Tim OBrien
June 2010
Time Cover; Thomas Edison

It was quite an honor to be asked to paint this year's History Issue cover for Time Magazine.   D.W. Pine's request was on the day I found out that the Pope cover was going to run.  Good news comes in bunches just like bad.
Once the request was made, the tough challenge of coming up with a cover set in.  

These History Issue covers have been done mostly by Michael Deas in recent years and all of his pieces were stunning.  Quite a high bar for anyone to have to follow.  I knew they wanted some sort of concept so I opted for the obvious one of the invention of the light bulb.  Amazing that this world was dark at night quite recently.  As per usual I get some reference from Time.  Looking through it I look for useful elements and try not to fall in love with crisp reference in favor of the right reference.  This was an early career mistake at times.
I found a few laboratory shots I liked but felt his portrait was grim most times.  I needed to capture a proud and pleasant face.  Once I found a workable head I went about making my sketches.

Once a sketch was chosen, I needed to make it work for real.  
I tried to provide an alternate head and some alternate backgrounds but I was in favor of two backgrounds and only one head.  Skye at Time got me my reference very late at night and saved me a night of messing things up.

I've done many Time covers over the years and some are big ones.  Obama, Clinton, Person of the Year, and some are unpublished.  If I told you of the alternate history my unpublished covers describe you'd be amazed.  I'll save that for another time.  This cover was special to me.  First, it's out for a couple of weeks.  The fact that they called back so soon after the Pope was great too.  
In Elizabeth's (my wife's) family there are the Langmuirs.  This storied family are a successful clan and perhaps the most well know was Irving Langmuir.  Irving worked at GE and helped develop the gas filled vacuum light bulb.  Later in his career he received a Nobel Prize for his work on surface chemistry.
I wanted to try to pay homage to him and also remember another Langmuir, Paul.

Paul Langmuir passed away suddenly a few days before I got this assignment.  Paul was a long time lover of illustration and graphic design.  He taught at RISD and was a passionate man, full of stories and love.  We are all deeply saddened by his passing.  It is partially his place we go to each year on Martha's Vineyard.
To pay homage to the Langmuir name I painted it on the spine of a book in Edison's lab.  Of course it was cropped out but it will live here on Drawger.

Thanks D.W. Pine and Rick Stengel for the opportunity.
This is the reference I liked for the background.  I had other choices as well but this one would make a nice busy setting.
This is the head I found most appealing.  He looks almost cocky.
There it is.  Turn off the lights tonight and sit with a candle.  That's the world before Edison.  It made those days kind of short.

This background was too messy and did not make sense. Kind of like my studio

This is the approved sketch. I painted the whole thing. Fixing things up too forever.

This is the final art. All elements are part of his laboratories. I had fun actually.
Here is the book on the shelf...
It's dark so I enhanced it.  I wanted to hide it like a NINA.  It worked, no one would find it!

Here is the painting up close.  My copy of the cover is from my iPad as I don't have a printed copy yet.
It was painted full figure almost so cropping it kind of zoomed in on brushwork.  If it appears more loose than usual, that's the reason.
Fire Frog

Full painting, uncropped. 'Fire Frog' 2010

Several months ago I was asked to participate in the annual Dellas Graphics Frog Folio promotional calendar.  I did this once before and I recall being as anxious then as I was this time.  The issue for me was that a frog as subject matter is tough to work with if you're a realistic artist.  This is gold for artists like Bill Mayer who can turn a piece into a hilarious image or Edel Rodriguez who can make an image that is beautifully constructed and make it mostly about color, shape and design.
At least this was the noise in my head.  In the past I had taken this frog and merged it with something I enjoy painting, traditional trompe l'oeil.  The result was a shallow cabinet that stated "PRINCE" on a small plaque. 
My previous contribution to the Dellas Graphics series of Frog Paintings.

Having exhausted that approach, I needed to find a solution.  As I often do when I'm stuck, I doodled.  Playing with the shape of the frog first and turn it and spin it in space.  What can it do, what can it be?  The act of drawing rather than thinking requires that you make marks.  It is these marks that can MAKE you think and see parts you're not focusing on.  So, when I doodled a frog in tall grass, for an instant, I thought about the grass.
I then thought about doing something to the grass...
I then thought of a painting I saw by Gottfried Helnwein when I was in college.  It was of Salvador Dali on fire. 
The detail I recalled was how his hair burned. 
My brain works like that.  I store solutions up and can recall them when I find a reason.  I think most illustrators can do this and the skill is reinforced by working on tight deadlines.
I made that connection here and did a doodle of the frog in profile and how fire would affect the grass.  The flame almost grabs the grass and moves up it like a wick on a candle.
I then began putting this image together.

As I was painting it, I began to worry that I was actually burning a frog. This was a concern as I recall being instructed that I could paint anything I wanted but I couldn't smash a frog, or do something disturbing.   It was not my intention.  The idea here is that wild fires are not started by people or lightning strikes, but by fire frogs.  A simple twisted story but one that helped me solve this riddle.

Thanks to Jim Burke, fellow illustrator and art director for the project for giving me a reason to paint this.
The last photo is what we all want, an easel with paintings in progress that make us happy.
The Chicken and the Egg painting is very small but closer to the camera.  The Fire Frog is about 12 by 17.


I am fortunate to have some cool friends.  One is a documentary film maker, Eddie Rosenstein.  
Winner of dozens of awards for his films, Eddie is known for digging deep into his subjects lives: he moved into a senior citizen center in Florida while making A TICKLE IN THE HEART. He spent months at a drug rehab in Harlem for THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MR ALLEN. He even became a union miner in order to produce the HISTORY Channel docu-series, SANDHOGS. Eddie loves to make films about kids, and has made several including SCHOOL PLAY and MISS SHADE IS MISSING. As for theater, his interest in the subject came from his close friend and writing partner, Jonathan Larson, who wrote RENT. (Fun fact: the character Mark Cohen in RENT is based on Eddie.)

He is a talented guy and has a curiosity and wonder about him that gets to the heart of a story or situation and he's constantly thinking of ideas and stories to pursue.  One such story is the real life drama of an elementary school taking on a school play.
The kids must go from classmates to performers.  Eddie, and his partner Rick Velleu turned the camera on these kids at a magical time in their lives, 5th grade, and made to my mind a perfect movie.  As my son approaches this age next year, I can't watch it without breaking down in tears.  This time is golden and fleeting.  
Here is a clip.
Eddie had an idea for the poster a while ago but was having some trouble getting it the way he wanted it.  He asked me to do a sketch to see if this idea would work.  A child at the edge of the stage and have the stage be the edge of a cliff.
I did and Eddie loved it.  I then set about to do the poster for him.  As only a friend can do, he honestly said he liked my sketch  better and I kind of agreed.  
I worked it all out eventually after a few attempts and we made a fun poster that shows this moment of tension without abandoning the humor of it.   I designed the logo by taking the type and knocking over the P in PLAY. 
This is the quick thumbnail that I did that Eddie latched onto. Only show what you want to do, right?

Here it is as a color sketch as I imagined it with type I designed and type I 'borrowed' below from some blockbuster.

Here is a digital comp I made to use just before going to paint. I would have used this as my reference. Eddie rightfully felt the magic was missing from the sketch.

I thought I would try to slide in a drawing as a ghostly presence but it was not working like the sketch.

This is an early version with some animation I did that might have been used on the web.

Here is the ALMOST final version. One thing changed in the final was I made the whole thing more crisp and crossed the toe over the other ever-so-slightly. This thing had to look good at 36" high. That's a 1.5 gig file. Can you say slow computer?

Now the pitch, and this is a heartfelt one.  This is an amazing film (It's won several film festivals including the Big Apple international film festival) and I ask that you go to the link here and purchase the movie.  You won't regret it.  
Here's what you get:
    •    1 full-length Director’s Cut (72 min., NTSC, full Dolby stereo sound)
    •    License for home viewing
    •    1 11x17, full-color School Play poster (limited time only)
A $30 Value, now only  $19.95!


or go to
Earth: Fragile Planet Exhibition

EARTH: Fragile Planet is a nine week exhibit showcasing 120 illustrators, giving them a forum to set forth their personal views about the state of the world and the environment. Divided into five categories: earth, energy, air, water, and wildlife, the exhibit consists of multi-media works including original art in both traditional and digital medium, video, 3D, and comics. The exhibit is curated by Greg Manchess and Jack Unruh with able and enthusiastic assistance from Tara Jacoby and Kate Feirtag.

The Society has reached out to Global Water Challenge, a coalition of 24 leading organizations in the water and sanitation sector committed to achieving its collective vision of universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation. An online donation site has been created for the public to make donations and 100% of proceeds raised will go to GWC and their projects.

Society of Illustrators | 128 E. 63rd St. | New York | NY | 10065 | 212.838.2560
This is the original sketch jotted down on a pad at a rented house in Eagles Mere, PA. I was not thinking of doing anything art related that day, but an idea occurred to me.

One can see a more recognizable version of the final art in this sketch.

I thought of adding this piece to the exhibition while I was doing it.  In the time since I did something more aggressive that could be a better fit, but this piece symbolizes a few things to me.  One is coming out of depression, another is finding beauty anywhere and more appropriately, the ever-increasing ways in which mankind encroaches upon the natural world.
If it were only the other way around.
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