OCAD University

Illustration Medal Winner Marc O’Brien

Portrait of Marc O'Brien

Marc O'Brien. Photo: Christina Gapic.
is an ongoing series of illustrations by Marc O'Brien that investigates the creative spirit behind some of the world's most celebrated — and often tormented — creative minds. Sprinkled with whimsical macabre, Genius! parodies society's romanticizing of tragedy in the souls of "inspired people."

Q. Where did the inspiration for your work come from?

I should say that the inspiration for "Genius!" was whispered in my ear by the mysterious creature that lives in my studio, but I do owe much of the credit to author Elizabeth Gilbert for her beautiful talk about our struggles with (and sources of) inspiration, titled "Nurturing Creativity." I came across the video online in 2009, and in my years at OCAD U would watch it any time I needed a creative/emotional backrub. So naturally, in the dark times before pitching a thesis, when it seemed like none of my ideas were good enough to span an entire year of image making, I turned on that 20-minute therapy session and watched it in the fetal position by my desk. The video ended, I smacked my own face for not thinking of it sooner, and tried the whole thing out for eight months.

An illustration of Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley (1947). Acrylic on Masonite, 18x24 inches.
Q. What part of your project are you most proud of and why?

I think I'm most proud of the fact that I finally found an excuse to put together a book of illustrations. I've collected a few pretty little hard covers by some of my favorite illustrators in the past four years and secretly wanted take a crack at it myself. I knew I wanted to show as many original paintings as I could at the grad show, but I painted them a bit big and could only fit four in the space I had, so the Genius! book was really just a way to showcase the rest. I loved the opportunity to incorporate some of my pen drawings into the design and was really happy to have the chance to put my illustrations in one of my favorite media.

Q. What was your reaction on finding out that you were the medal winner for your program?

At first the news didn't really set in. It was a very short phone call, and I may have been in a bit of a dream state from running on more cups of coffee than hours of sleep for the week before judgment day. Though, after walking through the illustration show in its entirety the next day, I began to realize how much of an honor it was to be chosen from such an amazing group. I respect and love the work of so many of my colleagues, so I know that receiving the medal is not something I can take for granted.

Illustration of Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud. Acrylic on Masonite, 18x24 inches.
Q. In looking back at your time at OCAD U, what is your fondest memory of the program you were in and what will you miss the most?

I will miss many things about the Illustration program. As with any program, we all had to deal with the bitter curse of uncertainty. My favorite moment however, was when I realized with the help of some amazing faculty members, that this curse was actually a blessing. OCAD U is a place to take those creative leaps in a safe environment, and whether the leap ends with a breakthrough or a bandage, it's always so satisfying to see people jump out of their safety bubbles and into uncharted territories.

In my third year, I had the unique opportunity of being one of the only illustrators to participate in the OCAD Florence Program — but that is a whole other beast to be missed.

Q. What are your plans after graduation?

I always make sure I have a few things on the go at one time. So apart from nurturing my freelance illustration career, I'll be continuing on as art director for Spontaneous Combustion Magazine, here in Toronto. Being in school kept us from expanding too much at once, but now we have the chance to really get involved in the arts community to meet and support the young artsy weirdo types we love so much.

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