Tim OBrien
March 2009
San Francisco
The demo portrait of a thug
To end my month of travels and talking, on the invitation of Robert Hunt, I went to San Francisco.  CCA invited me to come out to talk about my work and career. 
Putting together a presentation of one's work and career can sometimes be reaffirming or it can condense one's career into too small a story.  I felt both this time.  You've all done it, given talks and have a narrative of your career that is accurate but not complete.  You want to get them out of there in under 5 hours after all.  I think the recent series of talks made me shorten and focus this career story in an effective way, so in the end I was happy with what came out.  I never take notes with me, just my work.

I've never been to San Francisco so I was interested in what the hubbub was about.  Robert picked me up from the airport very late so as he drove me to his home in Marin, just north of San Fran, I could not see much.  As we got closer to Robert's house, I could see that he lives in an awesome town with rolling hills and lovely homes.  Robert and Lynn have a great house that is situated into a hill so  his back yard goes straight up with flowers and trees with trails all the way up.  The thing I noticed was that out every window was a great view of gardens.  The living room is killer with craftsman or mission styled furniture and a blooming magnolia out the window.  Robert has a studio outside the house that is a converted garage.  This is a big studio.  After seeing Marc and Robert's studios, I have to clean up.  I did feel somewhat proud of how neat I keep my paints however, since Robert's were all cap-less and messy.  I found the flaw!

We went out for a brief tour of San Francisco followed by a lunch with a friend and an artist I admire, Dugald Stermer.  I'll probably get this part wrong, but Dugald is not only a great illustrator and teacher, but works with a program that rehabilitates people with drug and alcohol problems.   We had lunch in a great restaurant that is staffed by members of the program.  Following lunch we went to visit his studio that is in the complex.  Dugald has a wonderful space that is dark and covered with left handed guitars.  I counted 23 but I may have missed many.  Dugald's space is another studio that I wish I could move right into and start working. 
I wish my good friend well and it was great to see him.
So, Robert then took me to CCA.  The school is a huge open space with each department having it's own area.   I arrived and soon began a demo.  The room filled quickly and I had just over 2 hours to do something for the young illustrators.   I did a cartoonish portrait over a charcoal drawing, demonstrating the method of painting wet into wet.

After my demo I went quickly into the auditorium or theater for my presentation.  In the crowd were some notable illustrators such as Mark Ulrickson, Owen Smith, Barron Storey, Adam McCauley, Joe Fiedler and others.  It went off without a hitch and there were some good questions at the end. 
Onto a pub visit to end the night... Connecticut Yankee, I think it was called.  Fun to unwind after all of the public control. 
The next day was my day of silence.  I stayed in a great hotel, the Palomar on 4th right off Market.  I was silent all day and spoke only when ordering food.  My goal for my free day was to run.  I ran to the edge of San Francisco to the Embarcadero and then north to the Golden Gate bridge.  The air smelled of salt water and spring and the run was amazing.  Every time I came to a peer I would run out to it and look around.  Man, I would love to live out there. 
Thanks Robert for a great visit and for putting me up the first night.  Next time I'll bring the whole O'Brien crew and Cassius can use that treehouse.
Thanks to Alexis Mahrus for helping me at CCA and for all my fellow illustrators for showing up and hanging out. 
A view out Robert and Lynn's living room window
The famous Dreamworks paintings by Robert Hunt
This is the horror that is Robert's paint box.
Dugald Stermer's Desk
Dugald's work area
A prop from Willard pokes out of a wall.
Dugald's Obama
The students towered around me as I started to draw.
These were photos sent to me by Brynn Metheney...thanks Brynne!
I decided to do a demo of a portrait on a toned panel.
I like the kid in the background. I'm 5 minutes into the demo and he's already asleep.
setting up on the easel
After lecture hang out was fun
Robert is featured on the wall of the bar
my run
Finally, during my talk I was asked about where I thought editorial illustration, particularly covers, was at this moment.  I said that I thought as Obama was being presented to the public illustration was used often.  Since his election the public wanted actual photos of the president.  I said this will wear out and currently there is a bit of overkill with his face on everything from Time to Cat fancy.  I thought I was making a joke but then I saw this...
Talking and talking and talking...
From the New Haven Register
This is my season of giving. I go long stretches without doing any presentations or talks about my work and illustration but it seems like March 2009 is the month of talking. As these presentations get closer I get more anxious. How will this work be received? It's certainly not cutting edge and will it come off as cool to newer illustrators? In the end I place myself in their minds and try to offer some insight into what I do and how I am able to survive so long. First, I've been doing many demos over the past few months both at the University of the Arts and at Pratt. I will do a post soon of all the demos, it's funny to see them all. Next I ran into my high School art teacher at my 25th high school reunion recently and had a wonderful time reconnecting. She is still amazingly dedicated and full of such great positive energy. She lit many fires under my listless body in the early 80's. In our conversation I said that I would love to come to her class and just sit and listen and talk to the kids. I am always curious about how young artists think and I thought it would be a fun day. I offered to do a demo. We agreed on it but it started to snowball a bit. Now I was getting a grant and helping to teach portrait painting to the kids in conjunction with black History month, celebrating figures from the civil rights movement. I gave the grant back to the class for supplies and went to my old school. Old teachers showed up and my elementary school art teacher was there too. My school was torn down a few years ago and they build a brand spanking new one in it's place, so it was not weird to re-enter the place again. The class was filled with healthy and attractive kids who seemed to have more than we did. Great materials and tables. I met the principle and stressed the value of art in any student's education. They obviously agree. I showed a couple of dozen originals to a very engaged group of kids. They were on par with any college level students as far as questions asked and reactions. The kids were with it! After that, I started a demo. The kids in the class stayed for hours in what was a in school field trip. They stood behind me as I did a portrait as they might do it. I don't work on white when I paint but imagined that they might. I did a crude drawing as well. The reason was I wanted to show how they could take that and make it a painting. I think they were blown away, not so much by the work but the trick of it all. I did a wash over the drawing and then scumbled a tone over that and began working. The local press showed up and I did two interviews while I worked and posed for photos. It was great fun. My teacher, Diana Blythe is a wonderful person. The class was teasing her for making me sound like a superman and she took it well. It's great knowing we have these people behind us, even as a man in my 40's. Incidentally, we are now almost the same did THAT happen? I wrote earlier about my FIT panel last week, but that one was in the mix as well. Just talking and no tricks other than chatter. I can do chatter. The final talk is this week. I am off to visit California College of Art in San Francisco. Robert Hunt asked me and I jumped at the chance. I hope to see Adam and others when I'm out there too. Tim O'Brien Lecture at California College of Art Tuesday, March 10, 7 pm Timken Lecture Hall, San Francisco campus 1111 Eighth Street, San Francisco, CA 94107-2247 415.703.9500 Contact: Alexis Mahrus at or 415.305.4421 For CCA, I'm doing a Keynote/Powerpoint presentation on Tuesday evening. Prior to that I'm doing a demo in Robert's class. I'm crazy to do this in HIS class. Man, are these kids going to be jaded or what? They get to see Robert do his thing all the time. After this I go back to the studio with speaking finished, Society Galas enjoyed, and ideas in my head for some new pieces. There is a catharsis to getting out there and talking too much. I hear what I have to say about my work and how it looks. I get it all out and then have the feeling of having cleaned out my mind. Time for new work. Visiting the Burckhardt's helped as well. I got Barack Obama elected, now I have to take care of me.
Showing the work
The principle of the school He had a bright smile.
Talking and painting
Behind me is a very adoring teacher, Diana Blythe. It's either that or she's wondering what is up with my hair.
The demo finished. I drew this out of my head and tried to show them that a piece can be completed fairly quickly and to concentrate on values over color.
This is the son of two classmates of mine from high school who stayed together since. His father was the quarterback of the football team and Nick is as well. He's also interested in art and may be attending Parsons or Pratt. I thought he looked like a young Max Schmelling. I was right.
Poor Robert is putting me up on Monday night. I will mess up some part of his house I'm sure. Thanks Robert!
Keen's Steakhouse Illustration Night
The small sketchbook for our visit
A few weeks ago in a conversation about our favorite restaurants and memorable eating establishments, I asked Marc Burckhardt if he has ever been to Keen's Steakhouse.  "No!!?"  Well, we had to fix that.
Marc is in NYC to haul away a well deserved gold medal from the Society of Illustrators.  As stated earlier he is one of many Drawgers that have been mining precious metal this year.

Keen's is a great restaurant if you like old New York.  I love the patina of places like this.  The idea that Babe Ruth, Teddy Roosevelt and Rube Goldberg walked through those doors makes it extra special.

Keen's is festooned with clay pipes which the patrons used upon their visits and stored them there for their return.  The ceiling is covered with these pipes now and there are a few cases with 'famous' pipes.
The place is almost like a house, with various rooms and an great old bar.
I wanted to gather a larger crew to angle for the Teddy Roosevelt Room.
In that room, Teddy Roosevelt formed the Bull Moose party.  We got the room but never quite formed a new political party. 
We made a sketchbook.  Apparently there is a gland in an illustrator that produces adrenalin and guilt when they pay too much for a meal.   This causes them to draw. 
"...must earn it back, must earn it back..."
Dale Stephanos drove down from Boston, Steve Waxman from Brooklyn, Dave Flaherty and Ellen Weinstein from the lower east side, Elizabeth Parisi from Scholastic, Edel Rodriguez from Mount Tabor, NJ, Marc and Janice Burckhardt from Austin Texas, Mark Heflin from the offices of American Illustration and we got Thomas Fuchs to eat dinner at an hour he usually has breakfast.  More were invited and were missed.  Get well soon Megan Fox.

Giant cuts of aged steaks were destroyed, I tried and fought with a hunk of mutton that one might feed a lion.  All was washed down with beer, wine and finished off with 2 racks of select scotch.   Fresh red and blue berries ended the grazing.

A sketchbook was passed around and we documented the evening for Drawger.

Until next time.
Tim O'Brien
Marc Burckhardt. I'm the rump and Elizabeth is the brain.
Dave Flaherty and Thomas Fuchs
Mark Heflin in a rare illustration and Steve Waxman
Edel Rodriguez.
Dale Stephanos. We actually hired Dale to draw us. He does parties!
I drew the beer glass and boat but as you can see things were getting messy. I think Dave drew a happy Waxman.
The Teddy Roosevelt Room
Dale got fancy and that translated to a small but expensive cut of meat.
Mark Had a great time I think but this photo makes it look like he had second thoughts
Dave Flaherty sent me this. On the left is my hunk of mutton and on the right, the reason I won't order it again...Thanks Davey!
Keen's scotch selection is first class
Dale is still hungry. This is why he's thin.
Always ready to rumble
Two flights of select scotch
The Babe
DWI-Do It With Illustration
Under the Influence with Today's Most Arresting Illustrators

Come and meet six of the brightest illustrators working today.
Hear how they create the images that inform, seduce and enlighten us on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. From cover portraits of President Obama to adjusting to life in the suburbs to packaging for sexual lubricant creams (!) to the pitfalls of job-hunting--get an inside view on how these artists tackle a broad range of topics and their perspectives (illustratively speaking), on politics, work, life and love.

Mark Heflin, Director of American Illustration and American Photography will moderate the discussion and Q&A with illustrators: Peter Arkle, Juliette Borda, Christopher Silas Neal, Tim O'Brien, Katherine Streeter and Jillian Tamaki.

And don't miss the pre-show screening of the American Illustration 25th Anniversary Timeline movie at 6:45 PM where 25 illustrators were each asked to illustrate one year in AI's 25 year publishing history. It's a look back at events that shaped our lives and a quarter-century overview of illustration by 25 of the industry's superstars.
Advance tickets, while they last, available by calling 212 223 3332 until 5:00PM on Friday, February 27th. All other information about the event can be found here.
(I see that this event conflicts with the Polonsky thing at the Society, and I just noticed it.  It's too bad, but there is something out there for everyone!
I don't think I am one of the most 'arresting' illustrators, but this is a nice slice throught the many layered cake of the world of illustration.  There was a little video that was sent out to the participants with music and images for each artist.  Everyone had a cool song then it goes to my art...You see my work over the bed of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative"  Not what I would have chosen.  Heck, I'd rather have classical stuff, William Shatner's music, Prince?  I ribbed them about it.
In any event, I would rather watch this panel than be on it, but that's always the case with me.)
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