Classic Science-Fiction Illustrators (Part 1) – Jim Burns
To celebrate ten years of Sci-Fi-O-Rama I thought it would be poignant to reacquaint you with some of the most popular artists we’ve featured through the decade.
Here then is the first part of a new series featuring a selection of genre pioneers synonymous with the pre-digital ‘Golden Age’ of Sci-Fi Illustration. These are artists that were most prolific – though not exclusively – during the 1970s and 1980s, together they’ve captured and inspired the imagination of millions.
In no specific order let us begin with Welsh maestro Jim Burns…
Jim Burns (born in Cardiff, April 1948) has enjoyed an extremely prolific career dating back to the early 1970s. During these forty years and more he’s produced cover and interior art for literally hundreds of Science Fiction and Fantasy titles including work for authors such as George R. R. Martin, Frank Herbert, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett to name but a few.
Above: ‘Spaceport’ from Harry Harrison’s book ‘Mechanismo’ (image via SKI-FFY)
Burns traditionally used acrylics to weave his magic, and a large set of reference material/models to generate such lusciously detailed spectacles. As with all the best Science Fiction Illustrators, he’s master of multi-layered extreme detail, this is demonstrated above with each characters costume, poise and hairstyle a story within itself.
Also, note the delta-winged craft outside, styled with an echo of 70s fighter jets. This homage is hardly surprising due to Burns’s prior career as a trainee RAF pilot, where which he racked up 146 hours of flying time. Something quite unique on an artist’s résumé I’m sure you’ll agree.
As with several of the other artists to be featured in this series, Burns was one of the key contributors to the legendary Terran Trade Authority series. TTA, for those not in the know, is a collection of large-format Illustrated Sci-Fi books first published back in 1978. The vivid universe they describe presents a generally optimistic vision of the future with humankind spread out amongst the stars. Groundbreaking for the time, the series crafted a legacy that blazes brightly to this day.
Above: Brother to Demons Brother to Gods
As with much Sci-Fi and Fantasy art of the era, sexy and often scantily clad females are a common theme. As mentioned Burns used an extensive selection of models, ranging from his wife to a local barmaid.
Above: Cover Illustration for the Frank Herbert novel ‘Eye’ (Published 1985)
More exquisite costume design in this brooding sleeve art example, I’ve included it here in the original context, by far the best Frank Herbert cover I’ve come across.
Above: ‘U.S.E. Execrable ’ (1978)
Burns deploys an incredible level of detail within his work, above is the perfect example, with clever texture and lighting tricks to carve an imposing sense of scale.
Above: ‘Visions of the Future 3′
A fine example of Burns’s more surrealistic edge, this one dates from the late 70’s I believe.
Detail from the cover of Burns’s most recent portfolio book ‘Hyperluminal’, other titles include Lightship, Planet Story (written by Harry Harrison), Transluminal, and Imago.
Aside from an extensive career designing book and game covers Burns has also worked as a concept artist for film, most notably for Ridley Scott’s legendary Bladerunner (1982). Burns was originally sourced to work on Scott’s short-lived adaptation of Dune, but when that was canned he was moved onto Bladerunner’s pre-production. Though most of his concepts would ultimately be reworked by Syd Mead, you can definitely see an echo of his designs in the final product.
Above: Jim Burns and his art.
To see more of his fantastical work and and extensive biog check out his official website.
Also of note, sfsite.com has a great interview with Burns that was published fairly recently in 2014, you can read it here.