On Tuesday the 4th of February 1997 we welcomed back one of the most talented SF artists in Britain, Jim Burns.
Kim has painted many covers for authors such as Robert Silverberg, Robert Holdstock, Harry
Harrison, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Peter F. Hamilton and many more. As well as book
covers he has provided the art for Game Workshop box covers and also developed the conceptual
design for the film Blade Runner.
Jim Burns was born in April 1948 in Cardiff. His very earliest memories were of drawing, and
his neighbour kept him supplied with vast loads of paper with schematic layout of ship's holds on
When his art teacher suggested Jim should make his career in art he dismissed the idea in favour
of his abiding passion at the time, aeroplanes. This lead to 18 months in the RAF as a trainee,
soloing on Chipmunks and Jet Provosts. Unfortunately Jim was a poor pilot and his options soon
became clear; start non-flying training or get out. So Jim got out.
His plan was to apply to art college like his teachers advised in the first place. And on the basis
of a few old drawings and a couple of hurriedly created new ones he was accepted in the Newport
School of Art in South Wales for a year's foundation course followed by three years at St. Martin's
School of Art in London.
Jim, himself, admits that his efforts there were pretty poor except for a couple of exceptions.
But John Spencer must have seen something he liked because he offered him a place in his newly
formed illustration agency, Young Artists.
Here he learned more about professional illustration in the first couple of months than in the previous three years, and he has been with the same agency ever since.
The earliest work here was mainly in the historical romance genre which although not Jim's
favourite subject did give him a grounding in the processes involved in commercial illustration.
More importantly it helped him to improve his figure work enormously.
The years between 1973 and 1980 were spent exclusively on work for British publishers
including Sphere, Panther, Corgi, Tandem, Orbit, Coronet, Methuen, Quartet, Fontana and Pierrot.
Increasingly this inclined towards science fiction and fantasy material. By 1980 Jim was doing very
little outside the genre, although he was persuaded to do a couple of erotic pieces for Men Only
magazine. This period saw him moving from watercolour to gouache then to oils.
A long time fan of Dan Dare due to the excellent renditioning the strips received from Frank
Hampson and Frank Bellamy in the Eagle, Jim was excited to be involved in a planned TV
adaptation. The front runners for the actors at the time were James Fox for Dare and Rodney
Bewes for Digby. Jim produced a couple of large extraterrestrial landscapes against which the
action would have taken place if the series had actually got as far as filming.
The most interesting project of this whole period was a collaboration with Harry Harrison on an
illustrated novella called Planet Story. Two years were spent producing 30 large oil paintings
allowing Jim the freedom for his work to improve in leaps and bounds.
In 1980 he was approached by Ridley Scott, the film director, to assist on a film project. The
portrait of Colonel Kylling from Planet Story had seemed to be a dead ringer for Baron Vladimir
Harkonnen from Dune, and at that time it appeared likely that he would direct the film. However,
that was not to be and Jim found himself working on Blade Runner. This meant ten very exciting
weeks in Hollywood and a change over from oils to acrylics.
More and more of his commissions were coming from the States since the 80's possibly due to
his agent opening a New York office. His involvement with Bantam was very fruitful, but also
does work for Avon, Ace, Dell and Berkley. Occasionally he still produces the odd British cover,
most notably for Gollancz.
Jim is known as constantly inventive with his work and won a Hugo in 1987 for Best
Professional Artist. He has also published a collection of over 100 covers in a book called
Jim is also known for his scrupulous attention to fine detail, whether this is the windows on a
massive skyscraper or the individual hairs on a person's face. He is particularly noted for his
attractive women. Although he is on record as saying that human figures are the hardest things for
him to draw.
When Jim was last at Preston he gave a fascinating talk and slide show which barely scraped the
top of a fascinating art collection. Oh, by the way, if anybody feels like having a Jim Burns
painting of their very own - the prices start in the thousands and go up!