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Tim OBrien
Toe in the Water
posted:
Tuesday, 8:30 am.
Get in the car and drive Cassius to school.  Drop him off and head home.
Up to the studio, the answering machine light is blinking.
It's BusinessWeek and they are asking me to do a specific cover.

I need to think about it.  I have to go to Pratt and do final evaluations for the semester and am supposed to stay until 1 PM.

I call the AD, and find out the particulars.  He is seeking a cover and the idea is sounding weird for me and the deadline is the next morning. 
I think many would walk away from this kind of job but I've learned that these kinds of jobs are adrenaline boosters.  In a quick turn-around job the decisions are quick, the way it affects other jobs is minimal and the income is great on a per hour basis.

This is the thing though, the assignment was about private equity and how these investors were about to get back in the game.  They are timid but once they get back in, it could revive the economy.  They had other covers in play but wanted me to paint a realistic portrait of a wealthy, mid 50's man.  ON TOP of his face a cartoon mustache, monocle, and top hat like the character in Monopoly.  I think many illustrators could have knocked that one out  of the park (Taxali, Bower...)  but there is a vital skill that illustrators don't talk about enough that thankfully I have.  One must be able to hear a pitch and know if they can or should do a certain idea.  Do you take it and do it even though you think it's not right?  Do you do a sketch hoping they won't like it but like your idea?  Tough call and really hard if it's an artist's first cover.  I've done countless covers so that was not the case, but what to do?
Before I could do anything about the call,  I had to go to Pratt and do my final crit and then a faculty meeting.  Just prior to the meeting I called my agent and though many talk about how they don't need one, I find that as a sounding board, among his other roles, he is invaluable.  
I can come off as reasoned and calm, even charming because I rant and complain to him.  I wanted to do the cover but thought the idea was not right.  I whined some more.  Finally, as he listened I devolved into talking about how bad I thought the idea was (for me) and that it was odd and if they wanted to talk about private equity getting back into the game, use a "toe into the water or something."  I said "That's it, a well tailored pant leg and shot dipping into the water, with concentric circles rippling out from the toe"
My agent, Peter Lott paused then said, "You know, Tim?  That's it,  let me call him."  I said yes, offer that idea.  As I thought it out I sketched it on some paper in front of me.
Three minutes later Peter called back to say perfect and to go with it.
That's a cool rush and a great payoff.  The other way it could have gone is the AD really insists on his version and calls some other artist to do it.  In this case the idea was a better and more direct way to convey the thrust of the story.

The next step is the process.  I went home and did a sketch and got it approved but I was urged to find a great shoe and a non-cuffed, pinstriped pant leg.
I don't have wing tipped shoes so I went out to pick up a pair.  I went to sears which is near my home and of course the shoes there were cheap looking.  7pm and I still don't have a shoe.  My wife called her friend to ask if her husband could loan me a shoe.  The shoe belongs to Janno Lieber who is the president of World Trade Center Properties, and is overseeing the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.  He is also my marathon pal and for the past 3 years we go to the start together and wait in the cold for the start of the race.  He's a great guy.  My neighbors are used to being asked for clothing or to model for things.  Janno is also a giant compared to me, well over 6 feet tall and big feet.  
I would have to set up the shoe and photograph it off a foot.  The shoes were also aged a bit but the illustration should be crisp, smooth and new.  I don't have any of the reference anymore, I am trying to keep iPhoto leaner recently and 50 shots of a shoe are not worth the hard drive space.
Elizabeth modeled the leg in the pinstripe pants and I stuffed the shoe with paper to help smooth it out a bit.
After shooting everything it was 9:30 and I had to start putting it all together.
This is essentially a still life and I drew it  and painted it fairly quickly.  The water ripple is a combination of freehand airbrush and oil paint.
I finished about  6 AM.  I gave up caffeine last fall but save it for all nighters.  MAN is that drug powerful when you give it up.  I was WIRED all night with my knee bouncing.  Part of it was the caffeine and part of it was the fun of doing an one night cover assignment.
A few days later in a doctor's office I saw that my cover ran.  That's always a thrill.
Thanks to the folks at BusinessWeek for giving me the opportunity and for being so great to work with as usual.


This is sketched as I hear the pitch from the client. I drew that wall street guy first and and then lost interest as I heard the rest of the details. The sketch of the horse car is the indication of my distraction. After hanging up with the AD I talked to my agent and did that toe thumbnail.
Working the idea out more at home I do a sketch and then talk to the AD and hear his comments. Flop the foot, crisp pant leg, no cuff and pinstripes. I always doodle when I'm on the phone and many other ideas are born that way. Tortoise and giraffe may show up in the future.
A bit out of order, but here is the sketch I sent. I grabbed a shoe off of an internet shoe store for reference.
Final art, a close-up of the toe. I had to ignore all the great wrinkles the shoe had. I paid Janno for the use of the shoe with the great shine I gave his shoes.
When the art is just a foot, there is still a beauty to find in the details. Pinstripes next to the lines of the socks contrasted against the smooth shine of the shoe. Patiently I add a highlight to many of the tiny parts of the stitched and stamped leather. I snuck in an "OB" on the heel.
The hardest part was shooting the pant leg. Elizabeth had to stand on a pile of 3 unopened Workbook tear sheet reams and dangle her leg down to a piece of white foam core. It's hard to do as I fuss with the pants and try to have just the right shape and not too many wrinkles or waves to the pants. Realist painters must all torture the people they live with, or is it just me?


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