Color Portraits at WSJ

Illustrations, c. Kevin Sprouls

While in my position as Senior Illustrator at the WSJ, I decided to branch out and create some Portraits in Color. This was a foray into a more complete palette, utilizing the same pen-and-ink technique we employed at The Journal every day.

For the first portrait, I was looking for someone famous, who’d be recognized instantly.

I had been mesmerized by the ’60’s film “Becket”, and thought that Peter O’Toole, one of the film’s stars, would make a good subject. I went over to the New York Public Library to search through the Picture Collection. This is the photo-image I found, a still from the film…

I liked the dramatic power of the image, O’Toole’s face, and the crude, bejewelled, medieval-looking crown. I worked with this image, and made a few alterations. The first version was in Black-and-White. This drawing is more graphic and linear than The WSJ hedcuts we were producing during the week…

The drawing was a success, so I took the next step. After making a transparent flap of the drawing, I proceeded to create an underlying layer in full-color. I used watercolor paint and colored pencils to complete this backdrop layer. When the film was placed over the base layer, the result looked like this:

Here is a closeup that gives you a better idea of the detail contained in the drawing…

For the second color portrait, I approached my boss at The Wall Street Journal, Steve MacDonald. He generously volunteered to be my subject. Here is the working photo I took:

I remember him saying he was suffering from a cold that day. This photo shows a somewhat subdued expression, as opposed to Steve’s generally sunny disposition. An Editor at the paper, he was filling a temporary, stand-in position as Art Department Manager at this time.

After obtaining my photo, I made a very rough sketch, to establish my color palette:

I decided to create this portrait in a different way, as a full-color, complete drawing on a single board. This meant working more traditionally, working up the colors and applying my pen work later, on top of all the underlying colors. Also, I loaded my pens with colored inks, not just the usual black, for the line work. I thought it came out pretty well. It’s one of a kind, like the subject…

Although a blank field is worked into the drawing, it was never filled. Perhaps I should work some hand-lettering into it. That would be fun!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of two portraits. I’m always happy to share these personal projects in the posts of this blog. Cheers!


6 thoughts on “Color Portraits at WSJ

  1. Have you seen the new series “Undone” with Bob Odendkirk and Rosa Salazar? Very reminiscent of your work X Scanner Darkly. Thanks for showing the process here =)

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