EDITOR’S NOTE: The following are answers to questions posed to Michael Whelan for the JordanCon bulletin. JordanCon V is taking place this weekend, April 19-21 in Roswell Georgia. Michael Whelan is the Artist Guest of Honor. Also appearing are Brandon Sanderson, author of A Memory of Light and The Way of Kings, and Harriet McDougal, editor of The Wheel of Time.
You have been recognized at some of the largest popular culture conventions in the country. What are your expectations of a smaller convention like JordanCon?
I’ve been going to conventions of all sizes for many years now, though I usually only make it to one or two a year. At smaller ones I generally expect to meet interesting people, have some enlightening and informative discussions, make new friends, sell some artwork, and see a place I haven’t been to before. Whether large or small, I usually come home a little hoarse and needing to catch up on some sleep!

Can you describe your studio space?

My studio space used to be a home office for the man who built our house. He was a contractor. Most of the rooms are small, unfortunately, but I have one larger room that is big enough for me to keep a couple of easels in for my larger work. Since I always seem have a number of projects going on at any one time, the place is usually a mess: reference materials, sketches, layouts on acetate or tracing paper, and all the paints, palettes and other gear are scattered about so I can find them as I need them. Every once in a while it gets to a point where I feel it is making things more difficult than I can stand, whereupon I’ll do a general cleanup.

Since I work both in acrylics and oils I try to keep the media confined to separate areas in my studio so the paints and brushes intended for each medium don’t get mixed up. I do most of my acrylic painting—and all my illustration work—in a small room that is about 8′ x 10′. One wall is taken up with a vent hood from an industrial-type air handler that insures a constant flow of air out of the room when I am using a spray gun or airbrush.

I have speakers in all the main rooms of my studio, since I am usually listening to music or audiobooks while I’m working.

You’ve said in the past that you created six different concept pieces for The Way of Kings. Can you tell us about the ones that weren’t selected? Were there themes or images you plan to revisit in future Stormlight Archive volumes?

Good question! For each of the hundreds of book cover illustrations I’ve done in the past 30-odd years, there have been from 2 to 22 alternate concepts done which were not selected. In rare cases the concepts were general enough, and finished enough, to allow them to work as artwork for another book or an album cover. Mostly, though, my illustrations are so tightly fitted to the story that they aren’t suitable for uses outside the one they were originally intended for.

In the case of a serial set of books, however, the opposite can be true. For example, I did the cover paintings for many of the YEAR’S BEST HORROR STORIES collections published by DAW Books from 1970s through the 1990s. It often happened that an idea not selected one year would be picked in a subsequent year, so it was well worth me hanging onto them and resubmitting them.

This may well be the case for Brandon Sanderson’s STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE books, though I doubt it. While it’s true I came up with several cover concepts for the first book, I suspect that each succeeding book will be so packed with interesting elements and image possibilities that I won’t be content to simply recycle something done for the first volume.



THE WAY OF KINGS was so vast in scope that it seemed almost impossible for me to try to encapsulate such a rich and complex story within a single image. I was torn between the different characters and story lines woven into the book, so i did sketches of different aspects of the story to try them out and help me decide.

After a short period of exploration, however, I found myself most drawn to the Shattered Plain and the storms which play such an important role in the story. Since i knew the Brandon would be writing other books in the series I decided to devote the cover image to an overall view of the setting, giving primacy to the environment itself rather than focus on one particular character or another. It was hard to do, for Brandon invests his characters and their attributes with a wealth of original detail that begs to be realized visually. But that can be done in illustrations on future volumes…if I can wait that long!

Are there any other pieces you’re working on that you’re particularly excited about?
Oh, I’ve always got things going on that I’m excited about! I have three easels in my larger room and each one has a painting on it that I’m close to finishing. They are all gallery pieces, not illustrations. I do have a fourth piece in the room, an oil painting that I consider an illustration even though it wasn’t commissioned and is not based on a particular story. It grew from a small practice sketch i did years ago and then forgot until I found it in a drawer two months ago. I want to finish it up so i can show it at the SPECTRUM event in Kansas City this May.

Brandon Sanderson and Michael Whelan

Author and Artist Meet at JordanCon V

Michael Whelan began work on the 1400 page manuscript for The Way of Kings back in 2009 and was immediately captivated by the originality of Brandon Sanderson’s writing.

Whelan will soon begin work on Words of Radiance, book 2 of The Stormlight Archive and his third cover for Sanderson, but the artist and author hadn’t met until the Thursday preceding JordanCon V. The epic meeting documented in the photo here came courtesy of Joel Phillips.

Pin It on Pinterest

Like this post?

Share with your friends!