There's a Striking Contrast in Time's Latest Donald Trump Cover

Illustrator Tim O'Brien Captures the Chaos in the White House

Published On
Feb 16, 2017
Trump 'Nothing to See Here' Cover

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Today, Time magazine unveiled the cover of its latest issue, with familiar protagonist Donald Trump. The illustration depicts the president sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, face calm and stern, fingertips pressed together. Meanwhile, a storm rages around him with sheets of rain and paper, his bright red tie and flaxen 'do torpedoing to the right. The cover line reads, "Nothing to See Here."

The image teases a story by Philip Elliott entitled "Donald Trump's White House Chaos." Created by illustrator Tim O'Brien, it follows other notable Trump-themed covers from campaign season, "Meltdown" and "Total Meltdown," featuring artist Edel Rodriguez's spare images of Trump's face oozing down like a lit candle.

Mr. O'Brien's painterly, realistic rendering makes for an interesting contrast. The more detailed approach almost punctuates, in a way, that this is really happening.

The image is accompanied by an animated version that Time released on social media. According to Time's blog post, which also included a behind-the-scenes film, O'Brien has created over two dozen covers for the magazine since 1989, with subjects including Osama Bin Laden, Pope Benedict XVI, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Bob Dole. Two of these images, including the last, have a home in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

"The assignment started as a short e-mail from the creative director [D.W. Pine] at Time," Mr. O'Brien told Creativity. "We know each other so I know that I must be fast, do sketches quickly and get starting immediately. The brief was 'Trump in a hurricane." I immediately saw the image, swirling paper, driving rain and of course, the hair."

"Painting this cover was like imagining a movie," O'Brien further explained in the Time post. "I see it all in my head, the swirling rain, the wind blowing papers across the desk, the splats of the heavy raindrops on the desk ... A cartoonist might get the subject to react, to animate, hold on and grimace in the face of the wind. I saw it more as a dead pan look at us. In paintings, it is the contrast that creates the interest, in this case, [between] the calm and the chaos."

As for his process, "I did several sketches, each one investigating some variation of this idea," he told Creativity. "Some had flags in the background flapping, but that made the image took patriotic with the American flag across the back. I had others with him in front of his desk standing on the rug and presidential seal. In the end they chose my favorite sketch."

Mr. O'Brien turned the image around quickly, within 24 hours. As for his medium, he used a variety, "from air brush, pencil, gouache and oil paint to do the piece." His biggest challenge? "As it always is, [that was] the details that are NOT the main part of the illustration -- in this case the desk. It must be done well in order to ignore it."