It was in the Society of Illustrators annuals that I first ‘met’ Tim O’Brien. I can’t remember which image struck me first, but we’ve all seen them: the locomotive roaring across the ocean, the crazed young man doused in gasoline, the tiny elephant balanced on the tips of a human’s fingers. Tim’s meticulous skills and surprising concepts were impressive and slightly intimidating. But, as a young designer in children’s publishing poring over those annuals, I knew I wanted to work with this artist, and I knew I wanted to meet the man who created this work. In 1988, I commissioned Tim for the first time. It was a teen horror cover, something like a strangled teddy bear with a bloody dagger. This was not the genre Tim was meant for – he was doing jobs for Playboy and other adult publishing clients. But I needed the excuse to work with Tim.
I worked through his rep for at least a year, speaking to the artist only occasionally on the phone, until we finally met at a business lunch in 1989. I was surprised to discover how young Tim was. In fact, we had graduated from art school the same year. His art seemed so much older. At that first meeting, we sat next to each other, talking intently for two hours. We were both intrigued.
After a handful of phone calls over a few months, I convinced Tim to go on a date with me. Our career trajectories moved on similar paths. While Tim continued to work with his regular clients, he was suddenly in demand with important news periodicals as well. Time began to commission him. I continued to commission this “hot” artist on projects. Then our personal trajectories joined even more completely. We got married.
Tim has always impressed me with his ability to juggle illustration jobs, while making time to give to others. He was chairman of the Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Competition, taught illustration at University of the Arts, and gave painting tips to his illustrator friends. Tim taught boxing at the YMCA four nights a week – for free! Tim’s work has been in every SI annual for 22 years. And he has won medals. But one award he only dreamed of receiving was the Hamilton King.
When he heard the announcement of his selection at the Editorial and Book opening of Illustrators 51, he was, to use an English term very appropriate for a boxer, gobsmacked. As he walked up to the podium to speak, many of his friends and colleagues patted him on the back, saying that it was “long overdue,” and “about time.”
To be chosen for the Hamilton King award by this outstanding group of previous winners, is, I know, a great thrill for Tim. And although it is given in acknowledgment for one piece of art in particular, we know it comes to him as recognition, too, of his extensive body of work, and his great but humble contribution to the illustration profession. I can’t think of a more deserving artist. And, as one of his many art directors, and as his wife, I can say: Well, of course! Congratulations, Timmy.
Executive Art Director, Trade Hard covers Scholastic Inc.