Tim OBrien
Beck for Rolling Stone
MORNING PHASE by Beck~~~~~~ Illustration by Tim O'Brien

When I read that Beck’s new album was to be somewhat of a revisiting of his 2002 release of ‘Sea Change’, I began to think of how I was back then and how I am now.  I first listened to that recording in the dead of winter on a lake in Eagles Mere, Pa.  I was searching for hope at the time and that record filled me with calm and tranquility.  Years have passed since and life has progressed and now in a different place I was fondly recalling that album and wondering what his new release, ‘Morning Phase’ might be like.  Early reviews stated that it was a reminiscent of those sounds and themes.
I was inspired to do some sketches of a potential painting of Beck and when Rolling Stone needed an illustration for this, I was ready. There were two things I was trying to do with this piece; one was to capture morning with it’s cold mist, and foggy, pink light, and the other goal was some sort of lyrically floating element. My sketches investigated these and in the end I agreed to proceed with a sparrow flying through the scene.
I’ve been trying to do different things lately.  Sometimes the people who hire us need to see us a different way and I think that’s hard at times.  Having illustrated so long a certain way, it takes a bit of courage for an AD and me to do that.  I think this painting moves me a bit into a new place.
Rolling Stone’s Will Hermes gave Morning Phase 4 1/2 stars calling it an “instant folk-rock classic.”I’ve listened to it several times now and it is deeply beautiful. 
In the second track, ‘Morning’, he sings…
“But can we start it all over again?
This morning
I let down my defenses
This morning
It was just you and me
This morning
I fought all out guesses
This morning
Won't you show me the way
It couldn't be?”
We all know Beck as the master of so many kinds of sounds, songs and music, but his lyrics are really powerful and he continues to be a remarkable artist in full bloom.
These are some of my first sketches presented to Rolling Stone. I had an idea of these transparent bars, akin to notes or sounds going through his body. This was a dream I had and actually inspired this illustration. The second and third sketches in this group are images I'd like to do eventually. We didn't proceed with them this time, but I like the idea. The hand raised is a delicate touch, the moment of creation that filled this long vertical nicely. I didn't want musical instruments. If they went with either the bars or the halo I was going to do that digitally.

This second round was a further exploration of what the bars were but putting him in a MORNING setting, referencing back to the title. I've been wanting to try some digital overlapping things so I offered that flower solution too. Small bees started me thinking about nature and flight...I did hone in on the preferred color and value pattern.

This was also part of the second round and I felt the need to offer an alternative view. The way things go for me is that I do a sketch, try out things with that sketch and exhaust it, then do another and try out things again. What end up happening is I arrive at the answer near the end. The floating bars activated the space, but were kind of Sci-Fi in the end. A request to move it to nature brought in bees, that became birds and butterflies. Birds worked best in the end and then I added branches throughout and buds too (longing for Spring these days) and it all came together.

Pope Francis for TIME
Pope Francis, 2013 Unpublished
Silver linings.
At the end of 2013, a tumultuous year for me, I received a call from my good friends at Time Magazine asking if I would take on a portrait of Pope Francis for a possible Person of the Year cover.  In the 20+ years I’ve worked for Time, I have done many Person of the Year covers.  Just being asked is confirmation enough that I am appreciated and that I can end my year on a high. 
Any assignment that is just a portrait is not as easy as it seems.  You’re competing with excellent photography, other illustrators and with the reference you’re provided.  I’ve done enough covers for Time to know that as long as I am proud of what I painted, whether or not it runs matters a bit less. 
I was raised a Catholic and like so many, have become a former Catholic.  The church adhered to a strict conservative trajectory and in recent years has had to navigate the terrible waters of priest misconduct.  What the church desperately needed was a new Pope who reminded his flock what true charity and Christianity should mean.  With Pope Francis, gone was the Pope-mobile, gone were the golden slippers, the sequin capes and tall hats.  This pope would wear simple shoes, garments just white and maintain his close connection to the people, especially those less fortunate.  He has asked Catholics to worry less about gay marriage, abortion and other hot button issues and instead focus on people, to open their hearts to their fellow man.  This pope is almost universally praised as a man of the people, going out at night to comfort the afflicted and lead by example.
This is what I had in mind when doing my painting.  I wanted to show his warmth and humanity.
Reference gets you VERY close, so for me to go on and on about what I brought to the table is only a part of the story.  But the reference is/was clinical, meaning, it was vital but was not the kind of image you would put in the cover. 
This pope is NOT George Clooney, but he does have a beautiful, warm smile and sensitive eyes.   I wanted to bring a vibrancy to his face and skin and place it him in a majestic setting; in essence, a mere mortal with a heart.
In the end Time went with another cover.  I so respect Time that I do not want to agree to any comments about them making the right or wrong decision unless my mother chimes in.
Was I disappointed?  Well yes, but I moved past that quickly.  I've been lucky enough in the past.  The portrait of Pope Francis was my last of 2013 and the silver lining in getting the job and yes, not having it run, was that I was able to fulfill my hopes for the piece and set myself up for a great 2014.
I did many sketches of many poses. OF the ones I care to share is this one, which is golden in hue. The initial conversation about what I would do was centered around me doing a golden painting. I knew this one was a contender.

After I was finished with the sketches that D.W. Pine requested, I wanted to try something else. The calulation was that they probably were going to have something with a lighter background and how would one of these poses look on white. One of my secondary choices served as a good basis for a white sketch. I added this one and felt really good about it. When it was chosen I wasn't surprised. I pulled back more for more options in the end, something you have to consider when attempting one of these.

Close up of the painting. I tried to make the skin seem fresh and human. He tends to have dark areas around his eyes and small eyes at times. By adjusting the value and color, all the information is still there but not as dark and sallow.

Aitzaz Hasan

I was stopped in my tracks.  That's what it was like to read the paper this morning and hear about Pakistan's Aitzaz Hasan's heroic act.
Aitzaz was a good student according to his family.  He was rushing to school and encountered a stranger.  The person, wearing a similar school uniform as theirs, asked for directions.  Aitzaz became suspicious, having never seen him at the school before.  The stranger began to run and Aitzaz followed in pursuit, tackled the stranger wearing a suicide vest.  This person detonated the vest, killing himself and the heroic boy.
Aitzaz was 17, according the many reports.  He had told friends that one day he would capture some suicide bomber and his classmates would laugh.
Aitzaz Hasan is gone, but saved about 1000 of his fellow students because he felt a sense of obligation and justice. 
Aitzaz Hasan is a hero and now joins young activist Malala Yousufzai, who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan and international heroes and beacons of hope in a troubled world.
Shine on, Aitzaz.

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The Pakistani newspaper 'Dawn' did an article about Aitzaz with my illustration accompanying the text.
Illustrators 56 at the Society of Illustrators
The Bond

This Friday, two of my most personal pieces from 2013 will be on display at the Society of Illustrators for the 56 Annual Exhibition.  This is the first of the two-part annual exhibition Illustrators 56 will be held at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators January 7 to February 1, 2014. The exhibit features works by leading contemporary illustrators worldwide, selected by a prestigious jury of professionals.

The first exhibit includes works in the categories of Institutional, Advertising, Uncommissioned and Moving Images.
Now that 2013 is in my rear view mirror, I have the distance to truely appreciate the power that making paintings and working and personal expression have in my life.  I feel that these two pieces in particular helped me, lifted me.  I am so happy that they are included in this exhibition.
My deep thanks to the jury for their good judgement!  ;-)
January 10, 2014  6:00 pm  

The Society of Illustrators invites you to attend the Awards Presentation and Gala for

Illustrators 56

Advertising, Institutional, Uncommissioned and Moving Image Categories


Friday, January 10, 2014

Refreshments 6:00pm

Awards Presentation 7:00pm

Cash Bar will be open until midnight


2 Complimentary tickets will be held at the door for Illustrators on exhibit

1 Complimentary ticket will be held at the door for Art Directors on exhibit



$30 Members   $40 Non-Members  $20 Students/Seniors

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