retro! Luv it. Man, I this takes me back. Let me dig up his “Art of Michael Whelan” collection and oggle his work again.

  • shadowisp

    I was so happy when i saw the book on the shelves, and your art on the cover. It’s about time this series had a well illustrated cover. I was sick of looking at stunted mal-proportioned limbs. I especially like Rands face, very stalwart and determined. Thanks for sharing the process!

    Moirane is bang on. Nynaeve is really close, I just thought she was shorter than average, and slightly more buxom than the other girls. Since jordan commented on her bosom quite alot. heh. the clothes are great though!

    • Moultani

      Well Nynaeve is shorter than average, but Moiraine is short for a cairhainian who are characteristically short. I agree with the surprising lack of chest but she did start hiding it after the whole getting married thing.. maybe it’s just the dress.

  • FromTheWest

    Amazing job, you channeled the true likeness of Rand al’Thor to perfection! Wish you could go back and to all of the covers.

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