Stephen Hickman (born April 9, 1949) is an award-winning American artist, illustrator, sculptor and author. He is best known for his work in science fiction and fantasy with over 350 book and magazine covers to his credit. His efforts have brought an extra dimension to the stories of Robert A. Heinlein, H. P. Lovecraft, J. R. R. Tolkien, Anne McCaffery, and Andre Norton. He may be best known for illustrating Larry Niven's Man-Kzin Wars novels and the evocative dragons he created for Steven Brust's Dragaeran series, which have often been imitated. His most widely circulated effort is a series of space fantasy postage stamps done for the United States Postal Service.
Hickman has mastered a variety of styles and is known for his versatility. However, his work is especially notable for two features. His use of the possibilities of oil color, in layers both transparent and translucent, is balanced to create subtle moods that can range for the contemplative to the unsettling. Frank Kelly Freas said that no one since Rembrandt has mastered the use of gold the way Hickman has.
Another consistent feature of Hickman's work is the intelligence of his characters, especially the women. The faces of Hickman's subjects are fully engaged in thought, sometimes absorbed in a dream, sometimes on the verge of a climactic "aha." This characteristic might best be compared to that of another Dutch painter, Vermeer.
Hickman says the most difficult thing to capture in art is the sublime, likening it to 'catching the gold ring on the artistic carousel'. He strives to create a positive, reassuring effect in his viewers by communicating beauty and elegance. "Besides, the elegant and sublime have a certain shock value in the present age." His style is classically based and often, as he puts it, with "a strong vision quest aspect."
Stephen Hickman was born in Washington, DC, the son of John F. and Mary Lee Hickman. Because his father was in the foreign service, he was already a world traveler before high school, having lived in Manila and Karachi. He also lived in Texas and Arizona before his family returned to the Washington area, settling in Alexandria Virginia. Hickman's father regularly told him tales, from ghost stories to his own childhood experiences in the Philippine Islands, and Hickman credits him with inspired his interest in literature and writing. Hickman's mother introduced him to painting and encouraged him to be original in all things. Both parents were supportive of his creative endeavors.
In Alexandria, Hickman went to Francis Hammond High School. The art program was directed by Fletcher Proctor, who later was responsible for art in the whole school district. Between regular and summer sessions, Hickman had the equivalent of eight years of training in art from Proctor, what he considered to be all of useful training he had for his profession. After graduating high school, Hickman spent two years at Richmond Professional Institute (now part of Virginia Commonwealth University) where he shared classes with Mike Kaluta and Phil Trumbo.
A turning point for Hickman's career was when he went to the 1967 NY Comic Convention. There he met Frank Frazetta and Roy G. Krenkel. He found that both men were thoughtful and helpful. He got advice that included mastering artistic anatomy, with special attention to the skeleton. They advised him to spend the money on decent brushes. The conventional was also eye-opening for him because he got to see original painting after years of only knowing the artists through paperback covers.
Hickman's professional career was launched in 1972 when he got a job creating T-shirt designs for Shirt Explosion in Lanham, MD. In this situation where Hickman was given virtually unlimited artistic freedom, he realized that he could earn a living by doing what he wanted to. His entry into book illustration came in 1974, when Neil Adams of Continuity Studios, NYC, introduced Hickman to Charles Volpe, Art Editor at Ace Books. Volpe bought the printing rights of items from his portfolio, and later commissioning paintings which were used for reprints of Ace Doubles in the Classics of Science-Fiction series. Since then he has been a full-time artist. Some of his work has been collected in The Fantasy Art of Stephen Hickman. He has been honored with a Hugo Award (1993, for Achievement in Science Fiction and Fantasy), five Chesley Awards and two gold awards from the Spectrum Anthology.
Hickman has tried his hand at writing and illustrating his own work. His novel, The Lemurian Stone, was published in 1988. In this work, he created the Pharazar Mythos, which has been the basis for several major paintings, including The Lion Pavilion and The Astronomer Prince. His work has also motivated other writers. Most notably, The Diver and Mermaid, done as a private commission, inspired Harlan Ellison to write "Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral."