Artist Spotlight: Yasen Stoilov, Bulgarian Cover Artist for Rhythm of War


This is an article from our wonderful friends at Cosmere.es, the Spanish cosmere fansite, translated into English for you to read by Bea. The original article is here, written by the lovely Ysondra. 

As you all know, us fans of the cosmere (and especially Stormlight Archive fans) have been super excited not only about the Way of Kings Tenth Anniversary Kickstarter, (which has passed $6.5 million, something unheard of in Kickstarter’s history), but because after three long years of wait we can finally return to Roshar and reacquaint ourselves with our favorite characters. Rhythm of War is set to come out on November 17th in the US. 

At the moment, we know very little about what awaits in the new book, and we’re waiting anxiously for the early chapters Brandon releases and the chapters released on Tor’s website over the past weeks. But, what we have seen are a few cover announcements and today we have the chance to talk to the artist behind the Bulgarian version of the cover after winning a contest by Artline Studios Publishers with a spectacular painting. And not only this, but thanks to a collaboration between Nova and the Gigamesh bookstore, we get an exclusive edition that has two dust jackets: one with the art done by Michael Whelan (which hasn’t been revealed yet) and this beautiful illustration done by hand by Yasen Stoilov.

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The second dust jacket for Rhythm of War  for the exclusive edition available from Gigamesh, which shows off Yasen Stoilov’s beautiful illustration.

Let’s give him a warm welcome, and read until the end because we’ve got a treat for everyone: a high quality version of the beautiful illustration of the cover of Rhythm of War! And if you like this, don’t forget to reserve your copy from Gigamesh (who only makes deliveries to peninsular Spain). 

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Interview with Yasen Stoilov, Artist behind the Bulgarian cover of Rhythm of War

Cosmere.es: Hey, Yasen! We’re so happy to have you with us today! We have so many questions for you, and we know you aren’t just the artist who made the Bulgarian cover for Rhythm of War, but also someone who has other interesting projects. Could you tell us a little about your background? How did you become an illustrator? 

Hi, and thanks for the opportunity to share my work with your community! 

It’s a cliche, but you could say I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. Choosing to become an artist/illustrator was natural and I come from a family of artists. My father, Boris Stoilov, is an illustrator (you can see his impressive work here, and follow him on Facebook) and my mother is a photographer and a graphic designer. 

Ten years ago, when I was still in university, I had the chance to work for a studio who made video games, Bon Art Studio, where I worked as a concept artist on a few interesting projects such as Sea of Thieves, Dead Rising 3, and Fable Legends (although this, unfortunately, never got released). 

At the moment I worked as Lead Character Designer for Cinemotion, where I create monsters... well, the concepts for the monsters :)

Cosmere.es: We’ve given a close to your portfolio, and one interesting aspect that is different from other artists that focus on fantasy is that you seem to prefer the post-apocalyptic genre and we’ve also found some work in the art nouveau style. You also like to paint in color as well as grayscale. What are your favorite themes when you go to make new illustrations? 

I’ve always been interested in exploring different visual styles. It’s something really useful in my work because one day I need to draw realistic zombies and the next adorable cartoon style animals. 

I think that this helps me build my creativity, something as important as my drawing abilities. I’m glad that you’ve seen the post-apocalyptic characters! I’m a huge fan of “Mad Max” and I also love the styles of Fallout 1 and 2, so I’ve always been interested in exploring a universe in this style. The post-apocalyptic drawings in my portfolio form part of a personal worldbuilding project which combines this savage vision alongside fantasy elements. I’m working with a writer, and I hope to launch something in the future. Fornow, it’s just something I experiment with in my free time. 

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Cosmere.es: I remember seeing an orc and it made me think in RPGs, Warhammer, or World of Warcraft. We’ve also seen some characters and scenes from Dune. What are your favorite games, movies, or books? What inspires you? 

When I was young, I spent a lot of time playing classics like Heroes of Might & Magic, Diablo, and Warcraft, and reading authors like Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Mikhail Bulgakov. I can say that these writers have influenced not only my visual growth, but also my overall perception of the world. 

I adore Dune and the lore Herbert creates, and I can’t believe that such a complex universe comes from the mind of one man! I can’t wait for the new Dune movie directed by Denis Villeneuve. 

To make things short, I’d say I’m a fan of directors that have a unique and creative visual style like, for example, Terry Gilliam, Guillermo del Toro, David Lynch, and Tim Burton. And Studio Ghibli movies!

I think that every small fragment of pop culture can inspire a new idea. I like to say that we’re living in an important moment for fans of fantasy, and the variety is unlimited. 

Yasen Stoilov - Dune - Alia Atreides.jpgYasen Stoilov - Dune - Muad_dib.jpgYasen Stoilov - Dune - Leto Atreides.jpg

Cosmere.es: I know you’ve collaborated with Paizo  making art for Pathfinder, which is one of my favorite role playing games. How did you start working with them?

I sent them my portfolio and clearly they liked it! :)

Now I’ve been working with Paizo for two years, and you can find the main part of the work I’ve done for them in the Bestiary 1 and 2 for Pathfinder Second Edition. 

Cosmere.es: Up until now, how many illustrations have you done for them? 

I’ve done some 30 characters and 8 interior illustrations for different adventure books. The truth is that I really enjoy working with their content, and I hope to continue doing more illustrations. 

Yasen _ Boris Stoilov - Pathfinder - High Sea.jpg

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Cosmere.es: Before we talk about your impressive illustration that you made for Artline’s contest, we’d like to get an understanding of fantasy literature and science fiction in Bulgaria, if you could tell us a little about that. Are they popular genres? Are there Bulgarian authors we don’t know about, or would you say the industry mostly focuses on authors that seem to be popular in the US? 

The Bulgarian fantasy and science fiction market is expanding. Here we love fantasy and all the famous titles, from classics to recent publications. There are some specialized publishers that offer opportunities to Bulgarian writers. Sanderson also has a huge fan base given the small size of the market. :)

In the last two years they’ve published a few novels like Софийски магьосници (Wizards of Sofia) by Martin Kolev, which is a series set in the Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital), and the Indor series written by B.N. Dobrec which has an absurd/comical fantasy tint in the style of Terry Pratchett. Unfortunately, I don’t know if there are translations to other languages. 

For those interested in comics, I strongly recommend Jack Erridon by Konstantin Vitkov, a series that you can already find in the North American market. I think we have artists who are talented enough to have an impact on a global scale. 

Cosmere.es: When I think about the style you use to bring portraits to life and I compare it to the illustration you sent in for the contest for the Rhythm of War cover contest in Bulgaria, they seem like completely different styles. Did you have to overcome any challenge when you set out to paint this scene. 

For me, landscapes always present a big challenge because I’ve generally dedicated myself to character art, but the Shadesmar setting was too fantastical and supernatural and was a pleasure to work on it. 

I wanted to create a coherent image which had a nice composition, but also kept in mind the design for the cover and the elements that includes (titles, barcodes, etc), something that was new to me but turned out well in the end. 

Cosmere.es: I suppose Artline provided some guidelines during the contest. Could you tell us about those and your with the contest? 

The guidelines were fairly brief so the artists had a lot of freedom. They asked for the scene to take place and Shadesmar and that it either depicted Shallan by herself (or with Adolin) surrounded by crystalline trees. They also described a storm, but given that it takes place in Shadesmar, I couldn’t see it as a normal storm. Because of that, I opted for this sort of distorted sky, inspired mainly by the Northern Lights. 

Cosmere.es: Obviously artists each follow their own creative process. Could you tell us about your approach to this illustration which won the contest? What were your references to paint the trees and the Shadesmar landscape as well as the characters? 

I had to research the setting and characters a bit. Luckily, Brandon’s fandom is enormous and has a lot of content creators on YouTube like podcasts, and articles that share information about this universe. 

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Reference board used by Yasen Stoilov to create the cover illustration for Rhythm of War.

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Cover of the Bulgarian edition of Rhythm of War by Yasen Stoilov.

As I’ve mentioned, the sky was inspired by the Northern Lights in Norway as well as the psychedelic colors of the interior pages of the Sandman Overture comics by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by JH Williams III. 

For the rock formations, I looked at different volcanic formations and serrated rocks, but I gave them more shine because they are to be made of a material like obsidian. 

The trees were a challenge because they weren’t described in detail. I tried 3 or 4 variations before I established the final design. At the beginning, they were just large crystals, but I thought if they stayed like that, no one would call them trees, so I moved on to an idea with a large base crystal and smaller crystals like leaves. I experimented with different sizes for the leaves before I worked on the final version. 

I also started with an image with much more saturated and brighter colors, but at the ends I reduced them and it created a more extravagant and mysterious image. :)

And in reference to the characters, I know this isn’t the first time Shallan has been in Shadesmar, so I didn’t want her reaction to be exaggerated. I used the marvelous representation by Michael Whelan as inspiration, but I adapted it to work with my style. The clothing is partially inspired by the game The Order: 1886. The general sensation I was looking for was one of anticipation and wonder. 

Cosmere.es: Do you plan to create more paintings inspired by Brandon’s books or other authors in the future? 

I hope that Artline is content with the result for Rhythm of War and it would be cool to work on future covers for the Stormlight Archive :) While I was researching for this cover, I also came across information about Mistborn and Vin. I’d love to draw her, but first I have to read the books to do her justice. Truthfully, you all can take a look at the Bulgarian covers done by the talented Todor Hristov. 

Cosmere.es: What can you tell us about your current and future projects? 

In addition to the work I do for the studio, I’ve been working on the monster designs for the movie Tremor: 7. I work with various indie developers (both video games and tabletop games), and I’m delighted to be collaborating with Yellow Madhouse Studio, who are currently working content inspired by slavic mythology for DnD 5th edition. They will launch a Kickstarter at the end of July and I hope it gives them some confidence because that team has some great ideas. 

I have been doing commissioned illustrations for DnD for four or five years and I really enjoy creating my clients’ character images that they’ve made with care and love for their DnD sessions. 

Cosmere.es: Which social media sites can we follow you on to continue enjoying your art? 

I’m really active on my Instagram and Artstation profiles. Unfortunately, half of my work is under confidentiality agreements, but I try to show parts of it when I can. Additionally, at the end of August I’ll update my galleries in Displate and Inprint, if anyone is interested in prints of my work. 
Cosmere.es: Thank you so much for your time, Yasen! It’s been great speaking with you. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we say goodbye? 

It’s been a pleasure! Thank you for this interview. I’m very happy with the positive feedback Sanderson fans have had for the cover art for Rhythm of War. At the moment I’m almost done with The Way of Kings and I’m enjoying it a lot so you can say you’ve gained another cosmere fan. :)


Yasen has been very kind and shared the high quality version of the file for whoever wants to download it and enjoy it. 

You can download the image here

If you like the artwork, make sure to visit him on social media and tell him thank you! 

Edited by Chaos

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