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Tim OBrien
The Choice
posted:
The Cover of Time November 10th, 2008
There is a scene in Goodfellas where Ray Liotta's character Henry Hill is doing a million things at once.  He has to make the sauce, deliver some stolen guns, see his goumada and pick up some drugs to sell, arrange for his babysitter to act as a mule to deliver the drugs, get her lucky hat for her when she indicates she can't travel without it...the list goes on.  All illustrators have days, weeks or years like that.  I mostly have weeks like that.  This week was definitely like that, (minus the crime)...all that was missing was a helicopter circling overhead.
I started my week by teaching a class in Philadelphia.  Once home, I observe the green light blinking on the answering machine.  It's Arthur Hochstein at Time asking me to call.  Gulp.  It's a cover and it's a big one.  I need to run so I go out in the dark and get that in.  Tuesday I go to see yet another heart specialist for a magnetic heart scan.  That night the washing machine broke.  Tuesday I stay up all night to finish the cover for 10 am Wednesday.  I finish at about 10:30, get it to him and then go to sleep.  I get up at 2:45 to go and pick up Cassius from school.  When I get home Arthur tells me the cover will run!  YES!  I go off training and have wine.  Before I do that I have to run again.  Thursday I get up and catch up on work that was pushed aside and then go and teach at Pratt.  I rush home to receive the new washing machine.  I then dart off to the Jacob Javitts Center to pick up my number for Sunday's New York City Marathon.  More sketches to work on tonight and then up early to take Cassius to school again.  Friday Halloween, Saturday rest and Sunday run a marathon.

~~~~~~~~~~

When I was in college I used to see the cover or TIME as the ultimate I could hope for in a career.  My heros at the time were on that cover, such as Gottfried Helnwein, and Birney Lettick.  As a tight realist I left college with a portfolio of realistic portraits and textures.  One such texture was water drops.  It's because of those that Rudy Hoagland called me from Time and I think I worked with Arthur also.  The assignment for this 24 year old was to paint a tear on George Washington for a Time Cover.  This was the first cover I accomplished and I have been so lucky to have done many more over the years.  Working for Time has ALWAYS been the best.  Arthur is the person I've worked the most for I suppose.  He's very clear and tells you subtle directions and why they are important to getting the art to work.  I've learned a great deal from him about how subtle things make or break a piece.  He is also a wonderful person.

A call from Arthur is always a rush.  My brain scans my life, my calender and jobs on my easel that are due.  I always say yes and hang up readjusting my world to this new chaos.   
Arthur's call this week was well timed actually.  I saw this historic election winding down and did wonder if I would get to ever do a cover as important as this one again.   He asked me to paint "the choice."   I did do a similar cover in the mid 90's of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.  I worked up some sketches and with Elizabeth's help, tried out a conceptual background of words.  This idea came out of sketching and is what I think this cover is about.  Months and months of noise and campaigning all stops and it's just YOU and THEM in the voting booth.    I did many versions using different reference shots to work from.  The last set of sketches were the close up ones.  I knew these were the ones that would win.  Arthur chose them and I was off.

McCain was easy to paint so I did him first.  His color would set the tone for the spread.  Obama proved more difficult as I got kind of lost (and tired) while painting his face with a million little brushstrokes.  Trying to get his color just right, I optically mixed purple, red, green and yellow all in tiny slashes to achieve a luminous skin tone.  Back to McCain and trying to give him the same attention.  Back and forth until the sun was up and the ties and jackets were not yet begun.  I can paint those in a flash.

I'm a veteran of the Time cover assignment and know to NOT get too excited.  Don't tell anyone and just work on impressing Arthur and Rick Stengel, the managing editor.  I think both were happy and I got the cover.


This was good timing for me.  For reasons I'll try to get to next week, the marathon and training for it has consumed me for 5 months and mentally for a year.  There is a point in long runs or crazy races like marathons that I berate myself to "BE AN ILLUSTRATOR!"  This job kept my mind calm this week and put things in perspective.
Thanks Arthur for again having faith in me. 
Life is chaotic, the alternative is worse. 
My cover from 1996
The thumbnail on the phone.
Closer, but they are too detached from the viewer, voter.
The no sketch.
This is a rough digital comp of the type idea. Esquire does this better.
This is the full painting. It's about 16 by 14 and wet.
My choice. Go Barack! Go America!


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