When we read a book, it triggers our imagination, and far beyond the words contained, our brain begins to generate all kinds of images. In our mind we see the landscapes, we see the creatures, and we see the characters. We imagine the architecture, the clothes and all kinds of other details.
Some readers possess the ability to transform those ideas into something “real”, they can bring part of their interpretations, transforming them into all kinds of art, through illustrations, crafts or cosplay. And, as it has been demonstrated for a while, the prolific literary universe of Brandon Sanderson, does not leave anyone undaunted.
As you may recall, a few weeks before the campaign for the Mistborn coins was launched, we talked about the Kaladin musical album Kickstarter campaign. At that time, one of the things that caught our attention were the bookmarks, illustrated by Botanica Xu. It was precisely this fact that allowed us to finally meet her, as Michael Bahnmiller, from The Black Piper team, was kind enough to put us in touch.
Botanica Xu is a very active artist on websites such as Deviantart, where she publishes her work inspired by epic fantasy sagas, and… She adores the Cosmere! Personally we can say that she is one of our favorite illustrators, as we have been following the work she published on this website for several years, so we are very happy to have this opportunity. She has created pieces inspired by works such as The Stormlight Archive, Mistborn or Elantris. She is also a great professional who, beyond her role as a fanart creator, works as an editor and translator in her native China.
Let’s get to know her a little more!
COSMERE: Well, needless to say that are completely delighted to have this opportunity to talk to you. We are super grateful to Michael Bahnmiller for connecting us. The Cosmere family around Brandon is awesome! And we have tons of questions! But first of all, we want to know, who is Botanica Xu?
BOTA: Yep this is me ;) I’m called Botanica, Bota for short, if you like. I come from Shanghai, China. With German language and literature as my college major, I work as editor mainly for foreign fantasy/sci-fi books, also doing art and English/German-Chinese translation in my spare time. I’ve been a huge Sanderfan for nearly five years and have been drawing fan art since early 2013. I’m also the translator for Mandarin edition (for mainland, to be clear) The Stormlight Archive (since book two) and 10th Anniversary Elantris and help to maintain the Cosmere continuity in translated versions. In 2015, I founded the Chinese fandom and the Chinese Coppermind wiki under the permission of 17th Shard staff with several other fans, hoping to bring more people into this fantastic fictional universe.
COSMERE: So, you’re not only an artist, but also one of the Chinese editors for Brandon Sanderson…
BOTA: Hmmm, not quite? I don’t work for the local publisher who publishes Brandon’s books, but I do help to support their efforts. So, should this count? ;)
COSMERE: Of course it does! That’s great! We’ve seen some of the Chinese editions and they’re quite impressive.
BOTA: Ahhh, thanks so much for your love! I’m quite fond of them, too.
(CHINESE EDITION GALLERY PICTURES)
COSMERE: How did you first meet Brandon Sanderson’s works?
BOTA: Oooooh this is a long story. I actually met Brandon’s work in January 2013, when I was still in college. The winter break was coming soon and I needed books to tide over those days. So I went to the library, checking out the recommended books section, and… tada! There was a book named Elantris which caught my eyes. And man, the translated title just reads sooooo beautiful and I immediately decided to borrow it, since it was labelled as standalone epic fantasy, even though I knew nothing about the author. At that time, it was one of the best fantasy books I had ever read and I was deeply obsessed. Good thing is, that book contains a promotion page, introducing Brandon’s Mistborn Trilogy under the same publisher, which made me realize, this guy writes tons of awesome stuff and is worth following. So I sort of jumped into the rabbit hole, though completely unaware of those Cosmere references. (Dang. Stupid me.) (BTW I came to learn about Cosmere stuff during my first read-through of The Way of Kings, after discovering the forum and the Coppermind wiki.)
COSMERE: Wow, awesome! So, you started to read Brandon Sanderson on 2013, and at the same time started to create fanart. Can we say both thing are connected, then. We would love to talk a bit about this. Which was your first fan art? (And, on the other hand, now we’re a bit curious about Elantris’ Chinese title. Could you tell us?)
BOTA: Oh man. My first Cosmere fan art is for Elantris, of course ;) (Sorry, no Hrathen at that time.) It looks a bit cheesy now, but still interesting. Note that there’re a few inaccuracies which should be avoided. Sarene actually has grey eyes and Elantrians should be bald and specked.
COSMERE: In Cosmere we not just love literature, but also artworks. We have been Deviantart members for ten years (mainly as spectators), and since we first joined we had the chance to discover many incredible artists, and as far we can see on your Deviant profile, you have been there for the same time, and you have several great pieces inspired in fantasy literature such as the worlds of Brandon Sanderson or Patrick Rothfuss. When did you started to draw?
BOTA: Wow. This. I started to draw when I was in kindergarten. But I’ve never gotten the proper chance to study art or become professional artist. I had to keep it as a secret hobby and it’s been around two decades now.
(BOTANICA’S ARTWORKS GALLERY)
COSMERE: We’re glad you continued with your hobby. During the years we’ve seen incredible artist who started on themselves and they had an impressive progression. We see that on you also! So, you have several social profiles sharing your art inspired in the Cosmere. What is it that attracts you the most from that universe? What is it you feel inspiring?
BOTA: First of all, it’s the freshness and uniqueness Cosmere books present. I’ve been a die-hard fantasy reader since I was little, but what Brandon writes just feels quite different from others books I’ve read. With phenomenal world-building and distinctive magic systems, it makes me feel like living in a new era, not just repeating those traditions and cliches. Personally, I’m specifically in love with Brandon’s anthropologic stroke in his writings, with obvious or implicit references to various cultures on Earth, not just Western-Middle-Age-centric. This is why Stormlight has easily become my all-time favorite series. Roshar is truly beautiful. Rosharan cultures are charming as hell. I’ve learned so much during rereads, about languages, clothing, folk customs, geology, flora & fauna, warfare etc., and all of them have become my art inspirations.
Secondly, it’s the Cosmere. The whole mythology behind the scene intrigues me a lot. The Realmatic Theories are as challenging as always, which hasn’t scared me away but attracted me more and more. And there’s that mysterious Hoid guy. I just can’t explain how much I love him. For art stuff, I dream to draw the line-up of 16 Shards (or: The Cosmere version Pantheon!) one day and it will be the coolest thing ever XD
COSMERE: So since we knew who you are and we can recognize your strokes we confess we were super shocked when we saw you bookmark designs within the Kaladin’s project. It was like, “Oh my god, look! That’s Botanica’s”. How did that happen?
BOTA: I… didn’t know really. I was pretty shocked, too. One day Mr. Bahnmiller just left me a message via Facebook and explained their plan. Incredible! I was greatly flattered because no one has ever invited me to be involved in such a project. It is really a huge honor, for a humble unknown artist like me.
(VIDEO PAINTING SZETH)
COSMERE: And we really love the idea of the artbook, and we’re really eager to have it home. We hope to see more works from Asian artists, as at least I myself have the feeling have a special kind of sensitivity when it comes to the use of the colors and composition, even the strokes feel different and sometimes ethereal, creating such beautiful art. We have such an illustrator wishlist… Are you going to also participate on the artbook?
BOTA: Hmmm I’m not sure if this will be the case. We’ll see =)
(PICTURES OF THE BOOKMARKS)
COSMERE: We think that the project they funded is awesome, and we especially value the effort the team is making. Some days ago we were specially discussing the topic. This is the first Cosmere widening attempt non Scadrial / Mistborn related, and it’s presented under a very original form, translating a story directly to music. What are your thoughts on the project?
BX: The project is pretty cool. I was thrilled when first hearing of it, since probably no one has ever done similar things so thoroughly for Cosmere books. Those stories are full of awesomeness, and deserve to be matched with top-notch epic sounds.
COSMERE: Since nowadays everything seems to be merging (books, movies, music, games…), as an editor, do you think there’s a target for people who loves Sanderson’s books who would be willing to also “feel” the world they’re reading about? As we’re now used to the ebooks, can adding a special soundtrack be kind of the next step in the future? In Spain we already have the case of an author, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, who directly decided to create the music for his books.
BOTA: Sure, I think so. This reminds me of what Graphic Audio is doing, though book soundtracks are likely to convey feelings with more freedom. Guided by the music, already put in the mood, readers can have their own imagination while reading. As fantasy fans, we all love Two-Steps-from-Hell-ish epic music and what KALADIN album achieves really arouses similar sensation.
COSMERE: Oathbringer is just around the corner and we are all on hype mode. We’ve seen you recently sketched a lovely piece on Shalash. You really have a nice style. We can’t wait to see your next illustrations, what’s on your sketch book right now?
COSMERE: Which are your expectations for the third book on the Stormlight Archive? (NOTE: You can write freely, I will create kind of a spoiler box.
COSMERE: Before we leave, we do need to tell you: please, update the Stormlight Kindergarten when you have some time! Anything else you want to share with us?
BOTA: Ahhhhh yes… I’d say I didn’t forget it. I actually drew some figures for Words of Radiance a while ago. Though I’m still considering how to do that better. Let’s just see what will happen next =)
So… For all the Oathbringer hype, Kholin babies in flashbacks for you?
(KHOLIN BABIES PICTURE)
COSMERE: Thank you so much for your time, for exchanging impressions with us, and we hope to talk again soon in the near future. Also, super thank you for exchanging links with us! It’s a great honor to have one of your sites as our first link exchange!
BOTA: You’re very welcome!
(END INTERVIEW MARK)
We hope you enjoyed reading as much we did preparing the interview. Bota is a really kind person.
This has been all for now, but we promise to come back to her in the near future. Meanwhile, don’t forget to check her art through her social media profiles. Her late work is awesome!
And, just in case you liked the bookmarks she created for the Kaladin Album, they are still available for a limited time!