The Hugo award winning Jim Burns is one of Britain’s best known science fiction artists. His smooth organic curves and photo-realistic style have made him one of the industry’s most sought after cover illustrators. We caught up with him in the art show at Intersection, the 1995 World Science Fiction Convention, and asked him about one of his most recent works: the striking cover for Colin Greenland’s Seasons Of Plenty.
As Jim says, normally “the author has no input at all - other than the fact he wrote all the words I derive all my inspiration from, of course”. Unusually, he and Colin discussed the book and the cover. “A really nice way to work.”
Colin’s major contribution turned out to be part of his own wardrobe. Jim needed to refer to some real leather, and remembered seeing “Colin in a black coat, swanning around conventions”. A phone call later and the long black coat was in the post, ready for Jim’s daughters to model for him. Colin Greenland wasn’t suprised by Jim’s request; “most artists aren’t a bit interested in talking to you, but Jim borrows your clothes”. When it was time to send Colin’s coat back Jim had a problem - “the kids were reluctant to part with it!”
Jim hadn’t read any of Colin’s work before he started work on the cover of Seasons Of Plenty, “most of the science fiction I read these days is the stuff I illustrate, so Colin was a gap in my reading” He started with the first book in the series, Take Back Plenty,. “I took it with me to Crete and read it on the beach. A good book and a place like that - it’s pretty idyllic.”
Once Jim had read the manuscript of Seasons as well, he started work on a series of sketches, culminating in a study of the main character, the feisty Tabitha Jute. Colin Greenland was impressed, “There are any number of versions of Tabitha, but this is the first that was really her”.
Satisfied with his leading lady, Jim started work on the picture. It was ” the largest painting I’ve done in a long time - most of my paintings are a lot smaller, usually two and half to three times cover size.”
The original was on show at Intersection, with some changes from the version on the book cover - Jim’s been working on it since to give Tabitha’s alien bodyguard “more character, more agression”. One of the most unusual aspects of the picture is the strangely textured cyber-baby Xtasca, with its glowing red eyes and blue-black skin. As Jim says, “it frightens children!”
So is Jim happy with the picture yet? He’s certainly a perfectionist. “No picture is ever really finished - I’m never completely satisfied at the end of the day”, but as he’s constantly in demand for new works, he’ll probably never have the time. “Jobs can get a little onerous - but that was one of the least onerous jobs I’ve had in a long time”.
Colin Greeland is equally happy with Jim’s cover art and for once you can be sure the picture fits the author’s conception of his characters. There’s a copy of the picture on the wall over Colin’s desk: “I’m looking at the characters whilst I’m writing the third volume - that’s the kind of visual aid authors just don’t usually get!”
Originally published in SFX in 1995, and illustrated by a copy of one Jim’s sketches of Tabitha.