Tim O'Brien (illustrator)

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Tim O'Brien
Born (1964-11-16) November 16, 1964 (age 59)
EducationPaier College of Art
Known forIllustration, fine artist
  • Hamilton King Award, 2009
  • Medals, Society of Illustrators, Graphis, The Art Directors Club, Society of Publication Designers

Tim O'Brien (born November 16, 1964) is an American artist who works in a realistic style. His illustrations have appeared on the covers and interior pages of magazines such as Time, Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, National Geographic, Der Spiegel, and others. His illustrations are also used by the US Postal Service for postage stamps.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

O'Brien's paternal grandparents came from Ireland, and his maternal grandparents from Norwich, Connecticut, arriving in the United States from Quebec.[2] His grandfather became a caretaker at Yale University.[3]

O'Brien was the second of three sons in his family.[3] O'Brien began training as a boxer in high school, going on to box as a middleweight amateur in the Police Athletic League.[3][4] At age 18, O'Brien gave up boxing. That same year he received a Pell Grant which he used to enroll in the Paier College of Art in New Haven, Connecticut.[3] He graduated in 1987 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. His instructors at Paier included Leonard Everett Fisher, Ken Davies and Robert Zappalorti.[citation needed] While attending Paier, O'Brien painted trompe-l'œil images, which his instructors Davies and Zappalorti were also known to do, in which the viewer of the paintings are deceived into thinking they were seeing an actual object. In one such case, students attempted to use electrical outlets that O'Brien had painted on the wall.[3][5]

Artistic influences[edit]

In grade school, O'Brien often visited the Yale University Art Gallery.[3] O'Brien's favorite art works at the Yale Gallery were by Thomas Eakins and Paul Cadmus.[3] Other early influences for O'Brien were the 19th-century Russian painter Ivan Shishkin, and British painter Lord Leighton.[6] Later influences for O'Brien include various contemporary artists such as Gottfried Helnwein, George Tooker and Mark Tansey, as well as illustrators such as Guy Billout and David Suter.[2]


Before graduating from Paier in 1987, O'Brien entered into what became a long relationship with his representative Peter Lott. Lott had seen O'Brien's work at the Society of Illustrators Student Show.[3]

O'Brien started his illustration career primarily as a book cover artist[2] and continues to work for book publishing houses. He has created covers for books by Ray Bradbury, Thomas Hardy, Walter Dean Myers and others.[7]

O'Brien credits his first big break as a Time magazine cover done in 1989,[2] painting a small teardrop overlaid on a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington.[8][2] O'Brien was called on again in 2008 to paint another teardrop on the cover of Time, for the cover story "The Price Of Greed" following the onset of a global financial recession.[9]

Notable works[edit]

Book covers[edit]

Between 2008 and 2010, O'Brien was commissioned by Scholastic Publishing to illustrate each cover of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, including the Hunger Games "mockingjay" logo. The images were then used again for promotional posters when the film distributor Lionsgate turned the books into a film franchise.[10]

O'Brien closely collaborated on the designs with his wife, Elizabeth Parisi, creative director for Scholastic.[11]

Time covers[edit]

Tim O'Brien has illustrated more covers than any other artist for the last 30 years.[12] O'Brien's Time magazine covers are in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.[13] Starting in 1989, O'Brien worked with art director Arthur Hochstein, and created over a dozen covers for Time with him.[14]

O'Brien's "The End of Bin Laden" cover, which the artist created in 2002 when editors at Time believed the al-Qaeda leader was trapped and was or would soon be dead in Afghanistan,[5] was not published until nine years later in the May 20, 2011, issue.[2][15] O'Brien used a similar approach for an earlier Time cover, "The Death of Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi",[16] for the June 19, 2006, issue of the magazine.[17] As of 2020, O'Brien has had over 30 Time covers published, including:

Rolling Stone[edit]

O'Brien illustrated portraits of the Police,[27] Michael Jackson, Nirvana,[28] and Little Richard in Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[29]

In 2012, O'Brien said the work he was most proud of was his 2008 cover illustration for Rolling Stone in which the magazine endorsed candidate Barack Obama for president.[11] The cover, which depicted the future president with a halo-like glow around him, created a mild controversy, with critics of the image saying it deified the candidate.[30]

Mother Jones[edit]

For the December 2012 release, Mother Jones printed double covers, in which one cover was sent to subscribers of the magazine and the alternate cover was shown on newsstands. O'Brien illustrated both covers in different styles.[36] For the cover that went to newsstands, titled Sugar Kills, O'Brien created a surreal vignette of a glass pitcher as a human skull. For the version delivered to subscribers, titled Solitary in Iran, O'Brien painted a lonely jail cell with a single occupant.[36]

Other magazines[edit]

O'Brien's magazine covers have received awards and citations, including Cover of the Day by the Society of Publication Designers.

Postage stamps[edit]

O'Brien's work first appeared on U.S. postage stamps in 2006. He was commissioned to portray Hattie McDaniel as part of the U.S. Postal Services Black Heritage stamp series.[48][49][50]

O'Brien also designed postage stamps of Judy Garland in 2006;[51] Danny Thomas in 2012;[52] Shirley Temple in 2016;[53] and Father Theodore Hesburgh in 2017.[54]

Honors and service[edit]

On April 26, 2016, O'Brien spoke at the United Nations in New York City at the invitation of the World Intellectual Property Organization, during which his artwork was shown. He discussed commercial art and intellectual property rights in a digital world and how technology is having both advantageous and troubling consequences on both.[55]


  • Hamilton King Award, Society of Illustrators (2009)[56]
  • Honorary doctorate degree, 2013, Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts[1]
  • Commencement speech at Paier College of Art, 1996 and 2002[3]
  • O'Brien's Time magazine covers are in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC[13]
  • Chosen by Irish American Magazine as one of their 100 top Irish Americans, 1999 and 2000[57]
  • Awards from Society of Illustrators in New York and Los Angeles: Graphis Inc.; Print Magazine; Communication Arts Magazine; the Society of Publication Designers; American Illustration; Art Director's Club
  • In 2019, Tim O'Brien was awarded all three top illustration awards; bronze, silver and gold, for covers of Donald Trump for Time.[58][59][60]


  • Chairman of the Education Committee, Society of Illustrators, New York (1996–2006).
  • Member of the Executive Committee, Society of Illustrators, New York
  • Served on the Board of the Illustration Conference in 2003
  • President of the Society of Illustrators, New York 2014-2022[1]
  • Chairman of 'Illustrators 49' at the Society of Illustrators
  • Chairman of the Scholarship Committee at the Society of Illustrators


  • Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, Portraits and Illustrations: A Retrospective, 2013[61]
  • Norman Rockwell Museum, Rockwell and Realism in an Abstract World, 2016[62]
  • Corpo Gallery


O'Brien lectures frequently across the country. His speaking engagements have included the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Society of Illustrators, Syracuse University, School of Visual Arts, Pratt Institute, Rhode Island School of Design, and California College of the Arts.[61]

He was a distinguished adjunct professor of illustration at the University of the Arts from 1990–2016. He also taught as an adjunct professor at Pratt Institute (2009–present) and Paier College of Art (1994–1996).[1]

Personal life[edit]

Up until 2004, O'Brien stayed active in the boxing world of his youth as a trainer.[4] Since 2006, O'Brien has run the New York City Marathon, raising money for the Children's IBD Center at Mount Sinai Hospital.[63]

O'Brien lives with his wife Elizabeth Parisi and son in Brooklyn, New York.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d "Profile". University of the Arts. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Newman, Robert. "Illustrator Profile: Tim O'Brien". AI-IP. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Shapiro, Ellen. "Tim O'Brien, Master Portrait Painter". No. July–August 2002. Communication Arts. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
  4. ^ a b Ryan, Pete (2010-03-29). "Tim O'Brien Interview". Retrieved 2016-10-16.
  5. ^ a b Bellmore, Miichael (2 February 2013). "North Haven native works quietly, but images stay with us forever". New Haven Register. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
  6. ^ Parker, Charley. "Tim O'Brien". Lines and Color. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
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  8. ^ "George Washington | Oct. 23, 1989". Time. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
  9. ^ "The Price of Greed". Time. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
  10. ^ Aronoff, Amy. "Professor Tim O'Brien Swept Up In Hunger Games Success As Logo Becomes Ubiquitous". Pratt. Pratt Institute. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
  11. ^ a b Weichselbaum, Simone. "Wings of love: 'Hunger Games' logo is brainchild of Brooklyn couple". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  12. ^ "Tim O'Brien". 22 September 2021.
  13. ^ a b "Time Magazine Collection". National Portrait Gallery. Smithsonian. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  14. ^ Newman, Robert. "The Time Covers of Arthur Hochstein, Pt. 1: Tim O'Brien". Society of Publication Designers. Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  15. ^ Gustini, Ray (2 May 2011). "A Brief History of Time Magazine's X Covers". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  16. ^ "The Death of Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi | June 19, 2006". Time. 2006-06-19. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  17. ^ Rothman, Lily. "Behind the Osama bin Laden 'Red X' Time Cover". Time. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  18. ^ Robert Newman. "The Time Covers of Arthur Hochstein, Pt. 1: Tim O'Brien - Grids - SPD.ORG - Grids". Spd.Org. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  19. ^ "Time Magazine Cover: Kenneth Starr & Bill Clinton, Men of the Year - Dec. 28, 1998 - Bill Clinton - Kenneth Starr - Person of the Year - U.S. Presidents - Scandals". Content.time.com. 1998-12-28. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  20. ^ "Time Magazine Cover: Saddam Hussein - Mar. 10, 2003 - Saddam Hussein - Iraq - Middle East". Content.time.com. 2003-03-10. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  21. ^ "Time Magazine - U.S. Edition - November 10, 2008 Vol. 172 No. 19". Content.time.com. 2008-11-10. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  22. ^ "Time Magazine - South Pacific Edition - June 7, 2010 No. 22". Content.time.com. 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  23. ^ "Time Magazine Cover: Palin in Progress - Dec. 20, 2010 - Sarah Palin - Republicans - Politics". Content.time.com. 2010-12-20. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  24. ^ "Time Magazine Cover: The End of Bin Laden - May 20, 2011 - Al-Qaeda - Osama bin Laden - Terrorism - Special Issues". Content.time.com. 2011-05-20. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  25. ^ "Time Magazine - U.S. Edition - September 5, 2011 Vol. 178 No. 9". Content.time.com. 2011-09-05. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  26. ^ "February 27th, 2017 | Vol. 189, No. 7 | U.S."
  27. ^ "The Police | 100 Greatest Artists". Rolling Stone. 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  28. ^ "Nirvana | 100 Greatest Artists". Rolling Stone. 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  29. ^ "Rolling Stone: The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time". Society of Publication Designers. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  30. ^ Powell, Michael Orion. "The Deification of Obama". Retrieved 2016-10-30.
  31. ^ "2008 Magazine Archives". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  32. ^ "2009 Magazine Archives". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  33. ^ "2012 Magazine Archives". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  34. ^ Bates, Eric (2007-06-28). "Al Gore's Movement to Stop Global Warming: 'The Revolution Is Beginning'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  35. ^ "Tim O'Brien: Beck for Rolling Stone". Theispot.com. 2014-03-04. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  36. ^ a b Robert Newman (2012-10-12). "Behind Mother Jones's Recent Dual Cover Strategy - Folio". Foliomag.com. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  37. ^ "Tim OBrien - The Last Empire". Drawger.com. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  38. ^ "The BP Cover-Up – Mother Jones". Motherjones.com. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  39. ^ "Coverjunkie". Coverjunkie. 2016-10-31. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  40. ^ ""Namaste" to Tim J Luddy of Mother Jones - Grids - SPD.ORG - Grids". Spd.Org. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  41. ^ Jack Hitt. "Harpy, Hero, Heretic: Hillary – Mother Jones". Motherjones.com. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  42. ^ "Apr 2001 | Cover Art | O'Brien". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  43. ^ "Tim O'Brien: The Titanic for Smithsonian". Theispot.com. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  44. ^ "Cover of the Day: Friday Edition - Grids - SPD.ORG - Grids". Spd.Org. 2013-03-11. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  45. ^ "Vin Scully is Sports Illustrated's latest cover boy. | Inside the Dodgers". Insidesocal.com. 2016-05-10. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  46. ^ "Mitt Romney: Desperately Seeking Mitt". GQ. 2012-07-24. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  47. ^ "Tim O'Brien Illustration: Cool Jesus". Theispot.com. 2016-01-06. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  48. ^ "Hattie McDaniel". Postal Museum. Retrieved 2016-10-30.
  49. ^ Washington, Robin. "A Hattie McDaniel U.S. Mail Stamp?". NPR News. National Public Radio. Retrieved 2016-10-30.
  50. ^ "Hattie McDaniel". PR NewsWire. US Postal Service. Retrieved 2016-10-30.
  51. ^ "Artwork - Trailblazers and Trendsetters - Art of the Stamp". Postalmuseum.si.edu. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  52. ^ "Stamp Announcement 12-18: Danny Thomas". About.usps.com. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  53. ^ "Shirley Temple Becomes the 20th Inductee in the Legends of Hollywood Stamp Series". About.usps.com. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  54. ^ "USPS previews 2017 stamps". About.usps.com. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  55. ^ "Tim O'Brien Speaks at the United Nations on a pane;; titled Digital Creativity: Reimagining Culture For Sustainable Development". Alternative Pick. Retrieved 2016-10-16.
  56. ^ "Hamilton King 2009". Society of Illustrators. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  57. ^ Smyser, Kathy. "Artist Spotlight". Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  58. ^ "Gold Cube". The One Club for Creativity. Retrieved 2020-02-25.
  59. ^ "Silver Cube". The One Club for Creativity. Retrieved 2020-02-25.
  60. ^ "Bronze Cube". The One Club for Creativity. Retrieved 2020-02-25.
  61. ^ a b "College Hosts Opening Reception for Exhibition by Famed Illustrator Tim O'Brien". Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. College of the University of New Haven. Retrieved 2016-10-16.
  62. ^ "Rockwell and Realism in an Abstract World - Norman Rockwell Museum - The Home for American Illustration". Nrm.org. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  63. ^ "Running the NYC Marathon 2007". Drawger. Retrieved 2016-10-16.

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