Tim O'Brien (illustrator)

Last updated
Tim O'Brien
Born (1964-11-16) November 16, 1964 (age 58)
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 others. His illustrations are also used by the US Postal Service for postage stamps. [1]


Early life and education

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

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

Book covers

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

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

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

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

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

Postage stamps

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

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]





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

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]

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