Tim O'Brien Profile
posted: January 18, 2007
"I was kind of a child prodigy. I was aware in nursery school that I was way above other kids as far as my ability to draw. I was drawing things in perspective and I wouldn't just draw people as sticks: I would draw full volume legs and I would put the light side and the dark side. We had some little kids’ art shows and my paintings looked like my parents did them, and I suddenly became aware of the whole power of it: that I got attention for it. I've always been intrigued with getting attention, and the first way was with art.
"In my earliest drawings, I would start something and do tiny little things and turn the page if it didn't work out; I had a strong sense of perfection. That's my memory of drawing as a kid: if things went well, then I kept going with it. I used to like to build Rube Goldberg type of vehicles. Or I would draw a dome that a person would sit in and weapons would all come out, and I'd just build on it for so long, and fill the whole page with this stuff. And I liked to build underground little cities and things; I would draw the grass and trees and roots and then there would be this tunnel underground. I loved the idea of this split, and I never have quite done that in my illustration. I started to think that my first children’s book has got to be that kind of thing, very fun and like coming full circle.
"After my dad died when I was nine, I sort of floundered for years. I didn't stick with anything. But then I got involved in boxing, and I found this little tiny family outside my own, with people who required me to really apply myself all the time, so I learned this way of sticking to things in boxing that I lost after my dad died. I've always felt like boxing trained me well for illustration. It's a physical thing for me because doing a painting is grueling, sometimes having to do three portraits in 24 hours, and you have to just stay with it.
"There was a period of time from sixth grade till tenth grade when I was trying to do anything but be an artist. I wanted to be a boxer; I wanted to be a class clown; I wanted to just goof off; I wanted to have a girlfriend. I didn't really think of myself as an artist until I got serious about picking a college.
"By now I've done hundreds and hundreds of paintings and the thrill at this point is that I've been doing this for a long time and I've got a reputation. When I meet young illustrators who're like I used to be, who are tigers, then I realize that I've got to maintain that ferocious quality. I shouldn't be riding on the success, and being comfortable. The struggle is that I want to get back to the ferocious person I was when I started out. I think he's still in there; I think I still have that. I'm certainly competitive, but I don't wake up in the morning thinking, 'I can paint anything I want and I want to paint this particular thing.' So being a successful illustrator has been great but it's also slowed down my experimentation.
"Sometimes when I'm on a jury with other artists, I hear comments about how people feel about realism as a style, saying , 'I hate this! It's so tired!' going through a litany of descriptive words for realism that make me feel like, 'Oh my God, what am I doing, sailing a clipper ship amongst the speedboats?' But, you know, I think a clipper ship is cool."