The beauty of a book cover: An interview with Dan Dos Santos

You cannot judge a book for its cover

It is said you cannot judge a book for its cover, but the truth is that the cover is the first thing that gets your attention while wandering through the bookshelves. Brandon Sanderson himself explained how important a nice illustration can be.

When I come to think how I discovered Sanderson's works, I realize I do have several examples on the topic I would like to share. My first reading was Elantris, published in Spanish by Nova. I remember the cover caught completely my attention  (now I know it was made by Alejandro Colucci). I loved it, and even without reading the sinopsis I knew this novel also included romance, although I knew that Nova publishes science fiction. And this, along with Orson Scott Card's praise made me buy the book.

The next example is about the Mistborn trilogy. It was 2007. I was hunting new reads at my bookshop. A friend of mine told me I should read The Final Empire. He told me it was an awesome book, so I went for it but it had such a scary cover with a man screaming, that I wouldn't dare to buy it. It took him a while to convince me. The book was great, but the choice that the Spanish publishers made back then made it no justice. With time, they rebooted the series, so there's a new gorgeous hardcover edition with Marc Simonetti's covers.


But the book that hooked me forever and got me preordering Brandon's works ever since was Warbreaker. I remember I was visiting Gigamesh, the bookshop I love the most above them all (it's kind of a dark hole, you need all of your energy to scape from the inside, and leave the surroundings). I finished Mistborn and I asked Didac de Prades if there was anything else from the author I could read, and he told me there was nothing left translated to Spanish, but immediately added: "This (and he brought me a Warbreaker book) just came out in English."

Warbreaker had one of the most beautiful covers I've seen. I loved the colors, the composition, and the rainbow-like breath coming out from the girl's mouth. I wondered what was the book about and since it was from Brandon, I directly bought it. I think it is one of my favorites, both cover illustration and story.

It wasn't until we started to create this website that I didn't think much about the artist behind the painting. His name was Dan Dos Santos, and he was astounding. He even had a video showing Warbreaker's cover making off:


Now, Dan Dos Santos is back to the Cosmere! Tuesday 14th of November approaches, and we are all excited with Oathbringer's release (the third book on The Stormlight Archives series). Each day we get to know more and more details about this book that has us all on a hype, since late August the first chapters started to be released weekly in English by Tor publishers. We were amazed with its "double sided" dust cover, where we have Michael's Whelan art on one side, and the map on the other... And thus we started to think... So maybe, there's much more coming for the end-papers. And so it was.

On Friday 20th of October, Tor announced the illustrations for two of the endpapers included within Oathbringer, depicting two figures, which are now confirmed as Ishar and Shalash.

But even though we know him for his pieces regarding the Cosmere, Dan Dos Santos has a really productive and versatile career. Come with us, and get to know him!

The astounding art of Dan Dos Santos

The artist behind Warbreaker's cover and Isharand Shalash endpapers.

Dan Dos Santos is an incredible skilled oil painter, who has worked in a great variety of genres. If you like comics you may have seen his art without noticying (which was my case, and you will have the chance to discover later!), same thing will happen with Magic TCG, fantasy novels, and even with films. While preparing this interview we've been watching several interviews, so (at least from the distance) we can tell you, he seems also such a nice guy! And he has been so kind as to spend some time with us.

COSMERE: Thank you so much, Dan, for spending some time with us. We are delighted to have this chance to talk to you. As we were researching a bit on your career we felt like we could talk with you forever, but I guess we need to make it a bit shorter, so let's say a day! We are impressed with all your artwork, because the first time we noticed you was due to Warbreaker's cover (as indicated above). Then we also learned you are also the one to blame for having us buying the Fables Deluxe Edition! We love the covers, and now we know they're yours too! They are incredible! You started drawing as a kid, as you love comicbooks, and one of the things that you wanted to preserve was the vivid comics to translate them to your oil paintings. How was the artist born? From all techniques, why did you chose oil painting as a main?


COSMERE: We know you actually have worked with several companies, but we're a bit curious, which were your first steps as a profesional illustrator? Which was the first work that started to attract all the attention to you?


COSMERE: We wonder a bit how did you ended up working with Brandon. Did you know his books before this commission was made? Also, as readers we don't have a visual on the "choosing an artista" process. Were you kind of assigned to this cover, or is there a selection of artists from which the writer chooses? And by the way, did your work for Magic TCG had anything to do with that? Because as you may know, he's a huge fan...



Magic: the Gathering

COSMERE: How does the painting process work out? We've learned from your interview with Bobby Chiu back on January 2013 that you do almost all sketching digitally, then the photoshooting process comes, and after that you kind of mix both, and then you project it onto the canvas to start drawing the actual piece you will paint with oils. You also talked about the graph technique to translate the thumbnail to the canvas. We've seen above an example of your painting process, through Warbreaker's making off video, where we can follow a bit how you work. We have a doubt on the photoshooting for this piece. Did you have an actual model?


COSMERE: When imagining the cover, how many skecthes did you make before reaching the final idea? Do you remember what other composition alternatives crossed your mind?


COSMERE: We are all super excited with this new book from The Stromlight Archive that comes out in less more than two weeks, and by now, your paintings for the endpapers is one of the things we are talking the most on Twitter. It's awesome to see the Heralds as you painted them, and now we also know that there are two more from Howard Lyon, Jezerezeh and Vedel. On your Facebook account you wrote: "Thanks to Brandon Sanderson, Isaac Stewart and Howard Lyon for helping and inspiring me to bring some of my favorite characters to life. And to my model, Lexie Sapp who was a trooper through a pretty difficult photoshoot." First thing we would like to ask is just book related, as you mention "some of my favorite characters". We asume you've read The Stormlight Archive, so what's the thing you love the most from this series? And your favorite character? If you coould chose a scene to paint, which will it be and why?


COSMERE: On the other hand, we're curious about how was it to work with Brandon and Isaac? And about you and Howard Lyon, did you get to choose which Herald you were about to paint?, or were they already given?


COSMERE: A bit about the photoshoot. Why did you say it was difficult?


COSMERE: It is true that most of Brandon's fandom may know you for your work for his books, but you've done plenty of illustrations for several companies, and you'va created covers and illustrations for some of the most iconic fantasy series of out time, not just for the Cosmere, but also for Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind, and also beloved Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. We already showed some of your art for Magic: The Gathering. How did you end creating art for them?


COSMERE: As we mentioned on the previous question, we've seen your work for the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Name of the Wind, from Patrick Rothfuss. It's gorgeous. I must confess I found the two illustrations inspired on Art Noveau specially beautiful. Did you choose the scenes? How did you come to mix some of Alphonse Mucha's movement with your art?


The Name of the Wind 10th Anniversary Edition

COSMERE: You also painted covers for lots of comic book series. To mention just some of them: Fables, or the adaptation for Firefly. Personally I must say I love Fables in particular. I remember I started with 1001 Nights of Snow Fall. I instantly fell in love with James Jean art. And I can say it's one of my favorite comics. I really like that there are several artists involved, like Leialoha, Buckingham, Charles Vess or John Bolton... One of the things that usually happens is that you start to buy a series and then if successfull, some years later you get the Deluxe Edition and then you're ******... And you want to buy it all again, like with Sandman, or Astro City... So, one day I was at the bookshop and then I saw the new Deluxe Edition for Fables, with some cover art different from Jeames Jean... And it was yours! I simply love dit. One of the stories I like the most is precisely Lost in Toyland. You did a great job with the cover. Another illustration that drives me crazy is the one for Peter and Max. I wish I had that edition. What was your experience with Fables like?





Fables / Fábulas

COSMERE: You look pretty cool as Malcolm Reynolds! It is great having the chance to read more and come back to Firefly's world. I think we are all still waiting for the day the TV series gets a reboot or sequel comes up. Meanwhile, we can always read the Serenity series you were working on several issues. As a fan, how is it to be part of a project you loved since the old series day?


COSMERE: When we were looking at your profile, it indicates you worked for movies and also for Disney. Could you give us some examples? When talking about Disney, we imagined it was related to the Star Wars franchise, but we're not sure.


COSMERE: Well, as we said on the beginning. we have tons of questions that we would love to ask, but this interview is getting long enough... But before we leave, we have been talking about different projects from yours, and we would love to know, as an artist, are there any differences while planning a project, depending if we're talking about a movie poster, a comic cover and a trade gaming card?


COSMERE: Thank you very much, indeed, for your time. We hope to see your pencils again illustrating the Cosmere, and for sure we will continue to see your work in several comics! Before we leave, is there anything else you would like to share?


The art of Dan Dos Santos: creating the paintings

Taking a view on his working process

So, if you guys enjoyed the article, and are art lovers, maybe you would like to take a look on his creative process. Dan collaborates at Muddy Colors is a fantasy art collective, where professionals share their insights.

There you can find some really nice articles depicting step by step the making off of other works we have mentioned, and some others like a Dresden commission.

Also, check his impressive work for The Name of the Wind 10th Anniversary edition, plenty full of makinf off notes, hints and sketches.

And, if you are a The Wheel of Time lover, this other one explaining the process for th Fires of Heaven illustration, is worth taking a look: