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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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Dec 6th, 2011
For those who do not know, Darrell Sweet—illustrator of all of the Wheel of Time covers—has passed away.
The first of his covers I can remember seeing was his beautiful cover for The Eye of the World. I'm sure it wasn't actually the first, however. Mr. Sweet was one of the premier fantasy artists for many years in the business. I have a healthy appreciation of what he accomplished, and I'm not sure many new readers realize just how influential and important he was as an illustrator.
We've gone far more realistic these days in fantasy art than Darrell's style was complimentary toward. However, when I first got into fantasy books, the covers were not like what we had today. The genre was still in its infancy, and fantasy illustration was equally youthful. Publishers were still trying to figure out how to illustrate it. We usually either got conceptual covers like the sf ones you can find on this thread or, far worse, the dreaded woman in a chain mail bikini—a trope I consider downright stupid in a genre almost universally populated with strong female protagonists.
(Note that I don't intend this as a dismissal of Frazetta or Vallejo. Though I wouldn't consider myself a fan of that style, often their art was on the right books. A Conan cover SHOULD have art like that. However, this style (as seen in this link) was even prevalent on things like the Pern books, where it didn't belong.)
For more research, look through this whole archive of fantasy and sf covers, many from that era. That was the sort of thing we were dealing with. Grim, dour, oiled up, or silly was the norm. With that in mind, compare what Darrell brought to us.
Into these realms, Darrell's artwork was a breath of fresh air. He's beautiful with colors, his creatures are fantastic and fanciful, and he gets across a truly magical and wondrous feel to his art. When Mr. Sweet came along, that's when fantasy illustration started to change. Now, a lot of Wheel of Time fans like to gripe about inaccuracies in the Wheel of Time book covers. They have that luxury because we, as a genre, have seen huge strides in illustration over the last two decades. However, it would be unwise to dismiss the illustrators who—through their majestic use of imagery and color—lifted us up to this point.
Sir, I picked up The Eye of the World in large part because of your wonderful cover, which is a true masterpiece that I would put up beside any other piece of fantasy art. You gave us beauty, wonder, and magic. You will be missed. Rest in peace.
Wetlandernw from the Tor.com reread offered some insight into the cover DKS was working on, from her recollection of a conversation she had with Brandon at a signing.
In a conversation at a signing (14 September 2010) the subject of the cover art came up. My recording of the conversation got wiped out by a certain 9-year-old, so I can't give the exact wording, but he said something like this. Mr. Sweet needed something to work with, to get started on the Memory of Light cover art, so Harriet went to Brandon and asked if he had any suggestions. He immediately thought of a particular event or scene which hadn't yet been written, but of which he had a pretty good mental image. He wrote up a 3-4 page description of the scene for her; she liked it and passed it on to DKS. At the time of my conversation with him, he had seen (what I now realize was) the concept art, and he loved it. It was, in his opinion, the best in the series. With the awareness that Brandon has always liked the DKS art, it seemed like a pretty high recommendation. It also made me really want to see it—both the art itself, and the scene Brandon thought would be the perfect cover for the final book.