With The Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time ebook cover, we wanted something that opened the series with a broad historical look. Book two, The Great Hunt, will release November 17th and now it’s time to dive in and the embrace the genre!
I had been noticing Kekai Kotaki’s work for a while and started working with him on a few other projects. I love his expressive, even explosive, brushwork and dramatic sense of light. He’s a lead video game concept artist for ArenaNet’s Guild Wars. (A company that consistently takes over awards for concept art.) Typically concept artists are so specialized that it’s tough to imagine them working on a narrative painting. Not true with Kekai. His work has epic scale, cool costuming, great anatomy, and is all about movement. And, it turns out, he’s a sweetheart to work with.
I mentioned to Harriet McDougal that Kekai is particularly good with depicting creatures so she suggested the cover be a recasting of the print edition of The Great Hunt cover. Trollocs, a wooded landscape, and Rand in full hero pose—you can’t beat that. When I called Kekai with the assignment I was thrilled to see that he was already familiar with the books: “I first started reading the Wheel of Time series in the 7th grade. I have been following ever since, and was saddened by the passing of Robert Jordan before he could finish his epic. I was both excited and nervous when I was contacted to be a part of this re-release project. I hope my art is able to stand up and be a part of this great fantasy series.”
I asked Kekai to “Save As” often so he could share the progression of the painting with us.
These were the four sketches that were not chosen. As an art director, it’s almost hard to look at them now—they would all make great paintings and it’s impossible not to want to see all of them fleshed-out.
This sketch was the favorite pretty quickly. It has a bold diagonal composition rather than a more typical dead-center view and, while scale and detail favors the Trollocs, he manages to maintain attention on the heroes with his use of light and atmosphere. Most of all, I love that he has made the viewer part of the enemy patrol. We are stuck with conflicting feelings of awe and concern for the protagonists.
What follows are a series of shots of the painting in progress. I was excited to be getting these along the way, typically I am time-warped from the above sketch to something much more finalized.
At one point I showed Jason Denzel, of Dragonmount, and Leigh Butler, of Tor.com’s Wheel of Time re-read. They were both excited by the image but reminded me that, if there is ever a problem with any of the depictions of Trollocs, it’s that they lose all of their humanity. When I showed Harriet a close-to-finish version, she said exactly the same thing. Clearly we had a small bit of tweaking to do. It didn’t take much—a faint adjustment to the eyes and forehead—and I think Kekai did a great job of it.
Next up, Donato Giancola on The Dragon Reborn, December 15th.
Previously: The Eye of the World ebook cover by David Grove.
Irene Gallo is the art director of Tor, Forge, and Starscape books and Tor.com.