Venli got to watch the thunderclasts awaken.
Among the waiting spirits were two larger masses of energy—souls so warped, so mangled, they didn’t seem singer at all. One crawled into the stone ground, somehow inhabiting it like a spren taking residence in a gemheart. The stone became its form.
Then it ripped itself free of the rock. Around her, the parshmen stumbled back in awe, so surprised that they actually drew spren. The thing loomed over the human forces, while its companion climbed into the stone ground, but didn’t rip out immediately.
Oathbringer, Chapter 115
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, and 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.
After exploring various layout ideas for the book cover, I picked the most likely of the pencil sketches and painted them as monochrome value studies.
Tackling a scene this complex was like piecing together a puzzle. First I put in the elements I knew to be required—Jasnah on the front cover, the Thunderclast on the back cover, room for all the title and author type, and so on—and then built around those elements as best I could.
The first concept below was the one ultimately selected.
I did a small sketch (only 3 inches wide) of the colors I planned for the picture, then went to work on the large and final version. I laid in the general areas of color but decided it wasn’t going well.
Upon consideration I realized the rocks I had painted into the wall were too distracting, so I repainted them in a simpler and– I hope!–less confusing pattern. The rest of it was just trying to get the image to match the picture I saw in my head.
With that, the final cover was beginning to take shape.
Brandon doesn’t elaborate on the formation of the metal which Jasnah soulcasts to shore up the stone wall. But in my mind I saw it as an organic process which, though metallic in texture, would have the appearance of “growing” in to fill the breach, like a stop-motion film of a mold growing or a flower opening. That lead me to think of using fractal patterns to define the growing shape of the metallic wall.
It wouldn’t be a Stormlight cover without dramatic weather. These background studies were simple color experiments. I was playing around with creating lightning effects by painting in an acrylic wash them scribing out the lightning with a sharpened chopstick.
Publishing has gone through some dramatic changes during the years I’ve been working. When I began my career, most books I illustrated were considerably less than 200 pages long. Nowadays a typical Stormlight novel runs over 1000 pages.
As difficult as it is to distill a 175-page manuscript full of strange and wonderful elements into one picture, it is monumentally more so for a Sanderson opus. Which characters should be represented? Which scene captures the feel and breadth of the narrative? How can I differentiate this book while still making it recognizably part of the series to the casual observer? How can I avoid repeating myself after doing hundreds of other book covers?
With all those questions occupying my mind, refinement of the cover proceeded until finally…
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