If you haven't seen it yet, this week's cover of Time Magazine features a photo-illustration of Ronald Reagan shedding a big and, if you ask me, totally over-the-top tear, accompanied by the headline "How the Right Went Wrong." This morning, I spoke to Tim about how he simulated the tear, and what he thinks of all the controversy.
Me: Great job on the tear. Tell me all about it.
Tim: I did my first Time cover in 1989: I painted a teardrop on George Washington’s face – this was sort of pre-Photoshop. Back then, I painted about ten teardrops with different backdrops. Since then I’ve done about ten Time covers. This time I was working on something that didn’t end up being the cover story. The art director called and asked if I wanted to revisit that  tear. It fit the story that they wanted to do about Reagan.
They had been messing around in-house: But just painting on a source photo, the pixels don’t match. The photo is very crisp, but has lots noise in it. When you attempt to do Photoshop on it, it looks too perfect. They tried Photoshop, but it didn’t work.
Me: Did you end up doing it in Photoshop?
Tim: You want me to give away trade secrets here [laughs]? It has to be extremely transparent. It’s a formula. A tear is a formula. It has to conform to an anatomy of the face. When they were doing it, it looked like it was dripping on the magazine.
Me: So how’d you do it?
Tim: I drew it with the lasso. I have a Wacom tablet, and I just draw on the source image. I draw a selection in I the shape that I want. There’s all kinds of wrinkles on Reagan’s face. I go into the crevice and out of the crevice. If you conform to it well, the trail is believable.
Me: Some people say that it doesn’t look fake enough, but I think it’s obvious.
Tim: It’s a pretty big tear. The only thing that could do that in reality is Karo syrup.
Me: And you know nobody was putting Karo syrup on President Reagan’s face.
Tim: They wanted it to read from a distance. It has to be an obvious hit. I don’t quite get all the controversy. I’ve been reading the media blogs all day and it’s funny that people think it’s [the cover’s] pulling the wool over people’s eyes. I think it has more to do with people being afraid of seeing a man cry. His son Michael Reagan was on Fox saying his dad would never cry.
Me: Isn’t it an accepted fact that photo-illustrations are a normal part of the language of magazine covers these days?
Tim: I’ve been doing painted illustrations for years, and photo-illustrations are part of the mix now. Time does a lot in-house; they’re very capable. It’s nice that they actually give me a hand. I mostly do illustrative painting. I’m trained as a trompe l'oeil painter. This thing took me a half hour. I spent 12 hours doing another cover that didn’t run -- an oil painting. This one was after they switched gears. Photoshop’s very fast, but it’s not my calling card.