EDITOR’S NOTE: The making of SHALLAN was originally featured on on TOR.com. This is an expanded look behind the scenes at the making of the endpaper illustration with some never before seen images added to Michael’s words. Special thanks to Ben McSweeney for all the assistance and allowing us to post his art! Be sure to check out more of Ben’s art at http://inkthinker.net.
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 a later edition 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.
Unfortunately, my carefully wrought schedule for 2013 was in ruins by the middle of the year. I was afraid I might not be able to complete the second painting in time to be included in the book. This proved a legitimate concern as I delivered the scan of the painting at the last hour, a real squeaker.
Thank goodness for Ben McSweeney, who was my wingman on this project. He provided me with important details I would have overlooked as well as executed a detailed layout based on our first sketches. This saved a lot of time and guesswork, which would have delayed the assignment.
Of course we’ve all seen Ben’s artwork for The Way of Kings, the first volume of the series. I was impressed by his draughting skill and exhaustive knowledge of all things Rosharian. Since his is the “hand” behind Shallan’s actual drawings, I figured there would be no better person to help on this project. Though swamped with work himself, he generously made time in his schedule to give me the information I needed for a jump-start on the painting. Thanks, Ben!
BEN MCSWEENEY: As I recall, Michael and I met at Jordancon in early 2013, and we hit it off well. He reached out to me through Dragonsteel later in the year for some assistance. It’s not something he asks for often, and I was both flattered and privileged to help. I’ve been a fan of his work since I was a kid reading Tad Williams and Stephen King. I jumped at the opportunity.
My work on Stormlight is largely centered around worldbuilding concepts and design. I’m either illustrating something Brandon describes, or providing designs he can use to feed descriptions. In either case, I have to be very careful about what I try to introduce, making logical and functional contributions, and be willing to bend as needed to fit his needs.
I think this made it easier for me to assist Michael, as I wasn’t interested in trying to dictate to him how anything needed to look. I’m just providing suggestions and support that reduces the amount of time he needs to spend exploring these aspects of an already-established world.
For the endpaper illustration, Ben suggested we try to show a sequence of transformation for one type of Rosharian plant form, to illustrate how they unfold like barnacles depending on weather conditions. I thought it was a great idea, so we worked to compose the plants to capture that effect.
He sent one of his floral studies for Shallan’s sketchbook as featured in The Way of Kings. He also included rough thumbnail sketches to get things rolling. I sketched out a few of my own, exploring the scene from different angles. My plant forms were too obviously terrestrial in structure.
At editor Moshe Feder’s suggestion, we initially bounced around the idea of portraying Shallan sketching a scene that appears in the book. Though it would have made a nice painting, I worried that the scene described would end up busy and full of saturated color…like the cover paintings already done for the two books.
BEN: I’m not sure what drove Moshe’s suggestion, but I think that pushed Michael to create the pair of illustrations we ended up following to the end. Mostly I think Moshe’s contribution goes to show the collaborative nature behind a lot of the artwork in The Stormlight Archives. Ideas come from all corners, and we do some of our best work when we work together.
Ben sent me other views, some with Shallan actually drawing. I really liked this second one a lot.
Wishing to move her to the left, I did a sketch in one of my sketchbooks and sent it to Ben. I elected to perch her on a rock ledge overlooking the Shattered Plain. After a bit more discussion Ben went into this detailed scene, which was the main inspiration for the painting.
BEN: The last layout is where things get a little bit interesting. From that draft, Michael asked me a series of detailed questions regarding the areas he highlighted. He wisely made the decision to move the army into the far background. And from there I delivered a final draft.
Michael asked about including a jewelry design, but I think that might have been nixed at Dragonsteel. Shallan doesn’t wear a lot of jewelry and I think there was some concern it would be seen as a fabrial.
The glyph on her outfit is for House Sebarial. The glyph on her bag means Creation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Isaac Stewart, the art director at Dragonsteel, drew the latter glyphs based on the Alethi word for Creation / Creative, which is “rachar.” He planned to canonize whichever version of the glyph Michael used in the painting. All five were possible versions, but Michael didn’t end up using any of them. The top is the glyph they probably would have gone with. Click the thumbnail to see all five.
I thought there should be some hint of battle and war out there in the landscape so his layout drawing included an army and bridging equipment in the near background, all of which looked cool.
At the last minute, though, I decided to leave much of them out so the stuff on the right side didn’t detract overmuch from Shallan as the center of attention. I kept the colors in a more muted (for me anyway…) range.