Michael Whelan is one of the world’s premier painters of imaginative realism. For 40 years he has created book and album covers for authors and musicians like Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Brandon Sanderson, the Jacksons and MeatLoaf. His clients have included every major U.S. book publisher, the National Geographic Society, CBS Records, and the Franklin Mint.
A graduate of San Jose State University with a BA in Painting and a President’s Scholar, Michael went on to attend the Art Center College of Design also in California, but he dropped out to accept his first book cover assignment. He soon became known for his dedication to bringing an author’s words to life and Whelan covers dominated the science fiction and fantasy field throughout the 1980’s and 90’s. He was largely responsible for the realistic style of genre covers of that era, and his stunning color and composition have influenced many artists to this day. He continues to do cover art for bestselling authors, but since 1995 he has also pursued a fine art career. His non-commissioned works are in established collections throughout the world.
Michael Whelan has published 4 art books as well as numerous limited edition prints, posters, calendars, and licensed products such as greeting cards, t-shirts and sculptures.
Michael Whelan was born June 29, 1950 to William and Nancy Sloet Whelan in Culver City, California. He has two sisters: Lorie is a nurse practitioner and Wendy is a research biochemist. On his mother’s side, Michael is related to the classic painter Peter Paul Rubens and to Samuel F.B. Morse. Morse is best known as the inventor of the Morse Code, but he was also a talented and prominent portrait painter and was a founder of the National Academy of Design. The Von Sloet family is listed in the Dutch Book of Peerage.
Michael lives in Connecticut with his wife Audrey Price, who manages MichaelWhelan.com. They have two children: daughter Alexa has a PhD from CalTech and is a research Biologist in New York City and son Adrian is working on a PhD in Astrophysics.
Both of Michael Whelan’s parents grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. His father Bill was the son of an Irish-born Boston police officer and of a tough “stage mother” who pushed her children to work in vaudeville. Bill managed to escape the stage, but he was a restless soul who at 16 ran away from home with a plan to join the Canadian Tank Corps at the start of WWII. Refused because of his age, he went back to school and later enlisted in the US Marines. During his tour of duty in the Pacific he contracted malaria and while recuperating in San Diego, he fell in love with California.
He returned home to Newton to marry Michael’s stunning mother Nancy, the daughter of a prominent Dutch landscape architect. Nancy was an occasional model who at one time posed for comic artist Al Capp. The couple lived in New Jersey while Bill attended Princeton on the GI Bill, but after graduation they relocated to Los Angeles where Michael was born.
Bill worked as a taxi driver and even an Arthur Murray dance instructor before securing a top-secret position with Lockheed-Martin. The family moved a lot, sometimes living in towns just for the summer. Michael went to 5 elementary schools, 3 junior highs and 4 high schools in California and Colorado. One of the Whelans’ most memorable homes was near Vandenberg Air Force Base. There Michael was often awakened in the middle of the night with his bed rolling across his bedroom floor from the vibrations of missile launches. He saw many rockets lift off and some spectacular explosions – things that would inspire his work in the future.
The Whelan family wasn’t close, but his father was an avid reader and an amateur cartoonist who decorated letters to his mother and the family scrapbooks with his art. They went to the popular science fiction movies of the day, and even at the age of 5 Michael can remember drawing aliens and spaceships that he had seen on film. Since they moved so frequently Michael was often without ready friends, so he passed the time by reading comic books and exploring his father’s collection of science fiction books and magazines. These inspired more drawings.
It was the early 1960’s and along with science fiction movies and TV shows, he was particularly fascinated by UFOs. Every time they would move, he would go right to the local library to see if they had any flying saucer books he hadn’t read yet. He still remembers the Dewey Decimal Number then assigned to UFO books – 629.1388. He drew monsters, UFOs, and heroes so well that other kids were impressed with his artwork, and this became a way for him to make new friends. In high school he was part of a rock band and did psychedelic posters for school dances, illustrations for the year book, and other school publications.