Tim OBrien
Napoleon for Smithsonian
Final Art

I was commissioned by Smithsonian Magazine to paint a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte for the current issue.  The article had an interesting thesis that asserted that we would have been better off if Napoleon never lost in Waterloo.  Certainly he would have been.
The idea I let float around in my head for a while was a smirk.  I envisioned a Napoleon portrait of the regal, diminutive emperor with a dejected smirk on his sweaty face.
From the article:
"If Napoleon had remained emperor of France for the six years remaining in his natural life, European civilization would have benefited inestimably. The reactionary Holy Alliance of Russia, Prussia and Austria would not have been able to crush liberal constitutionalist movements in Spain, Greece, Eastern Europe and elsewhere; pressure to join France in abolishing slavery in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean would have grown; the benefits of meritocracy over feudalism would have had time to become more widely appreciated; Jews would not have been forced back into their ghettos in the Papal States and made to wear the yellow star again; encouragement of the arts and sciences would have been better understood and copied; and the plans to rebuild Paris would have been implemented, making it the most gorgeous city in the world.
Napoleon deserved to lose Waterloo, and Wellington to win it, but the essential point in this bicentenary year is that the epic battle did not need to be fought—and the world would have been better off if it hadn’t been."
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It's a funny thing about smirks, if you look them up, they are all over the place.  The best ever was that amazing real moment when McKayla Marone, the Olympic gymnast let her feelings show on the medal stand in London after receiving her silver (See below).  By putting a smirk on Napoleon in the final, it might lean too 'cartoonish' for me and lose the power of the hat or 'crown' being knocked off.  I had to figure out how far to go with it and in the end I went with suspicious.
Inspired, when it came time to deliver sketches, I felt I had several good options, but something about that first sketch worked for me and it was the hat being blown off his head with a minimal smirk.
Thankfully, my favorite sketch was chosen by the wonderful Maria Keehan and I was on to the final art.
I also made a short gif of the hat being blown off, but it's not quite an 'evergreen' gif as the hat has to go back onto his head eventually.

The Hippolyte Delaroche painting my image was based on.
McKayla Maroney

Napoleon Gif

Close-up of a sweaty and concerned Napoleon. We decided to keep the color weak in the final art.

Close-up of a sweaty and concerned Napoleon. We decided to keep the color weak in the final art.
If Animals were like Humans
Tortoise Acting Human

Recently I was talking to my soon-to-be former students about sketchbooks. They are so very important and what comes out of them is not only future pieces, but perhaps insights into what we were feeling at the time.  Artists jot down ideas and some sketches are just winners and we go to those first, others need to sit a while, their meaning not clear yet.  Perhaps an element need to come into focus, the right model enters your life or some other aspect changes that 'green lights' the image.  
The thumbnail for this was sketched while waiting for my son to come out of surgery last summer.  Grim, I know, but looking back now it's easy to see, while I had no idea what I was sketching at the time, that the tortoise was lighting his own back on fire, hence, we were doing this to our son.  I know both my wife and I were feeling terrible that day, and it all comes out in the art.
A strong image can work in other ways too and I actually thought this image was about a tortoise causing his own demise, an oblique reference to climate deniers and other that imperil the planet and it's species.
When the RJD Gallery (Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery in Sag Harbor) asked for me to participate in a group show to benefit the Southampton Animal Shelter, I pulled out the sketch and offered this painting titled, Tortoise Acting Human, oil and gouache on panel.  Also in the exhibition and sale is a piece done several years ago titled, Dark Horse, oil and gold leaf on panel.

Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation – "A Magical Menagerie”

May 9th - May 21st
RJD Gallery
PO BOX 1994
90 Main Street
Sag Harbor, NY 11963
Rough sketch

Watercolor done at the end of 2014

Close up or the poor fellow

Dark Horse, 2004

Michael Brown for Esquire

This summer I was troubled, as were many other Americans, when an unarmed black man, Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri.  This followed the case of Treyvon Martin and was followed by Eric Garner's choking death (recorded) in Staten Island. 
No matter what you feel about Michael Brown or other recent deaths of unarmed black men, 2014 was the year it came to a boiling point.
Just prior to the verdict in Ferguson, I was asked to illustrate Michael Brown on the ground.  For me, the awful video of his body prone on the pavement, in the hot sun was hard to watch.  Imagine the pain of his family seeing him there for almost 4 hours. Writer, John H. Richardson wrote a piece for ESQUIRE about the incident and how it endures through the eyes of his father, Michael Brown Sr.
Rough sketch based on the low quality long distance photograph.

This is the powerful layout in the magazine. Thank you to Christa Guerra and David Curcurito for the faith in illustration.
In order to do this piece I had to shoot reference and it's such a removed process to ask someone you know to pose for a piece like this.  In the end I hope it made more real something only seen in grainy quality images.
Years ago I did a similar clarifying piece in responce to Neda being murdered in Iran.  It's a foresnic form a portraiture.
Je Suis Charlie
animation by Tonka

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