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Beck for Rolling Stone

MARCH 4, 2014
MORNING PHASE by Beck~~~~~~ Illustration by Tim O'Brien

When I read that Beck’s new album was to be somewhat of a revisiting of his 2002 release of ‘Sea Change’, I began to think of how I was back then and how I am now.  I first listened to that recording in the dead of winter on a lake in Eagles Mere, Pa.  I was searching for hope at the time and that record filled me with calm and tranquility.  Years have passed since and life has progressed and now in a different place I was fondly recalling that album and wondering what his new release, ‘Morning Phase’ might be like.  Early reviews stated that it was a reminiscent of those sounds and themes.
I was inspired to do some sketches of a potential painting of Beck and when Rolling Stone needed an illustration for this, I was ready. There were two things I was trying to do with this piece; one was to capture morning with it’s cold mist, and foggy, pink light, and the other goal was some sort of lyrically floating element. My sketches investigated these and in the end I agreed to proceed with a sparrow flying through the scene.
I’ve been trying to do different things lately.  Sometimes the people who hire us need to see us a different way and I think that’s hard at times.  Having illustrated so long a certain way, it takes a bit of courage for an AD and me to do that.  I think this painting moves me a bit into a new place.
Rolling Stone’s Will Hermes gave Morning Phase 4 1/2 stars calling it an “instant folk-rock classic.”I’ve listened to it several times now and it is deeply beautiful. 
In the second track, ‘Morning’, he sings…
“But can we start it all over again?
This morning
I let down my defenses
This morning
It was just you and me
This morning
I fought all out guesses
This morning
Won't you show me the way
It couldn't be?”
We all know Beck as the master of so many kinds of sounds, songs and music, but his lyrics are really powerful and he continues to be a remarkable artist in full bloom.
These are some of my first sketches presented to Rolling Stone. I had an idea of these transparent bars, akin to notes or sounds going through his body. This was a dream I had and actually inspired this illustration. The second and third sketches in this group are images I'd like to do eventually. We didn't proceed with them this time, but I like the idea. The hand raised is a delicate touch, the moment of creation that filled this long vertical nicely. I didn't want musical instruments. If they went with either the bars or the halo I was going to do that digitally.

This second round was a further exploration of what the bars were but putting him in a MORNING setting, referencing back to the title. I've been wanting to try some digital overlapping things so I offered that flower solution too. Small bees started me thinking about nature and flight...I did hone in on the preferred color and value pattern.

This was also part of the second round and I felt the need to offer an alternative view. The way things go for me is that I do a sketch, try out things with that sketch and exhaust it, then do another and try out things again. What end up happening is I arrive at the answer near the end. The floating bars activated the space, but were kind of Sci-Fi in the end. A request to move it to nature brought in bees, that became birds and butterflies. Birds worked best in the end and then I added branches throughout and buds too (longing for Spring these days) and it all came together.

© 2024 Tim O'Brien