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Tim OBrien
Whitney for Rolling Stone
posted:
For the current issue of Rolling Stone I was asked to do a Record Review piece for the comeback release by Whitney Houston.
About to leave for vacation, I had a tiny window to fit it in and they were more than happy to receive it early.  The review was not in yet and but I had to start.  These are never thumbs up or thumbs down illustrations, just an artist's take on the musician at this given moment.  For me, this moment was about a major reintroduction for Whitney.  Who fell further than Whitney?  She went from being the Diva of Divas and ended up tired, lost in drugs and drama with Bobby Brown.
I thought initially about doing a piece with her arm creating a frame for her face.  I knew  that she was still lovely to look at and I could make this just about beauty.
However, I wanted Rolling Stone to think of me as more than just a portrait artists.  I love doing portraits, but cover portraits come up so infrequently at any given publication, it would be smart to improve my profile.  The trouble was that a concept meant more work.  Damn you fellow Drawgers!  Some of you make me want to be a better artist.
I immediately thought of the campaign that must go on to re-launch a star like Houston.  I imagine the meeting, the Ari Gold-type guy pointing to people, "You buy the ads in the trades, you get some billboards in prominent locations, I want guest spots on safe shows, no questions!"
The billboard idea is one I've always liked.  When I was hired by Time Magazine in the last days of 1999 to paint FDR, I used it to show the rebuilding of the American dream. I also did a piece for Ken Smith at Time about the end of tobacco advertising.  Ken modeled for the Marlboro Man but I can't locate it.  Ken might find it...Ken?

The odd thing about this illustration was the given dimensions.  A long vertical!  So, I needed to change the dimensions of an average billboard and still make it look real.  
In the end the piece worked.  I might have liked a different review.  A few months earlier I had to turn down a Bob Dylan!  Kicking myself still.

In any event, since I've done this illustration, I'm wishing Whitney Houston well.  America loves a comeback.

This page is so indicative of my studio.  Note the wrinkle on it and the chair wheel roll over marks.  I laughed when I picked this up.  When the call came it I was thrilled.  I love working for Rolling Stone.  I imagined in a split second, "Hi Tim, we are reviewing the new Beatles Albums coming out in September..."  No it was Whitney.  I sketched as he talked and as I thought of my options I drew her as a one eyed alien.  The rough below was my initial thought.

Here is my rough for the piece.  I didn't send a rough because of timing.  I could not afford to have to explain everything, explain color and have them trust my likeness.  A good sketch saves me time. 

My FDR piece using the billboard as a metaphor for changing America.  12/1999

I had to do a good drawing of Whitney that would fill out a long vertical.  Hands felt like a good use of space.

Here is the approved sketch.  I can do this easily as a painter because of my trusty mahl stick.  Circles are hard, lines are easy.

Here is the final art.  I sent it in, they liked it, and I left town for California.  While I was there and in Monterey, they asked that I change her earrings to a pair unlike the ones she wears on her album cover.  The image is from the same shoot and they didn't want a mirror clone on the same page.  Understandable but it was kind of tough to do.

In the hotel, La Portola, internet costs 10 bucks for 10 minutes and 100 for a day.  I read it 5 times not believing the audacity.  IT was true.  If I were going to change it with my laptop it would have to be at a Starbucks.  So, I threw a rock and found a Starbucks and did the change with trackpad there.


Changing Whitney's Earrings via Starbuck's wifi in Monterey CA.

This is the artwork as it ran.  I lke these earrings better anyway.  The other ones were a bit distracting next to the panels being lifted by cranes.



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