Tim OBrien
October 2008
The Choice
The Cover of Time November 10th, 2008
There is a scene in Goodfellas where Ray Liotta's character Henry Hill is doing a million things at once.  He has to make the sauce, deliver some stolen guns, see his goumada and pick up some drugs to sell, arrange for his babysitter to act as a mule to deliver the drugs, get her lucky hat for her when she indicates she can't travel without it...the list goes on.  All illustrators have days, weeks or years like that.  I mostly have weeks like that.  This week was definitely like that, (minus the crime)...all that was missing was a helicopter circling overhead.
I started my week by teaching a class in Philadelphia.  Once home, I observe the green light blinking on the answering machine.  It's Arthur Hochstein at Time asking me to call.  Gulp.  It's a cover and it's a big one.  I need to run so I go out in the dark and get that in.  Tuesday I go to see yet another heart specialist for a magnetic heart scan.  That night the washing machine broke.  Tuesday I stay up all night to finish the cover for 10 am Wednesday.  I finish at about 10:30, get it to him and then go to sleep.  I get up at 2:45 to go and pick up Cassius from school.  When I get home Arthur tells me the cover will run!  YES!  I go off training and have wine.  Before I do that I have to run again.  Thursday I get up and catch up on work that was pushed aside and then go and teach at Pratt.  I rush home to receive the new washing machine.  I then dart off to the Jacob Javitts Center to pick up my number for Sunday's New York City Marathon.  More sketches to work on tonight and then up early to take Cassius to school again.  Friday Halloween, Saturday rest and Sunday run a marathon.


When I was in college I used to see the cover or TIME as the ultimate I could hope for in a career.  My heros at the time were on that cover, such as Gottfried Helnwein, and Birney Lettick.  As a tight realist I left college with a portfolio of realistic portraits and textures.  One such texture was water drops.  It's because of those that Rudy Hoagland called me from Time and I think I worked with Arthur also.  The assignment for this 24 year old was to paint a tear on George Washington for a Time Cover.  This was the first cover I accomplished and I have been so lucky to have done many more over the years.  Working for Time has ALWAYS been the best.  Arthur is the person I've worked the most for I suppose.  He's very clear and tells you subtle directions and why they are important to getting the art to work.  I've learned a great deal from him about how subtle things make or break a piece.  He is also a wonderful person.

A call from Arthur is always a rush.  My brain scans my life, my calender and jobs on my easel that are due.  I always say yes and hang up readjusting my world to this new chaos.   
Arthur's call this week was well timed actually.  I saw this historic election winding down and did wonder if I would get to ever do a cover as important as this one again.   He asked me to paint "the choice."   I did do a similar cover in the mid 90's of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.  I worked up some sketches and with Elizabeth's help, tried out a conceptual background of words.  This idea came out of sketching and is what I think this cover is about.  Months and months of noise and campaigning all stops and it's just YOU and THEM in the voting booth.    I did many versions using different reference shots to work from.  The last set of sketches were the close up ones.  I knew these were the ones that would win.  Arthur chose them and I was off.

McCain was easy to paint so I did him first.  His color would set the tone for the spread.  Obama proved more difficult as I got kind of lost (and tired) while painting his face with a million little brushstrokes.  Trying to get his color just right, I optically mixed purple, red, green and yellow all in tiny slashes to achieve a luminous skin tone.  Back to McCain and trying to give him the same attention.  Back and forth until the sun was up and the ties and jackets were not yet begun.  I can paint those in a flash.

I'm a veteran of the Time cover assignment and know to NOT get too excited.  Don't tell anyone and just work on impressing Arthur and Rick Stengel, the managing editor.  I think both were happy and I got the cover.

This was good timing for me.  For reasons I'll try to get to next week, the marathon and training for it has consumed me for 5 months and mentally for a year.  There is a point in long runs or crazy races like marathons that I berate myself to "BE AN ILLUSTRATOR!"  This job kept my mind calm this week and put things in perspective.
Thanks Arthur for again having faith in me. 
Life is chaotic, the alternative is worse. 
My cover from 1996
The thumbnail on the phone.
Closer, but they are too detached from the viewer, voter.
The no sketch.
This is a rough digital comp of the type idea. Esquire does this better.
This is the full painting. It's about 16 by 14 and wet.
My choice. Go Barack! Go America!
Obama Wins...McCain Wins..Obama wins..
A animated gif they made for the web
I wonder what I will be illustrating in 2009?  In 2008 I did many portraits and illustrations of the primary players in this historic election.  As we come down to the final weeks, magazines seem to be offering their readers a glimpse at the possible impact of a McCain or an Obama administration( see Zina's post today).  The first of these side by side offerings just came out.  ABA Journal called and had a dual cover job.  On one side the swearing in of Obama and the other the swearing in of McCain.  As I was doing this I was watching debates and the close polls and the unknown nature of the future campaign  made me super nervous. 
The comp they sent was a digital comp that was helpful but so much had to be worked out.  As I dove in I had to think like a movie director.  What would Obama wear, what would his wife wear...OH NO, wait, they're outside.  I had to find a coat. 
Justice Roberts would swear them in but then there is the background.  I had to mess up the background so people were not too recognizable.  The funny thing was that the reference had some harsh light in their eyes so they all looked miserable.  I wanted a focused scene on the foreground so I merely darkened everything and muted the colors in the background.  I had at an early stage in the process suggested that I paint one cover and 'paper-doll' the second pair over the other cover but they thought they would rather have 2 covers.  2 paydays for me so I did not resist.  However, painting 2 presidential seals was torture.

In the end I like both covers.  I would prefer to see the Obama cover come to life and the McCain cover go into my file of paintings I call, the alternative reality show.
Someday I would like to show the killed jobs I did that were pulled because the story changed.  Images would include OJ guilty, Bin Laden killed, Colin Powell runs for president and the newly minted, McCain is sworn in.

The article for ABA Journal is below.

ABA Journal
This is the comp I received from them. At first glance I got what this was about but after diving in, it got intense. I was a stylist wondering which coat looked best on which wife.
This is the preferred reality
They key to painting scenes based on various pieces of reference is to throw out the color and lighting and try to just paint in one key and lighting intensity.
This blurry woman in the background was my favorite. When I do these background people I quickly block them in, blur them with a fan brush, then go back in to pick out the features a bit.
The first sketch I sent showed McCain with his hand too high and the AD picked that out as impossible due to his war injury. I had trouble imagining this one as possible. Still, it was fun to find heads for Michelle and Cindy where they were looking in a certain direction that in the end became their dreamy husbands.
No matter who wins, Bush's footprint will be at the podium. Justice Roberts will be around for a L O N G time. All the more reason to vote for Obama. Keep that court split.
Dreamy Cindy.
Brooklyn Bridge
This was a monster of a job I did a few months ago that I can finally show.  The client was TAG.   Jermaine Dupri, a music producer, is  the president of the TAG Records, handling all creative and talent development.  Yes, TAG is a body spray.  I have never used such a product but this is being marketed to a younger demographic.  I suppose you if you tell kids they smell and show famous people using an anti-smell spray, they will buy the product.  Brilliant.  Jermaine was the main character of the piece.  The main point of the campaign is to launch the record company.

This assignment came to me then went away.  It quickly came back with much more urgency.  The client wanted a specific scene that was based on Washington crossing the Delaware River.  I knew this job was a bear so I took a deep breath and dug in.  The ADs were terrific when they came to me the second time and were really supportive while still asking for many changes.  They offered a digital comp based on shots they took and it was my job to paint the scene and achieve the right look.  The final is rougher than I usually work but still interesting.  I had very little time to do the original art.

The main idea, that a car can ride across the Brooklyn Bridge seems so wrong to me.  I run over it every weekend and it's not possible.  Still, the idea worked I think.

It's easier for me to be painterly when painting small.
Jermaine Dupri
O'Brien for Obama
unpublished portrait of Barack Obama, 2008.
I've never just posted a video on Drawger without a piece of art I've done, so I've added a crop of a larger piece that is yet unpublished.  This post is NOT about the painting of Obama.

We are living in an historic time, one where we are presented with an erratic and increasingly desperate republican candidate who really has no plan for what his administration would do for the middle class other than the tired old promise of crumbs falling off the table.  On the other side we have a smart and measured democratic candidate with specific programs and a proven ability to deal with issues in a thoughtful way.  No erratic stunts from him, such as picking a frighteningly unqualified running mate, suspending his campaign for nothing, and now starting an announced and already discredited smear campaign against Obama.  The choice is abundantly clear that America needs a change and Barack Obama is the right man for the job. 

In this historic election, there is the issue of race at play that has yet to be effectively discussed in my opinion.  Obama is running as an American, not an African American, but there are still parts of this country that only see race.  It is partly a generational split, but the more insidious issue is what is sometimes called "the Bradley effect" .  This refers to a frequently observed discrepancy between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in American political campaigns when a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other.  It's named after Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor's race despite being ahead in voter polls.  The Bradley effect refers to a tendency on the part of voters -- black as well as white -- to tell pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, and yet, on election day, change their vote. 
One theory for the Bradley effect is that some white voters give inaccurate polling responses for fear that, by stating their true preference, they will open themselves to criticism. This effect is similar to people refusing to discuss voting choice at all. If you state you are undecided, you can avoid being forced into a political discussion with someone highly partisan. The reluctance to give accurate polling answers has sometimes extended to post-election exit polls as well. The race of the pollster conducting the interview may be a factor into voters' answers.

It's sad to imagine this STILL happening in America but it's true.  I hope discussing it causes people to think about the only the ISSUES in the voting booth.
Still, I feel that when politicians discuss race they skirt the issue as to not sound like they are accusing anyone of anything.  Change has to come from us.
I saw this amazing speech earlier today and I was deeply moved by it.  Thanks Edel for showing it to me.  The speech comes from AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka.  He's a third generation coal miner from Pennsylvania who went on to receive  his degree from Penn State and then his law degree from Villanova.  I believe he gave this speech on July 1st 2008.

Thanks for giving it a look and pass it on.
AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka
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