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Young Lincoln for National Geographic's Exploring History

OCTOBER 27, 2011

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