Crossroads of Twilight, volume ten in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, will be available in ebook form on July 20th. In celebration of Jordan’s work, we have commissioned fourteen artists to interpret one of the Wheel of Time books in their own style. (Previous editions can be seen here. The first seven ebooks can be purchased here.)
For this installment, we turn to one of my personal favorite artists, Greg Ruth. (I would brag that I own a few of his drawings, but my mom keeps stealing them.) Greg combines sumi-e’s elegant style and expressive line with a modern narrative sensibility. His work spans all genres and applications—book covers, picture books, comics, advertising, even video animation. It was a pleasure to finally work with him.
With Crossroads, we wanted to show Perrin at his breaking point. After engaging in a despicable act he, in a fit of justifiable rage, finally chooses to throw away his axe of war. The trick was getting the moment right. Attempts to show the action came across a bit cartoony. Instead, we decided to depict the minutes just after. The point was to show what Perrin, in this character-defining moment, was leaving behind.
Striking the right emotional chord through mood and atmosphere would be no easy task. According to artist Greg Ruth, “There’s a time in winter here in New England where it’s early in the woods and the canopy of trees keeps the snow from getting too high on the ground, but it’s cold as hell and so deathly quiet. I loved the idea of trying as best as I could to convey that silence and chill as a kind of indictment on the bloody events that precede this scene. If the idea was to get the moment after the action, then the world surrounding the figure and the axe had to convey the emotion as much or more than anything else. Capturing that particular lighting was tough.”
The story of Wheel of Time is a fabric of profoundly difficult and personal decisions. In the end, Greg Ruth created a moment when a giant hero with the weight of the world on his shoulders is at his own private crossroads.
Here you can follow us through a number of decisions we made throughout the process:
From Greg Ruth:
“These are of course the various sketches… I was basically trying to hit the three major poles of how to approach the cover—the emotional, the actionable, and the narrative versions, mostly on the premise that action tends to want context to give its intent purpose. Or at least that’s how I thought of it.
“This is the final approved sketch where we nailed down the overall piece, though still needing to get the axe right, as you can see…
“This is the underpainting of the final—basically blocking it all out and getting it placed. The pose of figure was, to put it mildly, awful. While the axe was now correct, the tree and landscape was not so much.
“This is one of the process pieces after realizing I wanted to make the figure separate, both because the initial attempts seemed below par, and also in anticipation of changes. The foreground tree was redrawn several times. The tree, while of course merely a tree, was more than that in this case. Getting the right kind of look to it without detracting from the focus on the axe and the figure was difficult and took several iterations and tree drawings to get it closer to the mark. In this case having already decided to apply the figure separately, I attached the landscape alone for a time to better get that particular note down more clearly. I also thought the darkness of the foreground was too much and wanted to add more snow and chill to everything. This is also when I started experimenting with the idea of snow drifting down all around to convey the idea of tears falling.
“And finally, we have the near-to-last version, with better snow but still some major problems with the figure’s emotional delivery and pose, the trees and the sense of snow and cold air that needed to be worked on. The forefront tree is better here, and adding a bit of warm color to it popped it out from the background nicely, but it wasn’t quite rooted enough.
“Also, the blood was removed from the axe, not so much for making it all the more family friendly, but because it seemed more of a horror notion than one of fantasy. The idea is to keep the attention on the emotional violence and aftermath of the act rather than on the grubby realities of the physical act itself. It’s easy to lose sight of that working on a piece so intensely, and this is when you need a fine bit of art direction to come in and remind you to stay on course.”
“At this point, I wanted to make a few tweaks; I thought the sketch had a little more “step” in his step, so we just needed to open up the negative space between his arms and legs to help us define his silhouette. I also thought that extending the roots would give us a little more depth of field. And wanted to get rid of the blood; it seemed to be taking away from the narrative we wanted to express.”
To keep up with all of our Wheel of Time posts, including information on the ebook releases, check out our Wheel of Time Index.
To see more of Greg Ruth’s illustrations and children’s books, please visit his website.
Previous Tor.com interview with Greg Ruth.