ERB in Focus
ON COMMISSIONING YOUR OWN ORIGINAL BURROUGHS ART
Copyright © 2003
Have you ever fantasized about owning an original art masterpiece of your favorite scene by a Burroughs artist, an image that no one has ever seen before? In the 1940s J. Allen St. John was commissioned to paint several works by Stan Vinson and Vern Coriell (do you recall the oil painting of Tarzan carrying Jane through the trees?), and Frank Frazetta did several works for Vern Coriell in the 1960s. Roy G. Krenkel produced numerous Burroughs classic images and gave many works to the editors of the various ERB fanzines of the 1960s and 1970s. The commissions of these lovers of Burroughs art have enriched all our lives later because we get to see and share those glorious fantasy illustrations.
You too can be the driving force behind new Burroughs art that future generations will love and cherish. You do that by commissioning an original work of art. The process is not too complicated.
To begin with, do not commission original art because you expect it will increase in value as an investment. Perhaps it will, and perhaps it won't. You must love the artist and the artist's work, and love to look at it hanging on your walls for years and years. Then, if it has become more valuable, that is a plus. If it has decreased in monetary value, it has still given you years of joy. In this way you cannot ever lose.
It is also important to realize that when you have purchased an original art work, you have not purchased the rights to reproduce that artwork. Most artists retain that right for themselves. Thus, your original work of art may appear as a magazine illustration if the artist chooses to sell the right to reproduce the image, but you, the owner, do not have the legal right to sell the image to a book or magazine (you may buy the original typewritten pages of a manuscript by Hemingway, but you do not have the right to publish it as a book).
I think a key question for most of us is: how much will it cost?
The answer depends on the artist and the medium that the artist is working in. An artist of the stature of Boris Vallejo or Frank Frazetta could be quite expensive. However, a work by either of these two would very likely retain its value over the decades.
A large complex oil painting of a fantasy scene could cost $1500 or $75,000, depending on the artist, the details desired, and the size of the artwork. A smaller original image in oils by a less famous artist could cost $250 or so.
A large pen-and-ink piece by Boris Vallejo could cost $1200, but something the same size by a less famous artist could cost closer to $100-$800. It is possible to obtain sketches at events like the ECOF, and these can cost between $25 and $300 depending on the artist and the complexity of the piece. So, the answer to the question "How much will it cost?" is that it will cost somewhere between $25 and $75,000. The only way to know for sure is to ask. The great majority of the many original art pieces hanging on my walls cost less than $300 apiece.
Here are the steps for commissioning a work of art:
Step 1: Find the Burroughs artist whose work inspires you to say "ahhhh, that's fabulous!"
Step 2: Find out if that Burroughs artist is available (some artists like Jeff Jones* are alive but no longer paint).
* Jones is deceased. —ERBmania! Editor.
Step 3: Decide what sort of art you want. Do you want a full sized oil painting? Do you want a watercolor piece set in Barsoom or Pellucidar? Do you want a large black-and-white piece of Tarzan and La set in Opar? Do you want Tarzan racing through the trees, or standing before Tantor? Do you want a 36"x48" battlescene set on the plains of Helium or a giant chessboard battlefield with mounted warriors battling? Or would something smaller be acceptable, such as an 8x10" piece? Do you want one person in the scene, or two, or a hundred? Perhaps you want your own face to appear, or the face of your significant other. There are several fans who have commissioned fabulous art which includes them and their wives.
Step 4: Contact the artist and tell him or her what you are interested in, and inquire about the cost. An internet search engine like Google can usually turn up a web site for your artist, with a link for contacting the artist directly. If that doesn't work, you can send a letter addressed to the artist in care of the contemporary publisher of his work (for example, send a letter in care of the comic magazine publisher like Dark Horse if the artist you like illustrated any comic books).
Step 5: If you are very particular about the vision in your mind, you can request the artist to send you one or more preliminary sketchs subject to your approval before she or he proceeds. If you and the artist can agree, then you send the check (partial payment or paid in full, depending on the arrangements you've made with the artist) and wait until your art masterpiece arrives in the mail. That could be anywhere from a month or two, to a year or two. Again, inquire. Some artists are quite prompt but it has been my experience that most of them take considerably more time than they initially indicated.
If you and the artist cannot agree on the image or the cost, then it is time to begin the process with a different artist whose work inspires you to say "ahhhhh."
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Among the artists who are readers and fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who have done really fabulous Burroughs artwork and who are very likely to be available for commissions are:
ERBmania! Editor's note (2018): In the years since this article was first published a number of these artists have passed. In those years since, new artists have made themselves available for commissioned art. Do your research!
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many fine Burroughs artists whose works appear in fanzines or who have illustrated comic books such as the recent Dark Horse series. In addition, there are most certainly artists of considerable skill who are perfectly capable of doing a Tarzan piece even if they are not fans of Burroughs himself. Have you seen any of the fabulous dark and brooding Tarzan artwork which the Disney artists did in oils and pencil? Do you have a favorite fantasy or science fiction artist who has never done Burroughs art? Perhaps Julie Bell, or Olivia, or another major artist would be willing to do a piece; you won't know unless you ask.
There some artists who have made careers in creating a work of art based on Frazetta original line drawings; you can get a highly credible original recreation of a Frazetta line drawing by an artist named Burcham for considerably less than the Frazetta original would cost.
There is a second option. Instead of commissioning your own artwork, you can obtain existing works of art that are offered for sale at auction, on eBay, at fan conventions, at the Burroughs ECOF, and you can sometimes find works that fellow fans are offering for sale. Artwork by Hogarth, by Russ Manning, by Hal Foster, by Roy Krenkel, by Frank Frazetta, John Coleman Burroughs, and others, shows up from time to time. For most of this you just have to be in the right place at the right time (attending the convention, visiting eBay during the time the item is offered for auction, obtaining an auction catalog, etc.), but if you are serious you can find high quality artwork.
A third option is to obtain reproductions of otherwise unaffordable and unobtainable classic Burroughs art. Most of the major Frazetta artwork is available as high quality posters from the Frazetta Museum. Michael Luxton at artmasterworks.com has official permission from ERB, Inc. to reproduce in full size a good number of the most important St. John and John Coleman Burroughs pieces on canvas. There are other Burroughs-related posters offered for sale from time to time.