Tim OBrien
March 2010
Many years ago when I was in high school and boxing in a nearby town I was hit quite hard in the head. 
I guess it was 1980 and I wanted to finally learn to box after hitting a stuffed mail bag in my basement for a few years.  I had been interested in boxing since seeing the movie 'Rocky', watching Muhammad Ali beat Leon Spinks and to find a way to be as I grew into a teenager.  There was no boxing in my hometown so I wrote a letter to the Police Athletic League of a neighboring town and asked if I could take a bus to their gym and box there.  They not only said yes, but welcomed me with open arms.  Eventually my trainer would pick me up  and drive me.

I loved boxing back then for the art of it.  On the walls of my room were cut out photographs from Sports Illustrated of fighters landing punches.  The fast motion camera would capture the spray from head that would halo the skull in a perfect imitation of a dandelion gone to seed.  The bodies were lean and the angles were striking.
I also drew boxers and learned some anatomy doing this in a way that is perhaps similar to how many kids now draw from comics and graphic novels. 
I tried several sports but always preferred those where I could be alone.  I liked track for that reason and speculated that boxing was even more isolated.  It was.

The first thing I learned upon entering the gym was that the best boxers were mostly internal types.  The good ones looked at the floor and even avoided eye contact.  The first time I got into a ring I moved around it imitating Ali, pulling my head back and gliding on my feet.  I was comfortable and could see everything that was happening.  The fighter I was in with was nervous and tentative.  He provided me a gift of a soft jab that I parried and I landed a really hard right.  The kid I did not know went down like his strings were cut.  I might have been horrified but wasn't.  I loved it.  This was going to be fun and perhaps easy.
Very quickly I was put into the ring with a kid I speculated I might kill.  He was very skinny with long hair that was flat to his head.  Though scrawny I could see he knew how to box and seemed to have a snap to his punches when he shadow boxed.  Hmmm?

As I was being laced up I looked over to him and suddenly he looked bigger as someone tied his gloves on.  He was a bit taller, though I could see ribs in his chest.  The kid was a lightweight and I was a welterweight.  My trainer said to keep my hands up and take it easy. 
The bell rang and we touched gloves.  He moved in and out touching me with a jab.   I tried to land a jab but could not.  I tried to move in and he was moving around me.  He was not there.  Suddenly at an angle I was hit hard. 
Boxing and how to do it was demonstrated on me that afternoon.  You can box someone without getting into a fight.  I was not part of this exercise, he was.  Sure I landed some punches in close but he was schooling me.  I finally countered his jab with my own right but BAM, I was hit quickly with an uppercut.  I lurched forward onto his shoulder.  My brain worked quickly and these things all occurred to me in this order; he was way older than I was, had stubble on his chin, he never looked at me but looked at my collar bone and I was tasting spaghetti. 
I was hit by an uppercut that I didn't see and it made my brain taste a spaghetti dinner.
I was a more respectful boxer after that and much better.  I approach life the same way.  I look at everyone as formidable and keep that guard high.

I thought about all of this when a few days ago SooJin Buzelli contacted me to do an illustration for PlanSponsor's April issue.  The title of the illustration is 'Uppercut' which was about the failure of Lehman Brothers and how that hit the securities lending industry like an uppercut.
If I was ever going to get to paint this memory it was going to likely be for SooJin.

There are a lot of formidable fighters in her gym, I'm just glad to be one of them.
Here is the thumbnail I sketched while thinking of this.  Most punches land and boxers take them well.  An uppercut often lands without being seen so the head has no time to react and prepare and the head can really whip back.  I liked this view but wanted to not see the face of either boxer if possible.  I wanted it to be about the punch.  In this rough I liked the way the spray of sweat looked like the sparks that come from a blacksmith's hammer.
My sketch was just like my finish.  I had a piece of reference that was not perfect but had the basic body positions.  I know this subject well.   In the sketch I tried to pull off the idea of hot iron.
This angle hit the face of the puncher and only gives you the impact to consider.
I thought I might be able to pull off a blur, something I usually avoid but the brightness against the dark made it easy.
Up close the tiny brushwork shows up and looks a bit nutty but I kept then in the same direction to emphasize the fast upward motion of the head.
Thanks to Roberto Parada for pointing out that my uppercut victim looks just like former Lehman CEO Dick Fuld.
Very funny!
Whose History?
This story of the removal of the notion of the separation of church and state in text books in Texas if really alarming.  A far-right faction of the Texas State Board of Education succeeded Friday in injecting conservative ideals into social studies, history and economics lessons that will be taught to millions of students for the next decade.

Teachers in Texas will be required to cover the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation's Founding Fathers, but not highlight the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state. Curriculum standards also will describe the U.S. government as a "constitutional republic," rather than "democratic," and students will be required to study the decline in value of the U.S. dollar, including the abandonment of the gold standard.
Ultraconservatives wielded their power over hundreds of subjects this week, introducing and rejecting amendments on everything from the civil rights movement to global politics. Hostilities flared and prompted a walkout Thursday by one of the board's most prominent Democrats, Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, who accused her colleagues of "whitewashing" curriculum standards.
By late Thursday night, three other Democrats seemed to sense their futility and left, leaving Republicans to easily push through amendments heralding "American exceptionalism" and the U.S. free enterprise system, suggesting it thrives best absent excessive government intervention.
Republican Terri Leo, a member of the powerful Christian conservative voting bloc, called the standards "world class" and "exceptional."

The board rejected lessons about why the United States was founded on the principle of religious freedom”, while adding “references to “laws of nature and nature’s God” in lessons about major political ideas”. Students must study,
"The strong Judeo-Christian influences on the nation’s Founding Fathers, but there will be no coverage of the Bill of Rights “Establishment Clause” that was used to outlaw school-sponsored prayer and affirm separation of church and state in the U.S."

In addition to learning the Bill of Rights, the board specified a reference to the Second Amendment right to bear arms in a section about citizenship in a U.S. government class.

Conservatives beat back multiple attempts to include hip-hop as an example of a significant cultural movement.
Numerous attempts to add the names or references to important Hispanics throughout history also were denied, inducing one amendment that would specify that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. Another amendment deleted a requirement that sociology students "explain how institutional racism is evident in American society."

References to Ralph Nader and Ross Perot are proposed to be removed, while Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general, is to be listed as a role model for effective leadership, and the ideas in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address are to be laid side by side with Abraham Lincoln’s speeches.
They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

What to do?  Well, in Texas it appears little can be done. I believe the proposed changes are now in a period of public review and debate.  I hope the national media shines a blinding light on the blatant attempt to rewrite history to benefit the desires of conservative, white, gun owning, god fearing America.
I hope the rest of this country pays attention and makes their voices heard.  
Heads for Haiti
Gouache on sandpapered paper, 12" X 9"
This is my contribution to the Haiti benefit exhibition and auction "100 Heads for Haiti" that Dave Plunkert at SPUR Design is putting together to benefit Doctors without Borders.  I will post a link when I get one.
Thanks you Dave and Jess.
Saturday April 10
6:00PM - 8:30PM
3504 Ash Street
Baltimore MD 21211

100 HEADS FOR HAITI is an exhibition designed to raise money for Doctors Without Borders
by selling original drawings, paintings and collages donated by invited artists.
100% of proceeds will be donated to Doctors Without Borders.
GOAL: $10,000
Original Art and a Group Poster print will be sold at the gallery, pieces will be sold on a first come, first serve basis. The remaining pieces & posters that do not sell at the gallery event will be available for purchase online for one month after the opening.
Originals (11x14, matted) $100 Each
Group Poster (17x24) $50 Each
Drury University
Recently I received a call from an AD at the magazine for Drury University.  He liked a  portrait I did for the Atlantic Monthly years ago depicting the 'Organizational Kid.'   The Art Director for the job was Mary Parsons who probably came up with the initial idea.  Thank you yet again dear Mary.

I was on the fence about taking the job.  I was busy and had some other work I thought I might like to do instead.  Still, the AD was a nice guy and was going to send over some recent covers.
This works at times to convice me to walk.  The covers can indicate their taste and show me that I might not get the piece I hope for.  I don't remember all the samples, but one was a great cover by Drawger's own, Chris Buzelli
Oh, okay.  If Chris did one then perhaps I can turn this article into a opportunity to do a piece I like.
The path was already set;  I would do a homage to my own Atlantic cover.  I wanted to get off the phone quickly as to not commit to too much so soon.
First the Atlantic cover...
The Organization Kid, 2001
Thumbnails were easy and I tinkered with the idea of having the model stand up as if typing in a note to herself before heading out.  I decided that this one was not as iconic and might imply a short attention span or that she is hurrying off to a kegger.
The only thing the AD asked was that I add the logo, which he sent over, and add books, a compass and perhaps a plant.
I thought about a compass but thought a globe would better convey a traveler's mind and look better on the cover.  An iPhone instead of the cell and earbuds rather that the headphones of 2001.
There is a hint here of a compass in the background. I thought it would look like a fantasy book cover with that there.
This thumbnail looked too much like the original for my taste and I feared that side by side I could never do it better. I thought again that I might have birds behind her and the clouds seen through her body. I didn't go there either. I think I knew what the AD wanted here.
I did want to try SOMETHING new and really wanted this bright light background behind her. It would read better from a distance while still looking vintage. The AD preferred the sketch with a dark background.
Picking models is a fun but nervous task.  In many cases I purchase reference to use for some of the people I paint or am provided reference.  In some cases however, I have to find a model. 
So it was a Saturday and I was working out at the gym.  On the mat, rehabilitating my sore hip when I looked up and saw a most pleasant face.  This young woman was smiling at some television program as she did her elliptical workout.  I sat and considered her.  She was perfect.
  So I was in full lurker mode; following her around the gym to see her in a better light.  You can't walk up to someone and ask them to model if you suddenly see that they are not right at all.  THAT'S awkward.
So I felt she was right but I lost my nerve.  Suddenly my wife Elizabeth showed up at the gym offering a ride home.  BINGO, a go between.  I could approach this young woman and NOT come off as a creep.  (DID ROCKWELL WORRY ABOUT THIS?  I doubt it.)
With Elizabeth standing next to me I stammered out the offer.  She looked a bit startled but agreed to help out.
Thank you Mia.
A miss-communication meant that I added the crest of the college and the AD didn't want one. He sent me the crest with DRURY type under it and asked that I use different type for Drury. Naturally I thought he therefore WANTED the logo. There's 38 minutes I won't get back! ; )
One of the main ways that this piece is different is how I like to have information in a piece but not light it all equally.  ADs often ask me to make colors bright and not so dark so I am not winning fans everywhere, but if I have the freedom, I enjoy adjusting the lighting to change the visual hierarchy of a painting.
Will I be asked to repaint this again in 10 years?  If so, what will she be listening to?  My hunch is in-ear buds that stream content to her wirelessly and some sort of iPad device.  Hopefully this device will be filled with illustration, even dark, brooding illustration.
Here is Chris' cover that helped me decide to do one myself.
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