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Art student uses his talent to help pay school expenses

August 26, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

Art student Mike O'Brien has had several summer jobs between semesters, but none was as fulfilling as what he does now.

Instead of spending the summer as he had before, working at a local restaurant or at his father's flower shop downtown, O'Brien, 21, is selling his artwork until he goes back to school in September.

"It makes me feel good," O'Brien said. "I can do what I love to do and make enough money to last through the semester."

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The aspiring illustrator works from the small space next door to his father's business, Ben's Flower Shop, on Potomac Street, where his work sells for $100 to $250, depending on size. He said the money will go toward expenses he will incur as he enters his last year at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.

"It's not exactly cheap to go to an art school," O'Brien said.

O'Brien received a $7,500 scholarship, but it costs about $30,000 a year to attend, said O'Brien's father, Harry. His summer profits should be enough to cover basics such as food and car expenses, his father said.

As a fledgling artist, Mike O'Brien faces the challenge of developing a consistent, signature style. His influences come from comic book artist Greg Capullo and sports figures.

Pencil is his preferred medium, though he dabbles in painting.

"Right now, I'm kind of all over the place," he said. "I want someone to be able to walk up to one of my pictures and say, 'Yeah, Mike O'Brien did that one.'"

There's also the challenge of satisfying customers with requests that don't jibe with his personal flavor.

"Even if you don't like it, you kind of block that out because you know someone's going to enjoy it," O'Brien said.

His parents said they have watched O'Brien mature as an artist. His mother, Cindy O'Brien, said she knew he was destined to become an artist when she drew pictures with him as a child.

"He was a better artist than I was when he was 8," she said. "He could conjure things from his head. I had to look at an object in order to draw it. That's how I knew he had it."

O'Brien routinely entered contests as a student at South Hagerstown High School and won first prize at an art exhibit at Hagerstown Community College in 2004, when he attended the school.

But art wasn't the only major influence in his life.

Growing up, O'Brien and his brother Ben, 19, enjoyed watching and playing sports with their father. Each year, they take part in a football tournament where the winner - the person who picks the pro football team with the most wins by the end of the season - gets a 6-foot trophy.

Though family and friends have always encouraged O'Brien to pursue art, his father said he wasn't accustomed to being so far away from his son after he left for art school.

"To have him leave and not be able to see him for that length of time was quite an adjustment," Harry O'Brien said. "Right now, everything is going great, but there's going to be ups and downs. But it doesn't matter as long as Michael's happy."

O'Brien said after he graduates, he plans to work "as close to home as possible."

"Hopefully, I have enough talent and I can catch a break to make it," he said.

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