andrew j nilsen


Cover Process / Behind the Scenes: The Dispossessed

[click on images for hi-res]

The problem: visualize a story about foreclosure - a topic that has been beaten to death in the past few years.

My first thoughts were around trying to use a doorway as a metaphor for both a new beginning and a trap. The door itself was too simple so I thought maybe the house shape could do what I was thinking. The three thumbnails in the second image were my jumping off point.

From here I knew I wanted to try some sort of isometric illusion to play with the duality of the story. I jumped into Illustrator and started hacking together some shapes.

I wasn’t sure if it should be a pit, underwater, or a house being dumped out until I did that last vector sketch. I was feeling pretty solid about the concept at this point.

From here I had to decide whether or not to finish this sucker myself. I was debating it back in forth in my head but decided I needed to free up my brain to focus on the impending “Best of SF” issue deadlines rapidly approaching. I got Brian Stauffer on the hook to take it to the finish line and let my brain move on to other things … until I showed the sketches to my wife that night (Thursday).

She was more excited about the concept than I was and thought I should finish it myself. We had a fun little debate over the pros and cons of both options and I decided that sleep was more important to me this week and stuck with my original decision to have Brian humanize this one.

Brian shot over his thoughts Friday afternoon - a few variations on some of the sketches I had done and we decided to stick with the upright house vs. house being dumped out.

We struggled over how to solved the mixed perspective and Brian pointed out that the single shared door to both houses was making it difficult to read the other house properly. He was right I as I had been staring at it WAY too long and slapped those shapes together so fast that I stopped trying to makes sense of the details.

He changed the idea to have two doors which allowed us eliminate the challenge of where the people should be. It was now clear that one should be hanging from the doorknob and one moving into the other home. This also freed up the side of the house for typography.

It was also clear from his sketches that both homes being white made everything easier and that the background should be a solid color to eliminate any confusion in trying to reinforce the perspective.

We nailed down the last few details just before I cut out of the office for the weekend and I left it to Brian to do his thing over the weekend.

In the end, my “the simpler, the better” mantra proved itself once again and I was glad to have Brian there to help refocus the approach … and really take this piece to the next level. Thanks Brian!


Figured I would share this while I was digging it up to show a coworker for reference.

Dioramas from the Sacramento News & Reviews’ Summer Guide when I was Art Director there. Digitally designed, print and cut out card stock, photographed with a couple crappy garage clamp lights. Take about budget. I definitely remember sleeping in my desk chair one of the nights while working on this to make deadline.

Oh, and the type was from and old film slide show titling set that my sister bought at a thrift store for me. I had held onto it for years knowing that I would eventually use it for something. And I still have it waiting and ready for the next BIG idea.

Cheers to Saul Bass, a design an illustration legend who would be 93 today! I would not be the designer and illustrator I am today without his influence.

You can purchase prints of this piece here. Free shipping until May 12th!

Ok, here it is. The last cover of SF Weekly that has my name on it. Just in time for the Super Bowl on Sunday. It might not be my best work ever, but I had fun doing it and hope to see empty newspaper racks by the end of the day.

We had a pretty good run, SFW. You taught me many new things about myself, challenged me to find my voice, and gave me the freedom to take risks while constantly pushing me to do better. You helped me collaborate with some of the most talented artists I know and helped me reach beyond the audience of San Francisco. For that, I am eternally grateful and thankful of the time we had together. It’s been real.

Thanks to everyone who contributed over the years, to Michael Shavalier for hiring me, and to Darrick Rainey and Tom Carlson for guiding me. Thanks to my parents for supporting my connection to art and creating over all those years. I wouldn’t be the same without it.

Most importantly, thanks to my wife Jaleen for keeping my head on straight, telling me when I needed to stop and when I needed to go further. I am a stubborn piece of crap sometimes and I never would have made it this far without her support. She’s the best.

Time to see how really living in my own skin feels. Here’s to new beginnings.

See you out there…