Well, it’s now months into 2021 and I thought we should get to another installment of “Leftovers and Palette Gremlins” before any more time slips by.
No matter what larger projects I happen to be working on, I can’t seem to turn off my brain. I’ll be moving through the studio when a shape seen from the corner of my eye suddenly pops into my head and demands expression. Frequently what I “see” is an alien or a face and that gives rise to spaceships, landscapes, and other flights of imagination.
When this creative spark leads to a new and unplanned work, it feels like a gift.
The anticipation that builds up to the release of a new Sanderson novel is enough to give me the collywobbles if I pay much attention to it. Expectations run higher with each of these long awaited events.
Fortunately TOR and Brandon have bent over backwards to make my job as manageable as possible. I usually defer to their sense of what’s appropriate for the book, for example, in selecting potential scenes for the cover, which still leaves room for interpretation and expression while simplifying my work quite a bit.
For the cover of Oathbringer, we centered on a scene where Jasnah confronts the invading army. A giant has smashed a breach in the city wall, and Jasnah is called upon to restore it. After dispatching several invaders with her Shardblade, she covers the gap with a brassy wall of magical metal. It’s a visual scene in which I saw a lot of possibilities for good images.
When Irene Gallo proposed a second painting for Words of Radiance, I immediately knew it was Shallan we were talking about. Like many fans, I felt the story was becoming as much hers as Kaladin’s; she merited equal representation in the book’s design, as far as it was possible to do so.
At the time I started the cover painting, I did not have a scene available that would allow me to portray her and Kaladin faithfully, so I resigned myself to focus on her in another edition later in the series. I was glad to hear that TOR wanted to go the extra mile in order to give Shallan space in this book.
As with any Brandon Sanderson book, there’s just too much content to distill such a complex tapestry into one image. Having such a rich world of possibilities is overwhelming: a well delineated but diverse cast of characters, strange yet compellingly natural flora and fauna, multiple story threads weaving from page to page…how does one choose what to present? It seems as if any choice will be wrong, for having to leave something else out that calls to be presented to a potential reader. Nonetheless, a choice must be made.
When I received the manuscript from TOR, I was somewhat dismayed that it was 1400 pages. Given the mood I was in, I felt that it would be tough sledding to work my way through a such massive fantasy epic.
As it turned out, I was soon hooked and lost in the world Mr. Sanderson so skillfully realized. It helped that the writing had a rich cinematic quality that brought images of scenes, characters and creatures to my mind as if I were watching a movie or immersed in a Myst-style virtual reality adventure.
Leftovers are little spur-of-the-moment doodles or sketches created from paint left over from a work in progress. Most of these quickies end up in the trash, but some are kind of cool on their own and others have lead to full scale paintings.
I’ve been doing this since my art school days: THE PEEPER came from the paint left over from a piece done for my first professional portfolio.
Palette Gremlins are small creations found in random shapes, usually paint on a palette or the mat board I use to protect my drawing table. Often what I see is an alien or a face, but PASSAGE: THE RED STEP was suggested by shapes in the over-spray left from a complex airbrushing session.
In either case, when they spark an idea that leads to a larger work, it feels like a gift from my Muse! The point of it all, however, is to play with some paint — and see what happens.
Anne McCaffrey loved Michael Whelan’s covers—and so did the fans.
One of the things that sets Michael Whelan above some other cover artists is that he reads the books before he illustrates them, and that brings a level of detail to his covers that really makes them shine.