SF Weekly
posted: March 31, 2011

Andrew Nilsen, art director for SF Weekly called last week to see if I'd be available to do a quick turn around cover. Apparently San Francisco has a growing feral cat problem. As with many of man's attempts to "help" nature on it's course, the city's practice of aiding those who feed the wild cats had unforseen results. Predators by nature, cats will do their darndest to take their place at the top of the food chain, and in San Francisco that means the packs of feral cats have proceeded to snack on the local birds.
Maybe it's time to start feeding the wild dogs, shore up their numbers, and have them chase these kittens back to the kitty litter.
These are the kinds of thumbnails I don't show the art director. Andrew suggested a cat laying around in a tub of food, or outside in a catglamorous environment. At first I pictured the moon as a cat, snapping at birds as they flew by. I still like that but I thought it might be too surreal....

I thought it might be nice to just zero in on the offender himself. At first I thought it would be fun to show the cat posing in a mug shot with a feather hanging out of his mouth....

Andrew suggested the idea of a gluttonous cat lying (laying?) atop a pile of food and feral cat ephemera. I liked this too....

Andrew liked the full face approach but wanted to suggest that the cat was outdoors. Here are a few color ideas. I generally solve color problems while I work, but this image was so simple that I wanted to have an idea of where I was headed....

Again, since it was so compositionally simple, I redrew my pretty bad sketch, got a box of Crayolas and tried to stay in the lines.
I really like how Andrew pulled some of the noise in the sky into the type....

One last thing that I think is important. SF Weekly is not a huge publication. They don't have the budgets that national magazines have. But whether I'm doing a cover for a city weekly, a Sunday op-ed section cover or a magazine cover, I'm putting out the same effort, trying to make the picture the best it can be within the given parameters. Andrew told me what his budget was, and I told him it was lower than what I usually work for. He asked me what that was. I gave him a rough number and assured him that I'd work as hard on this piece as I did on the previous job that I had just finished for almost 5 times the amount he had. He was very sympathetic, and we had a conversation about where the print business was headed. "I want you to be able to call me in five years. I want to still be in business then" I said. Maybe that helped the cause, because he called back later with a fair price. I started work on this with maybe a little more enthusiasm than usual because I felt like Andrew went to bat for me and I didn't want to disappoint.
Thanks Andrew!
Rob Dunlavey March 31, 2011
This is a fun illustration; I appreciate the details of your process and your candor about the negotiations and I'm glad things turned out well for you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Nick Wright March 31, 2011
.Dale- nothing new here in your work, simply fantastic! and as usual I can see your mugshot was used for the facial expressions....LOL Hope you are well. n
Tim OBrien March 31, 2011
A good example of how versatile you are as a character artist. This one pops off the shelf. Good for you for mentioning the importance of price. It's not illustrators being greedy to ask for a fair wage.
Greg March 31, 2011
One of your best, Dale. Absolutely great!
Alex Nabaum March 31, 2011
Can't stop looking at that wing and the color really pops the orange foot, excellent.
Victor Juhasz March 31, 2011
Dale this is a great process post. The final piece is a gem. You have demonstrated in so many posts how you capture the character of your subjects, even when it's a humorous take on a fat feral cat. Brushwork, as always, is confident and full of life. I happen to really like the thumbnails as well. You coulda worked for Tex Avery.
Alex Bain March 31, 2011
LOVE it! Amazing stuff. I bet this'll be their best-received issue of the year.
David Flaherty March 31, 2011
Well done Dale
Richard Downs March 31, 2011
Nice piece, Dale. Really fun!
Marc March 31, 2011
A killer piece, Dale. The character is spot on, and I like that your made the bkg suggest the specific locale without overwhelming the foreground image. I also appreciate the discussion of fee structure and the value of a fair budget in keeping talent around and focused on what they do best--making great art.
Chris Buzelli March 31, 2011
Great piece Dale! Can't wait to see more furry creatures from you. And perfect example on how to dance with the AD instead of battling.
Adam McCauley March 31, 2011
Great cover, Dale! I'll look out for it. I agree with Chris, it would be cool to see you do more critters. I especially dig how you rendered the locks under his chin, it reminds me of how feral cats' fur often becomes sort of dreadlocked.
Andrew Nilsen March 31, 2011
Thanks for posting this process Dale. Now I don't have to! It was great working with you on this and I told everybody here at SF Weekly how surprised I was at the level of detail you put into the final given the time frame. My eyes lit up as soon as saw it. I must note that the issue has been on the street just over 24hrs and all the boxes I saw on the way to work were empty. Nice! It was a pleasure working with you and yes, I want to be able to call you in 5 years too! And to all you other amazing artists on here who I am itching to work with, I really do try to be fair and honest when it comes to budget. No one wants to start working on a piece with a bad taste in their mouth as we all know our best work usually comes out when there is a smile on our face. Unless, maybe, your are dealing with the topic of politics or religion.... Thanks to Drawger for such a great community here. Can't wait to work my way through hiring everyone on this site!
Brian Stauffer March 31, 2011
It looks great on the stands, man. Really nice lighting.
Douglas Fraser March 31, 2011
Wow, You've smacked that ball hard. Nice job. One of your best I've seen.
Robert Hunt March 31, 2011
Nice one Dale! This may be my favorite piece of yours.
Ellen Weinstein March 31, 2011
Great cover, Dale! Kudos to you and Andrew all around!
Leo Espinosa April 1, 2011
there's a fine line between caricature and realism not too many can walk as well as you, Dale.
Dale April 1, 2011
Thanks everyone, I really appreciate the kind words, especially from so many artists for whom I have enormous respect. Alex Bain, I think our time working together got my fur chops up to speed. Hope you're well.
Rob Warnick April 5, 2011
wow, this is really nice. love seeing the process and sketches. great cover!
Cathleen Toelke April 6, 2011
I really like deep color and how you've used it on this cover. Feral cats can be a problem and unfortunately some send out strange vibes.
Tim J Luddy April 6, 2011
A straightforward assignment like this really challenges the artist to step up to the plate; and Dale, you did not disappoint! Has a powerful impact at first glance, then rewards further viewing with a wealth of detail that's gorgeous and witty too. I love the way his left cheek almost looks as if it's made of down feathers. Andrew's been doing great work at the Weekly; I will pay him the highest compliment that an art director can, and say that I hate him!