An Alternative to the WSJ Hedcut Style

all images, c. Kevin Sprouls

This week, I’m offering an altertative to the WSJ hedcut style. The Wall Street Journal hedcuts are often referred to as ‘dot drawings’. I heartily detest this simple label, but it seems people like to label things and I’m not one to criticize. Although pointillism is part of the technique, a lot more is going on in these drawings than applying dots of ink to paper! I’m talking detailed line-work and penmanship, a pretty good part of the hedcut style.

BUT… I have another technique, which I’ll share with you today.

I just received a commission from an American working in Saudi Arabia. He saw this alternative style, which I call a linear, woodcut, or engraving style, on my website, In this post, I will chart the genesis and show examples of my alternate style of portraiture.

When I was a young graphic design freelancer at Dow Jones & Co., I would look for any opportunity to illustrate. The day-to-day office tasks were menial and boring, so, a chance to create art was very welcome, indeed! Dow Jones had a business publication called Barron’s, and they were looking for an image of the founder, Clarence W. Barron. I raised my hand and got the job.

The image above was probably my first professional attempt at drawing in the woodcut, or linear fashion. I enjoyed drawing the signature, too. My illustration was used in marketing the weekly paper to prospective subscribers. Like The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s was a black-and-white only publication.

With this experience under my belt, I was ready when Putnam Investments came to me looking for several engraving style portraits.

I created a series of intricate drawings for Putnam using the linear style. Creating a background for these drawings added depth and drama.

The Design magazine, @issue: picked up on the illustration work I did, and published an article including a portrait of Putnam’s Lawrence Lasser…

Next, the illustration my client cited when he commissioned his portrait:

I’m looking forward to getting into the project. This type of drawing takes about three times the work of the standard, WSJ hedcut portrait, and I have to adjust my fee accordingly. But I enjoy the freedom of exercising a different approach, and look forward to delivering the goods to my client.


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