Fantasy art has never really been very respected by the mainstream arts community – and many use the expression with a condescending sneer. But, like the old saying goes “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like’ and I like fantasy sword art, the kind of classic stuff from the golden age of Fantasy Art in the 1980s – when original, fantastic art was everywhere, from album covers to D&D and everything in between.
What follows here is a who is who of the most influential and important fantasy artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is by no means yet a comprehensive list – but it is a start.
Anyone who has even a passing interest in Fantasy art has surely heard of Frank Frazetta, and in many ways he was the god father of the Fantasy Art movement.
Starting his career illustrating comic books, and later movie posters, in the 1960s he painted his most iconic works, illustrating the covers of the Conan the Barbarian books, Death Dealer and John Carter to name some of his most famous works, and his raw ‘swords, sweat and sex’ swords & sorcery style influenced and continues to inspire fantasy artists to this day. Sadly Frazetta passed away after a stroke in 2010 yet his memory and his name is forever immortalized for his contributions to the genre. His website has a huge collection of his art over several galleries and is a veritable feast for the eyes.
Kit Rae is in many ways the epitome of modern fantasy sword art – both on canvas and in steel – making him truly unique.
His designs are often imitated, though the originals are not as expensive as they look and while not functional, are well made, highly detailed and great value for money – most coming with an accompanying poster of the sword in action. His website is divided into two sections, first for business inquiries and a second site that showcases his current and previous designs.
Warren Louw is a South African artist who specializes in tasteful, artfully done images of warrior women – and has worked for ImagineFX, Udon Entertainment, Bandai Namco, DC Comics among many others. However, his most notable contributions to the Sword and Sorcery genre is as the illustrator for the mascots for Longship Armories limited edition Legends Line.
Appropriately enough, the Legends line has contributed to the Legendary Swords Project with the Sword Odin’s Oar, Sword of Runa Martyr of Stormwater and is the artist who illustrated that character for us – and is scheduled to continue to produce additional artworks as we further our collaborations with John Lundemo and Longship Armoury.
For fans of Dungeons & Dragons, no artist was more influential than Larry Elmore – for he designed the iconic covers of the original box sets and much of the original early artwork peppered throughout the Players Manual and the Dungeon Masters Guides, as well as the Red Dragon that is the art that most people think of when you mention D&D to them.
Alongside his friend Jeff Easley, he did the covers for the Dragonlance Book series as well as artwork for Magic the Gathering. His website is a little on the thin side content wise, as he has scaled back his activities since 2006.
Jeff Easley has a style influenced by Frazetta, and worked along side Larry Elmore to produce a lot of the classic cover art for Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks such as Unearthed Arcana, the Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Guide and many others.
He has also worked on Dragonlance alongside Elmore and Magic he Gathering. His website is nicely laid out with good pictures of his classic and best known works.
Matthews is one of my personal favorite Fantasy Artists – and when I was a teenager in the 1980s my bedroom walls were plastered with his artworks. In the 1970s and 80s he produced many fine works for popular bands and collaborated with Michel Moorcock to produce a series of 12 posters based on events from his books.
His artwork has a unique and recognizable style and encompasses high fantasy and science fiction equally.
On his website you can see many examples of his work over the decades highlighted under his portfolio and can buy prints.
I was first introduced to the work of Geoff Taylor in the Fire*Wolf: Sagas of the Demonspawn series of game books by J.H. Brennan for a decidedly more mature audience than most other game books of the 80’s.
He has also done a lot of work in the 1990s onwards for Games Workshops Warhammer world and White Dwarf covers respectively and while his website doesn’t seem to be particularly active, it has a lot of great examples of his art from his prolific career.
Jeff has worked extensively with Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons and Dragons, World of Warcraft, Magic the Gathering and Earthdawn – and while his portfolio includes a fair amount of sci fi, the majority is high fantasy art.
While his main website is not all that spectacular, his other website Jeff Mircola’s Fantasy Art Workshop has DVDs and details on intensive courses designed for budding US based Fantasy artists. Similar tutorials can also be found on his YouTube channel – making him quite unique in sharing the skills he learned the hard way with any aspiring new fantasy artists.
Gerald Brom (who is known professionally simply as ‘Brom’) produces work with a decidedly dark and sinister undertone, and he is credited with many of the more disturbing fantasy art pieces for Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering as well as cover Art for Michael Moorcock, Anne McCaffrey and Terry Brooks.
His website is not one you really want to look at too much if its late at night and you are alone – but is amazingly detailed and worth the visit if you are feeling brave enough..
There he also sells original pieces with a price tag averaging $7 to $8K.
Russ Nicholson has been in the fantasy art business for over 40 years and has a very unique and instantly recognizable style. Doing illustrations of monsters for D&D, and the illustrations for 16 books from the Fighting Fantasy series, as well as countless fantasy maps – his attention to detail is impeccable.
While many of his pictures are black and white, they are so detailed that they almost seem to be in color if that was possible. While he doesn’t have a website, he has a blog and generously crams it full of a small fraction of the art he has produced over the decades.