Tim OBrien
March 2011
Alchemy Magazine
The first cover of the new magazine, ALCHEMY

Recently I had a wonderful time doing some illustrations for a new Magazine called Alchemy, published by SecondMarket Ecosystem, LLC ( The magazine is for hedge fund managers, private equity investors, high net worth individuals, bankers, asset management firms, treasury/finance groups of Fortune 1000 companies.  Not for any of my fellow illustrators.

I was asked to illustrate an article for a cover story about investing in new areas not often thought of.  The pitch of the concept could have cause a cold sweat as a list of potential places to invest were read off to me.  I'm not really a 'kitchen sink' type of illustrator and said as much in that first phone call.  Honesty in these first calls sometimes makes all the difference.  I laid out what I thought worked best for dry information like this.  I even discussed SooJin Buzelli's amazing impact on PlanSponsor.  The conversation was great to have and it set up a sketch process that was extremely well received.
This is the image I thought of while on the phone.
The first idea I had was one that occurred to me when I was on our first phone call.  Investing in areas not seen, off the charts. 
I saw a piano player off the keyes.  Ideas are like corks for me.  You have to get them down to discover if they work or not.  This one I could not get to work right and in the end was a bit to obscure.
The first idea was based on a Mark Tansey painting I love of Jackson Pollock walking on water, painting. The other contemporaries of him are in a small boat watching him break an unspoken barrier and drizzle paint on the canvas.
I thought a boat over the edge or a waterfall might work.  Once sketched though, it veered into Wiley Coyote territory.  A more gentle trip over the falls in a sail boat would work better.
The water dripping off of the bottom of the boat indicates that this is not an accident but a gentle moment of magic. At least that's what I hoped.

Mark Tansey's "Myth of the Depth"

Fishing in Red Hook

Another idea was fishing.  I run in Red Hook once a week and run down some of the fishing peers.  Some warm days you can see dozens of poles in the water at the same time.  They all fish in the same place.  I thought of this and the idea that one fellow might find the right spot far away from that tangle of lines.
This is how I came up with the fish.
I'm sure it's been done before but thankfully I never saw it and had nothing to expunge from my brain.
This was the quick thumbnail that occurred to me that I think nailed the idea of the article.

Once on paper, I could see I had 2 options to work with at the top of the illustration.  One was just a spray of light from above working it's way down to the fish.  Another was to show the waterline.  
Having gone with that one, I suddenly thought of using that and treating the cover as an old FORTUNE cover.  Activate the title and type into the artwork.
This is how the fractured title came about and I'm so happy they let me do that in the final.

I sent this sketch, still unsure of the actual logo in hopes that they could see how cool it looked. They went for it! (with the right logo of course.)

The second piece in the package was a portrait or Nouriel Roubini, the financial mastermind who predicted the housing crisis and financial meltdown of a few years ago.  It was to be a straight portrait but I made it a bit more moody.
I also taped myself painting some of it but I'm no Frank Capra and my hand covered the artwork for most of it.  Not only do you not see the brush on the board but the camera would focus on the back of my hand all the time making the art look too blurry.  I'll get that right one of these days.

All in all, a great gig that was sort of unexpected.  A nice and supportive art director in Ashley Cromwell and I also reconnected with an AD that I knew many years ago through Scholastic, Paul Colin, who is the production manager there.  It's always great to meet people again and that makes the industry seem like a circle.
Nouriel Roubini

Japan Quake

Vampire Economy for Mother Jones

Recently I was asked by Tim Luddy of Mother Jones to paint the cover for the March issue.  The idea was that the economy has some inherent problems that essentially bleeds us dry.  The image, from Tim L, was of the classic Dracula and damsel, only the damsel this time is the United States.  Alex Ross did a wonderful Bush as Vampire for the Village Voice in 2008.
Our Dracula is a simple and clean  image and makes for an arresting cover.
With Mother Jones and Tim Luddy we have a major fan of illustration.  Both on the web and in print, the magazine is filled with thought provoking images and writing that makes it  a standout.  Like Runner's World and PlanSponsor and a few others, Mother Jones pushes illustration out there as a means to convey complex stories and each turn of the page has you arrive at a new idea with an unexpected image.
The legendary Randall Enos opens the issue with this illustration .
The inventive imagination of Marcos Chin evident in this illustration.
A effective spot illo from Gordon Studer.

A tour de force project from Jason Schneider. It stitches this longer article together and makes these charts easy to digest.

This one is a great spread by the remarkable Bill Mayer. A fight poster motif that goes across the gutter and makes this article seem alive. A stellar mix of illustration and art direction.

Finally, Stephen Colbert had a few words to say about this issue and the income disparity in this country...

Italy iPad App

 Recently I was asked a slightly confusing question, would I illustrate an iPad app?
Talking to the various ADs at Conde Nast Traveler, it was becoming clear that while there was a general idea of what they wanted, a painting of Italy, what it would 'do' and how it would function was up in the air.  
They wanted me to paint the iPad app opener and under the map would be the architecture that would take you to the various places around Italy.  A nice navigation concept.
For me the issue was more complicated.  What they were asking for was throwing up red flags left and right.  An aerial map of Italy that showed all of the famous architecture and points of interest while eventually becoming a painting like the background of the Mona Lisa.  All I could think of was that it was going to look like a map one would find on a placemat in a small diner that showed the various shops and establishments in town.  Was I driving down the right street here?  Was it time to turn around?
I voiced my concern and showed them what I would do and luckily they went in the direction of NOT showing building and concentrating on realism and hiding the transition of aerial to horizontal.  It was going to be tough to be looking down on a map and at some point be looking into a vista of mountains in Northern Italy.
The piece went from more of an old map to a painting of a landscape the cheated as it move forward to be an aerial view.    To fit the request that it look like an old painting I painted a frame around the art.
This was my first iPad piece, it was a fun project and interesting to download the app and see it that way for the first time.
Is this like doing the cover of an 8 track tape or Laser disc or will apps be as timeless as a book?  Of course, nothing is as timeless as a book.


I was sent this image as inspiration.  A Poussin landscape, "Landscape with a Calm" 
People must fear that I will paint a brown painting unless they show me a full spectrum example first.  A hunch.
Here was another inspiration from the ADs on the assignment.  Robert Best said to consider the background of the Mona Lisa when thinking of the top of the painting.

When I first started, this is what I assumed they wanted.  This, plus a landscape thrown in.  I just needed a place to start rowing towards.

I found this great collections of parts of a map.  The way to design this was foreign to me so this helped me find some way forward.

A first, digital mock-up of what I might be able to do on this job.  The advice was to not make it so brown (I guess I needed the 'inspiration' reminder).
I had been lobbying NOT to have the architecture included and with my description of a diner placemat effectively delivered, I might have made the idea of little tower of Pisa and the Coliseum seem awful. 
At the same time we were working out an idea if it would actually animate into place.  Her is my clunky first attempt at how it might work...
With animation abandoned, we worked more on the final art.  No more planes or attempts at being a map.  It was now to be merely a landscape that shifted to be an aerial view that would fit exactly over a set map of Italy.  This made plotting out the painting more difficult but made it work seamlessly.

As artwork in a frame.  This sketch make the idea that it was artwork seem possible, thought the frame was too big.

This digital comp was getting closer but still they wanted more snowy mountains at the top.

This was the approved sketch thought I needed to intergrate the mountains more evenly at the top of Italy.  Sketch # 22.
The final art with the frame which they cropped off. If I could have those 4 hours back at the end of my life...

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