Michael Whelan is one of the best science fiction and fantasy artists in the business. Over his 40-year career, he’s won 15 Hugo Awards, and been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. His art has become iconic, with an instantly recognizable style marked by bright, saturated colors and swirling skies. He’s especially known as a covers artist for books including Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson’s A Memory of Light. (Also, in a fun bit of trivia, he did the album artwork for Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell.)
Since the 1990s, Whelan has mostly retired from commercial commissions, as he’s shifted his focus more on his professional gallery work. But he still does the occasional book project for titles he’s passionate about, including Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. And with the reveal of the cover of the latest Stormlight novel, Oathbringer, Tor has published a look into Whelan’s process of bringing Sanderson’s writing to life.
Part of the process involves a series of monochromatic value studies, which are typically smaller, rougher sketches that let Whelan try out different takes on a concept to get a feel for what the final artwork might look like.
The Oathbringer cover depicts a character magically rebuilding a breached city wall to defend it from a hulking stone giant — while wielding a massive sword, of course.
Like Tor’s earlier dives into Whelan’s process, this is a fascinating look at how designs develop from exploratory sketches to final cover art. For a more complete look at the process (including Whelan’s commentary), check out Tor’s site.
Oathbringer is scheduled to be released in November.