Tim O'Brien (illustrator)

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Tim O'Brien
Born (1964-11-16) November 16, 1964 (age 53)
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Nationality American
Education Paier College of Art
Known for illustration, fine artist
  • Hamilton King Award, 2009
  • Medals, Society of Illustrators, Graphis, The Art Directors Club, Society of Publication Designers
Website obrienillustration.com

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 many 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]

The artist was the second of three boys in his family.[3] At age nine, after his father's death, O'Brien got into trouble for vandalism. A youth officer suggested boxing and O'Brien took the advice and began training as a boxer in high school, going on to box as a middleweight amateur in the Police Athletic League.[3][4] Although he drew and painted all during his youth, O'Brien thought boxing would be his career.[3]

At the age of 18, O'Brien gave up his ambitions of becoming a professional boxer and in the same year received a Pell Grant which he used to enroll in the Paier College of Art,[3] New Haven, CT.

He went on to graduate in 1987 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. His instructors at Paier included Leonard Everett Fisher, Ken Davies and Robert Zappalorti. While attending Paier, the young artist would paint Trompe l'oeil images for fun, which his instructors Ken Davies and Robert 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 Art Gallery.[3] O'Brien's favorite art works at this early age, which he was able to view at the Yale Gallery, were by Thomas Eakins and Paul Cadmus, of which the young artist especially admired the detail and brushwork of Cadmus.[3] Other early influences for the artist 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 graduation from Paier in 1987, O'Brien entered into what would become a long relationship with the artists' 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, creating covers for such authors as Ray Bradbury, Thomas Hardy, Walter Dean Myers and many others.[7]

The artist credits his first big break as a Time Magazine cover done in 1989.[2] Even though O'Brien's contribution to the cover was only a painting of a small teardrop overlaid on a Gilbert Stewart portrait of George Washington,[8] it got him the attention of magazine art directors, and bigger assignments quickly followed.[2] Interestingly, O'Brien would be called on again almost 20 years later to paint another teardrop on the cover of Time, for the cover story "The Price Of Greed" following the onset of a severe global financial recession in the September 29, 2008 issue of the magazine.[9]

Notable works[edit]

Book covers[edit]