Friday 15 March 2019

Will Staehle and the joy of minimalism

While the Law of Parsimony (aka Occam’s razor aka “the simplest solution is often best”) isn’t a
Will Staehle designs
minimalist covers that
convey a lot with clean
lines and balanced art.
(Image via
perfect analogy for the joy that can found from a simple, elegant piece of artwork, it’s what got us thinking about the highly technical and complex nature of visual arts that are admired by most science fiction fans.

At least, that’s what a review of the past 30 years of works by Hugo-shortlisted artists indicates. For example, it would be hard to describe the efforts of Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme, Julie Dillon, Donato Giancola or Michael Whelan (to name a few) as simple or lacking in detail.

This is not to throw shade on any of these artists (whose work we admire), but rather to note that pretty much universally, the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist category has a bias towards complexity. This unfortunately seems to crowd out certain other styles of art, particularly the work of artists who deftly convey meaning with minimalist constructions.

A prime example is the fact that Will Staehle has yet to receive so much as a nomination, despite more than a dozen years creating lucid book covers for an impressive list of of high-profile science fiction authors including Annalee Newitz, Michael Crichton, Sarah Gailey, Terry Goodkind, Charlie Jane Anders, Stephen King, Sam J. Miller, Ernest
Cline, and more. Both Robert Jackson Bennett and Adam Christopher have called Staehle’s work ‘genius.’ Cory Doctorow has praised him as ‘brilliant.’

Staehle has become the
go-to guy for several
big-name authors.
(Image via
But unlike those working in more ornate – and occasionally rococo – styles that seem to dominate the Hugo Awards, Staehle hews towards the minimalist. He often works in high-contrast blocks of colour that all fall within a select palette – sometimes employing as few as two or three hues. Communicating effectively through art is a high skill, regardless of the piece’s complexity.

Consider the cover for Cory Doctorow’s new four-story collection Radicalized, which takes Staehle’s iconographic approach to its current apotheosis. Creating an iconic representation of themes in each of the stories, he creates a memorable image unassailable in its simplicity and refinement. Staehle’s produced new covers for all of Doctorow’s novels, including an ingenious die-cut dust-jacket for the hardcover of Walkaway (a design which works best if you are looking at a physical copy of the book).

Possibly Staehle’s most iconic cover in recent years was his illustration for V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade Of Magic, which he has written about. Again working with a very small palette, Staehle conveys the dynamism and panache of the story in a balanced and evocative image that easily communicates both the character of the book’s protagonist Kell, and the world-hopping premise of the narrative. They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but in this case Staehle’s art is a large part of why we read it (and we’re glad we did.)

In terms of eligibility for the Hugo Awards to be presented in Dublin this summer, Staehle designed the covers to 2018 releases such as Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Boneless Mercies
(Image via
by April Genevieve Tucholke
, The Outsider by Stephen King, the U.S. edition of Circe by Madeline Miller, the cover of State Tectonics by Malka Older, and the cover of The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander.

Only one quarter of the way into 2019, and this year he’s already crafted covers for Radicalized by Cory Doctorow, The Institute by Stephen King, and Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey. We are almost certainly going to have him on our nominating ballots again next year.

Like all of the creative arts, interpretation and appreciation of visual art is subjective. However, it would be very difficult to deny the talent and inventiveness that Staehle brings to the elements of line, colour, space, light, and shape. We would suggest that he should receive serious consideration for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist.

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