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Titanic for Smithsonian

APRIL 28, 2012

This is the 100th year anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Titanic.  As we think about this date and the mythology of the loss of this massive ship on it's maiden voyage, Smithsonian Magazine asked me to illustrate the Titanic and how it stays vivid in our minds and imagination.  It's an historical anomaly that makes a sure thing seem less so, that nothing is assured and that nature wins out in the end.
My family has a connection to the Titanic that I heard of only fleetingly years ago and was recently clarified by my cousin George Waldron, the son of my grandmother's older sister, Mary. 

My great grandmother was Ellen Moran, whose husband Patrick had died and left Mary and her alone on the farm in Ireland.  My great grandmother was expecting.  My great grandmother had a sister, Delia, who lived in Massachusetts and after hearing that my great grandmother was pregnant, came back to Ireland to help her.  One day Delia came home to excitedly announce that she could book passage back to the US on the maiden voyage of the Titanic but my great grandmother was crushed and pleaded for Delia to stay in Ireland and not go back to the States.  She changed her plans and stayed.  My Grandmother was born June 10th, 1912 and the Titanic sank in April of 2012.  Delia from Massachusetts always said that my grandmother saved her life.  In recognition of Delia, my grandmother was also named Delia.  

The wonderful AD at Smithsonian asked me to capture the way this ship is so considered and discussed 100 years later.  To do this I worked on an old idea of mine, ships escaping a frame.

The one thing that made this cover 'trompe l'oeil' difficult was trying to also do a lighter cover.  To convey depth and highlights, darkness works best.  Still, I was able to shift values where needed to pull of this trick.

I'm happy with the cover and that it's all a trompe, something I studied in college.  This is the kind of thing I always hoped to do when I was a wee lad.

I dedicate this piece to my Aunt Mary, who is lives in Hamden Connecticut at the healthy age of 102.
She is our bright shining hope of a long life and is sharp as a tack, and clear as a bell.
'Realism' -In the collection of the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, NY.

This is my digital sketch that uses a ship reference purchased from Getty for this assignment. With not too much space to convey the visual trick, I had to eliminate the sharp shadow next to the front for more air around it.
I tried out a porthole but I didn't like the shape as much...circles are inherently whimsical, aren't they? The color and values

Final artwork. Oil on Panel.

Without a Mahl stick this is impossible.

My name tumbles out of the window.

Mary Waldron, my grandmother's older sister, celebrating her 100th year in 2010. She's still making us smile.

© 2024 Tim O'Brien