The Stormlight Archive

Michael Whelan’s Endpapers for Words of Radiance, Featuring Shallan

Tor Books is proud to reveal the endpapers for Brandon Sanderson’s upcoming Words of Radiance, sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Way of Kings! Artist Michael Whelan shares his thoughts on the process of designing the painting and on collaborating with Ben McSweeny. See preliminary sketches from both artists below!


When Irene Gallo proposed a second painting for Words of Radiance, I immediately knew it was Shallan we were talking about. Indeed, like many fans, I had felt that the story was becoming as much Shallan’s 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 did the cover painting I did not have a scene available that would have allowed me to faithfully portray her and Kaladin in a way which worked in the design, so I resigned myself to seeing her be the focus on another edition later in the series. Therefore, I was glad to hear that TOR wanted to go the extra mile in order to give Shallan some page space in the book.

Unfortunately, my carefully wrought schedule for 2013 was in ruins by the middle of the year and I was afraid I might not be able to get the second painting done in time for it to be included in the book. This proved to be a legitimate concern, as it turned out to be a photo finish. I only delivered the scan of the painting at the last hour, a real squeaker.

Thank goodness, then for Ben McSweeney. He was my wingman on this project, providing me with important details I would have overlooked as well as executing a detailed layout based on our first sketches. This saved a lot of time and guesswork, which would have delayed my completion of the assignment. Of course we’ve all seen his artwork for the first volume of this series (The Way of Kings) and 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 no better person I could go to for help on this part of the 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!

At 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.  I elected instead to perch her on a rock ledge overlooking the Shattered Plain, and keep the colors in a more muted (for me anyway…) range. I thought there should be some hint of battle and war out there in the landscape, so Ben’s 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.

Knowing me, however, I’ll probably change my mind and go back to the painting and put the army in after all. The fan in me demands it!


The sketches:

One of Ben’s floral studies for Shallan’s sketchbook, featured in The Way of Kings. For the endpapers illo, Ben suggested that we try to show a sequence of transformation for one type of Rosharian plant form, to illustrate how they unfold like a barnacle depending on weather conditions. I thought it was a great idea, so we worked to compose the plants so as to capture that effect.


VERY rough little thumbnail sketches from Ben, to get things rolling. Based on the first scene idea.


I sketched out a few of my own, exploring the scene from different angles. My plant forms were too obviously terrestrial in structure.


He sent me some other views, with Shallan actually drawing.

I really liked this one a lot.


Wishing to move her to the left, I did a sketch in one of my sketchbooks and sent it to Ben.


After a bit more discussion he went into this detailed scene, which was the main inspiration for the painting.


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