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Vallejo works almost exclusively in the fantasy and erotica genres. His hyper-representational paintings have appeared on the covers of numerous science fiction and fantasy paperbacks and are featured in a series of best-selling glossy calendars. Subjects of his paintings are typically sword and sorcery gods, monsters, and well-muscled male and female barbarians engaged in battle.
Vallejo began painting at the age of 13, in 1954, and had his first illustration job three years later, in 1957, at the age of 16. He attended the Escuela Nacional Superior Autónoma de Bellas Artes on a five-year scholarship, and was awarded a prize medal. After emigrating to the United States in 1964, at the age of 23, he quickly garnered a fan following from his illustrations of Tarzan, Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and various other fantasy characters (often done for paperback fiction works featuring the characters). This led to commissions for movie poster illustration, advertisement illustration, and artwork for various collectibles - including Franklin Mint paraphernalia, trading cards, and sculpture. Along with Julie Bell, Vallejo presents his artwork in an annual calendar and various books. Vallejo's work is often compared to the work of Frank Frazetta, not only because it is similar stylistically, but also since Frazetta painted covers for paperbacks of some of the same characters.
Vallejo's preferred artistic medium is oil on board, and he has previously used photographs to combine discrete images to form composite images. Preparatory works are pencil or ink sketches, which have been displayed in the book Sketchbook. He and Julie Bell have worked on collaborative artworks together, in which they sign the artwork with both names.
Vallejo has created film posters for numerous fantasy and action productions, including Knightriders (1981), Q (1982), and Barbarian Queen (1985). He has also illustrated posters for comedies, notably National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), European Vacation (1985), Nothing But Trouble (1991) and Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (2007), co-created with Bell. He created the 1978 Tarzan calendar.
Vallejo's published works include: