Tim OBrien
October 2011
Young Lincoln for National Geographic's Exploring History

His face is iconic.  That unique American sphinx, his image is likely more memorable than any other US president.  That hat, the beard covering his chin and his chiseled features that hint at a weariness are all Lincoln's telltale traits.   He was the leader that saved our union and changed America.  
When contemplating who Abraham Lincoln was before he was our 16th President, publications and editors are stuck without any solid indication of what he looked like.  
There are some notable additions to this era of Lincoln.  Norman Rockwell's tall and beautiful painting of a young Lincoln is my favorite image of the man, but most of us are drawn the to power of the photos of the man and I think editors are as well.
This is my reference. Yikes!

Lincoln younger but not young.

Why would Tim put a Norman Rockwell next to his own Lincoln? It's self abuse.

I was asked by National Geographic to paint a portrait of a young Lincoln for the premier issue of a new magazine for them, Exploring History.  The age I was aiming for was his late 20s to mid 30's.  To start this process, I needed a source image that I use use to hit the likeness but remove the years.
At the same time I was painting this portrait I was working on a painting of the late rap icon, Tupac, imagining how he would look at 40.  Removing years requires not only removing wrinkles, but other elements as well.  Noses and ears grow as we age, so I needed to reduce both slightly.  I thought perhaps Lincoln would be less gaunt as a younger man, thinking perhaps of the Rockwell painting.

Working for National Geographic means that the factual elements would be thoroughly vetted and thankfully my sketches were not picked apart too much.
In the end, the decision was to make the image look like a long lost photo rather than a new painting.  I think this was the right way to go and I'm proud to have added a painting to the long list of Lincoln images.
I like to look at a portrait and really study it and see if I can think of a person who kind of looks like the subject when reference is not easy to come by.  For this illustration I was looking at his chin.  It reminded me of the Irish Actor Gabriel Byrne.  Gabriel is a very handsome guy but his chin has a certain firmness to it that reminded me of Lincoln.  Seaching for a shot of him in that position, I came upon a good fit.
Gabriel Byrne

This is an alternate version with less saturation. I liked this one.

A million brushstrokes.

There was a possibility of having him with a slight smile.  I'm glad we didn't do it in the end.
This is an unused version of the final art. It is very easy to alter the shape of things by making a selection in Photoshop, refining the edge to be feathered a bit, then using the WARP tool to move things around. Mouths are hard to do believably. When someone smiles everything moves; the mouth, the cheeks and the openness of the eyes. With only moving the mouth you get a "Joker Smile"

Note: Knowing that this image could show up somewhere else, I registered it with the copyright office the day I finished it.  I do this quite often and it's really easy to do.  FYI
Steve Jobs for the Wall Steet Journal
Steve Jobs, February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011

I have a few portraits that are done and were assigned when it was believed that the subject might soon pass.  This year two of those portraits were finally used, Bin Laden for Time and Steve Jobs for the Wall Street Journal.  The portrait of Steve Jobs was not a pleasant one to do, though each brush stroke really was a soft touch of appreciation.  Jobs was handsome but without flash, much like his aesthetic, he was minimalist but cool, close cropped short hair, simple black turtleneck and his emotions held in check but with an ease of purpose.
In the days that have followed Steve Jobs inevitable passing, I have really been moved by my fellow artists' proclamations about his importance in their lives.  Everyone spoke of the way his technology is woven into his or her lives, but it's the way certain illustrators in particular spoke of his presence in their worlds, perhaps none more precise than my friend James Yang, who wrote, “In the early 90's Apple saved my career. You could say I'm grateful."  I think many of us are.
 It was coming, the personal computer.  My particular age is mid to now later 40's and I went through ALL of my schooling without touching a computer.  They were not really part of any program I had in art school or even part of the creative process yet.  The highest tech device that started while I was in college was a fax machine.  It was not until a few years AFTER that I heard the beginnings of these incredible devices, a Mac.  My wife started to come home from work at Scholastic saying that they were going to start to 'switch over' to computers.  It all happened so quickly.  Soon she and I purchased an expensive Mac and started to discover what it could do. 
My art is still analog for the most part, but the power of the computer is a major part of my creative process and I for one am a better illustrator because of it. 
The thing about the devices Jobs wanted us to use was how instinctive and simple they are to use.  My generation would have to learn everything about the computer on their own.  This unforeseen hurdle could have been the end of many careers but instead the Mac's ease of use actually helped revive them.
I became more social through online public forums in the 1990's, finding my voice and learning to write effectively in the hours of debate I found myself locked in.
My brother in law gave me the gift of an iPod when they first came out which was such a revolutionary device that I started running just to listen to it.  Now I am healthier, a marathoner, and still using an iPod.
Like some legends, Jobs left us very young.  Decades left to invent and craft our world, we will always wonder what would be.  I have immense faith in the creativity out there that new inventors will still inspire and change the way we interact with our art, our world and each other.
Still, Steve Jobs was our Einstein, our Edison and we had the pleasure of being around as each invention was unveiled and got to see them embraced by the world.
I sometimes paint people in mock glory and sometime paint them in a reverence that is justified.  Clearly in this instance it is justified.
*note:  this portrait was assigned by a different publication and that publication and art director let me offer it to other publications and for that I am truly grateful.
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