Hedcut

hedcut

Hedcut is a term referring to a style of drawing, associated with ‘The Wall Street Journal’ half-column portrait illustrations. They use the stipple method of many small dots and the hatching method of small lines to create an image, and are designed to emulate the look of woodcuts from old-style newspapers, and engravings on certificates and currency. The phonetic spelling of ‘hed’ may be based on newspapers’ use of the term ‘hed’ for ‘headline.’  The ‘Wall Street Journal’ adopted the current form of this portraiture in 1979 when freelance artist Kevin Sprouls approached the paper with some ink dot illustrations he’d created. The front page editor felt that the drawings complemented the paper’s classical feeling and gave it a sense of stability. Additionally, they are generally more legible than photographs of the same size would be.

Sprouls was subsequently hired as a staff illustrator and remained there until 1987. Today, there are six hedcut artists on staff. Each drawing takes between three and five hours to produce. First, a high quality photograph must be secured. This photograph is scanned, converted to grayscale, and the contrast is adjusted. The photograph is then printed and placed on a light table, and overlaid with tracing vellum. The illustrators then trace directly over this image with ink pens, recreating the source photo using specific dot and line patterns. Women are sometimes more difficult to depict than men as they tend to have more complicated haircuts, which are often cropped for simplicity.

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