SUBTLE REMINDERS – Holly Foster Media


The unconditional love I receive from each of my adopted animals enriches my life daily. When I spend time with them, the affection they show me is a reminder that I am valued; that’s a message we humans need and appreciate.

Every day, twice a day they remind me it’s time to eat. My white cat Lily usually shows up first, positioning herself strategically beside the bowl. One by one the other cats join her and begin to mill around, meow, and sometimes even reward me with a loving headbutt to ensure they’re being heard.

I recently found myself thinking “Wouldn’t it be nice if they just lined up and sat perfectly still in anticipation of their food?” And as that thought entered my mind, the design for my project was born.

The Design

I was convinced that I could successfully place each cat around an empty pet bowl. The concept was simple: take individual photos and combine them into a single composition. If possible, I also wanted to capture images that showed a glimpse of each cat’s personality.

Ultimately, I wanted the message “Where’s the food” to be loud and clear so the viewer could almost hear their mental voices. Ask any cat owner and they’ll confirm the intensity you experience at feeding time.

Concept — simple: execution — not so simple. You know what they say about working with children and animals … well it’s absolutely true. This endeavor required a lot of picture taking and a ton of patience.

To design is
to devise courses of action aimed at
changing existing situations
into preferred ones (Hardt, 2006).

Herbert Simon, Nobel laureate

This quote by Herbert Simon describes the ability of a good design to produce change, but (for me) it’s also a metaphor that mirrors my wish for well behaved cats!

Taking the Photos

To begin I took a picture of my kitchen counter, which serves as the cats’ feeding area. Next I shot NUMEROUS photos of each of my sweethearts, always aiming to capture their image in full-face view.

I started with my gray cat Charlotte, who was a perfect model. My tiger Meg was the total opposite; she wasn’t particularly interested in looking straight at the camera, so I had to move around quite a bit to get a usable shot. Lily completely ignored my directions and insisted on lying down, while my Siamese cat Roddy absolutely refused to sit (he’s my ADHD kitty). I was disappointed at first, but ultimately the non-sitting shots actually worked to make the composition more interesting. This is what Dr. Robert D. Austin, professor of Information Systems at Ivey Business School describes as “serendipitous opportunities” (he teaches Design and Technology Management in their MBA program).

Knowing too clearly where you are going, focusing too hard on a predefined objective, can cause you to miss value that might lie in a different direction (Gilbert, 2006).

Prof. Robert D. Austin

I wanted to include all my cats (I have five) but one of them is … well let’s just say she’s camera-shy. I actually prefer asymmetrical compositions, but with only four cats this one was destined to be symmetrical.

After spending a considerable amount of time looking at the photographs, I brought my final pictures into Photoshop. I carefully made my selections and used masks to isolate each cat and make the backgrounds transparent. And yes, I can assure you that whiskers are definitely a challenge.

Sizing and Composition

MENT is an acronym that stands for midline, edges, negative space, and transitions. Robin Landa, author and professor at the Robert Busch School of Design at Kean University, reminds us to “thoughtfully position each graphic element in relation to others and to the overall format” (2019).

Comparing each cat’s head size helped me get the proportions correct, or at least believable. I also had to make adjustments based on the actual size of each cat (Lily is very large but her head is actually quite small). Overlapping the images created the spatial depth required to make the picture pleasing to the eye.

It took a lot of trial and error to get a balanced composition. I rearranged the elements A LOT, taking frequent breaks so I could let the project incubate for periods of time.

Two cats are in the foreground with the bowl, which lies directly on the midline. The remaining two cats are placed in the middle ground, with the rest of the kitchen residing in the background of the composition. Two of the cats bleed off the edge of the page. There’s also plenty of negative space between the two center cats to allow for a pleasant transition among the animals.

The background needed a bit of adjustment, which gave me an opportunity to use Photoshop’s perspective crop tool (check out the video by PromoAmbitions under references to see a short but effective lesson on how to use it).

One Last Reminder

Ultimately I was happy with the results, but those who know me well know I don’t like to leave anyone out. My dear puppy Savannah (who is not young at all) should also be remembered. She too reminds me when it’s feeding time, and she’s not particularly fussy about the differences between cat food and dog food.

A couple of quick photos, one more set of selection/masking and voilà, she was in! It changed the dynamics of the composition but still works well, although I don’t think it delivers the same emotional punch of the cats-only version.

And so, this photo will always be a reminder of my four-legged children. Their not-so-subtle reminders not only ensure that they are well fed, but also help me remember how blessed I am to have them in my life 🙂

© 2019 Holly Foster

until nxt time …


Gilbert, S. J. (2006, July 5). The Accidental Innovator. Retrieved from:

Hardt, M. (2006). Design Definition Lecture [PDF]. Retrived from:

Landa, R. (2019). Graphic Design Solutions, Sixth Edition. Boston, MA: Cengage.

PromoAmbitions. (2018, May 19). Perspective Crop Tool – Photoshop CC Tutorial 2018 (Photography). Retrieved from

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0 thoughts on “SUBTLE REMINDERS

  1. Holly, you did a great job putting together all of the cats. your use of the quick selection tool is sharp and pristine. The way you bleed two of the cats off the page creates movement for the viewer. The only suggestion I have is that if you do this again, maybe try adding some shadows to the cats to bring more dimension to the piece and make it look even more real. The positioning of the cats and your dog around the bowl places an emphasis on the emptiness of the bowl, thus achieving the subtle reminder effect you were going for.

  2. Holly, I really enjoyed this composition. I’ve seen this exact look from our cat for over twelve years, and now from our brand new puppy. While the pets are begging for your attention, my eyes are drawn to the bowl as a subtle reminder that these companions rely upon you for nourishment. To add upon Shayla’s comment regarding dimension, I’d add some subtle reflection of the cats into the countertop. This would bring a near-lifelike piece closer to realism. Great job!

    Tutorial on Adding Reflection –

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