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After that, he went on to complete a 3-year Diploma in Art and Design at Saint Martin's School of Art in London. When he left Saint Martin's in 1972 he had already joined the recently established illustration agency Young Artists. He has been with this agency, later renamed Arena, ever since.
He is today a contemporary British science fiction illustrator. His work mostly deals with science fiction with erotic overtones. His paintings are generally intricate photo-realistic works of beautiful women set against advanced machines and spaceships. While his preparatory sketches are more erotically focused, his final works and published book covers have a more academic tone portraying far off and imaginary worlds.
Apart from book and game covers, Burns briefly worked with Ridley Scott on Blade Runner, and his illustrations and paintings comprise much of the book Mechanismo by Harry Harrison. He has also had books of his own works published, including Lightship, Planet Story (written by Harry Harrison), Transluminal, and Imago.
Work by the artist includes cover art for:
- The Fury of Dracula (1987) a boardgame by Stephen Hand
- Two books by Daniel Keys Moran
- Armageddon Blues (1988)
- The Long Run (1989)
- Artificial Things (1989) for Karen Joy Fowler
- Over thirty books by Robert Silverberg including The Face of the Waters (1991)
- Aristoi (1992) by Walter Jon Williams
- Upland Outlaws (1993) by Dave Duncan
- Infinity's Shore (1996) by David Brin
- The Stone Dance of the Chameleon series by Ricardo Pinto
- The Greg Mandel Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton
- The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton
- A Second Chance at Eden (1998) by Peter F. Hamilton
- The Confederation Handbook (2000) by Peter F. Hamilton
- Fallen Dragon (2001) by Peter F. Hamilton
- The Commonwealth Saga by Peter F. Hamilton
- The Void trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton
- Mann, George (2012). The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Little, Brown Book Group. p. 1883. ISBN 9781780337043. Retrieved 5 November 2014.
- "2005 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. 2007-07-24. Retrieved 2017-12-28.
- "Titan Books - The Art of Jim Burns: Hyperluminal - Jim Burns". titanbooks.com. Retrieved 2017-12-28.
- Webmaster, Rodger Turner. "The SF Site Featured Review: The Art of Jim Burns: Hyperluminal". www.sfsite.com. Retrieved 2017-12-28.