Tim OBrien
The Boat
'The Boat' Oil on Board 15 1/2" X 21"
Life couldn't have worked out better by the end of 2014.  Still, the Irish in me begins to feel wary when things are too satisfying and I often find myself mentally 'testing the floor' to see if it's sturdy.  I am learning to trust and enjoy the good parts of life.  However, this image is about the way that life can sometimes flip you out of your boat.
My sketchbook is a place where I work out ideas and jot down simple images that suddenly, a while later, become relevant and need to be turned into final art.  Sometimes I need a bit of clearance from the actual real-life events that inspired the sketch.  This personal work from the fall of 2014 comes from that clearance and a more distant perspective. 
I like staring out at the crystal-clear lake in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania in the late summer, when the light gets softer and the clouds become wisps and glow like neon against the falling sun.  One particular day this August it all lined up perfectly; wispy clouds, soft ripples and evening light.  That was the night I decided to do the piece. 
This is an image of a man being tossed from his comfort.  I don't imagine him losing his life, but it ended what was a blissful moment. 
I look forward to doing more work from the sketchbooks in 2015. 
Lean into life, take it all in and trust the good things all around, and no matter what, get back into the boat!
Rough sketch for 'The Boat'..... I forgot about the wine bottle and the birds but every element is a character in the story and I felt they didn't need time on the stage.

A close-up of the formerly content subject

Here's a toast to all those who made this year such a great one for me.  Cheers to all of my friends and family, my e-mail group, my running friends, to anyone who lost someone they love, who fought against some illness, who picked themselves up, to my far away friends, to my friends at the Society of Illustrators,  to all my students (most of them) and to my heart, Elizabeth Parisi and Cassius.  It was quite a year.
Click below to see a brief slideshow of 2014.  Have a great holiday and New Year.
12/18/14 by Slidely Slideshow
Duck/Rabbit Illusion for Nautilus
'Rabbit/Duck at Sunset' 18" X 11" Oil on Board

Every now and then an assignment comes along that is just perfect with where your head is.  A freelancer should be ready to work with assignments and ideas that may not be right in one’s wheelhouse, thus is the reason it’s called a collaboration.  Good illustrators can maintain their look and identity while working with another’s idea.  This is the real job of an illustrator.
Recently, when Len Small of Nautilus contacted me about an illusion assignment, I was immediately inspired.  
The assignment was to attempt a realistic version of the Duck/Rabbit illusion.  Investigating these illusions, I saw that the more simple the artwork the harder it was to see either animal as the definitive choice as the eye goes back and forth trying to determine which is which.  
I made several attempts with the illusion in digital comps and then let myself play a bit.  I had several solutions and I liked the floating rabbit a lot, but the more direct illusion in the grass fit the article better.  Nautilus kindly ran both.
Click to see the article at Nautilus...

What an amazing publication Nautilus is.  There are certain places out there in the editorial market that are warm and sunny and have all that we dream of when a client calls. PlanSponsor,  Scientific American, Playboy and Smithsonian are just a few examples.  We all appreciate when illustration is loved and is used to enhance the writing.  In Nautilus, the work is always beautiful and effective so I do hope other publications notice.
'Rabbit on the Pond' 15" X 10" Oil on Board (Alternate Final)

'Rabbit/Duck at Sunset' close-up. To make the illusion work I had to find a way to reduce the rabbit's head so that the silhouette still looked like a rabbit while also looking like the back of a duck's head. The ears also had to reduce and hint at yellow. This is why I went with a golden sunset.

'Rabbit on the Pond' close-up Thinking of this solution, I am reminded of my admiration of paintings by Michael Sowa. Sowa's Ark is a book I would highly recommend.

Arcadia Contemporary Soho
As a moderately busy illustrator with a series of deadlines linked together with more deadlines, I can sometimes produce work that is more mirror than memoir.  I keep a sketchbook to help my mind reach and sometimes images float to the top and need to be painted.  Following what had been a stressful time, images in the sketchbook were rich and released some of that tension.  In the spring, a random call from a gallery asking for work for an exhibition was quite unexpected.  In our discussions and looking over my work, they wondered if I might use fire and still life in the same pieces?  It took months to figure it out, but once I did, the pieces came quickly.
When I do a personal piece it’s almost always driven purely by aesthetics; I want to paint water, or an elephant or a door.  I trust those impulses and it’s only a bit later that I arrive at why.  With this series, it was initially random things of a certain vintage in flame and it wasn’t until the 4th painting, a hammer, where I figured out what this series meant.  
It’s a series about being stuck, with no one to talk to, no one who can see you, the loss of time and finally not being able to work.  This series could only come out in a place of deep happiness and contentment, as the distance makes it possible.
The exhibition is filled with brilliant artists, some who are friends, and I encourage anyone who can, to come and see the paintings and perhaps acquire my pieces.
A Group Exhibition of New Works
October 16th- October 31st, 2014
ARCADIA Contemporary Soho
(212) 965-1387
Mon - Fri: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Sat - Sun: 11:00 am - 6:00 pm
51 Greene Street
New York, New York 10013
NO TIME, Oil on panel, 12"x 12"

NO TALK, Oil on panel, 12"x 12"

NO SEE, Oil on panel, 12"x 12"

NO WORK, Oil on panel, 12"x 12"

Rough thumbnails with initial angle and without a unifying theme. Just old stuff on fire at this point.

George Washington for Smithsonian
Secrets of American History, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2014
Not long ago I was asked by Smithsonian Magazine to paint George Washington for the September 2014 cover.  This image would be for the Secrets of American History issue and like my Norman Rockwell homage, would be a recognizable figure with a twist. 
I love working with them because they know what I can do and can think of projects I would be good for.  That’s what you hope for.
Unlike the Rockwell cover, I was not sure which famous source painting of George I would base my portrait on, but of course I would likely choose either Gilbert Stewart or Rembrandt Peale as the source.
Master copies, as I’ve written before, are a common use of my skills as a painter and each time I learn something new in the process.  But in recent years I try to use the source drawing but paint it my way as much as I can.  In this case it would be my intricate brushwork over the structure created by Gilbert Stewart.
I knew I wanted to hide the top of his head in a dark band so my sketches investigated that, and the shadow that fell on the background was supposed to be all that the background was to be.  The bands ended up being the colors of the flag, so they did double duty and made the cover a bit deeper and connected to the cover tag-line.
It was a fun assignment to do and was one that I was able to benefit from letting it dry a bit then work on the skin a bit more, allowing for subtle scumbles and glazes.
If I had longer deadlines, I would do it more.  Being so busy for so long, I have forgotten the benefit of slowing down just a bit.
Lesson learned.
The two source Gilbert Stewart portraits

I like the look of this Washington very much. However, to be successful, this has to read as Washington immediately. The thing I had to take a stab at guessing is the ornamental flourish behind his collar. I figured it was some sort of bow that is gathered in the middle and we are seeing the edge of it. I may be wrong but it helped me draw it.

This is the more recognized portrait of George. In both cases I flipped him, normally not what you want to do with a portrait, but he's fairly symmetrical. I think you need that portrait facing to the right since that works better on a magazine cover.

I thought I'd like to hide the top of his head in shadow to change the portrait a bit more and add to the secret concept. In doing that I added a corresponding shadow on the wall behind them. I played with the colors a bit to achieve the colors of the flag. This was approved.

Close shot of the brushwork

Thanks to Maria Keehan for the wonderful assignment.

Recent Articles

Stuff I Do (102)

Sketchbooks (26)

Sketch/In Progress/Finish (25)
My Links