Michael Jackson

How does the WSJ portray people?

Contrary to some blogs suggesting that The Wall Street Journal portrays certain personalities in an unflattering light, there is only one requirement given to us, hedcut illustrators and that is to produce a drawing which is a true representation of the reference image we're given. In other words, to draw as close to the photo as possible.

Those who supply us with images (like the photo department, or the reporters) also have only one requirement, and that is to obtain the LATEST image for a reference. Never in my 22 years as a staff artist have I been told to "push" someone's likeness in one way or the other.

I know it's important NOT to overemphasize certain details (wrinkles, double chins), and to ignore the unimportant ones (tiny moles, flyaway hair), but I also know that some photos make lousy reference material. For example, a photo of a person talking or caught in a middle of a sentence (press conference, speeches, etc), often ends up looking strange or grimacing in a drawing, so at the Journal, we try to stay away from such images, but if no other photos are available, we try to pick the most flattering one.

Sometimes, a subject request that we draw from a picture they picked themselves (like their official press photo) but quite frankly, I prefer to draw from candid shots. Studio photographers like to use "creative lighting" and aggressive digital processing resulting in an unnatural and plastic expressions. Just look at the Hillary Clinton image on the right. It was a very nice, posed photo, but I prefer the drawing on the left, done from a candid shot.

Another fact worth mentioning is that at the Journal, we try very hard to keep up with all the important appearance alterations, such as hairdo and facial hair changes, lost or gained weight etc., (Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs).

With all of this said, quality of every drawing inevitably depends on the artist's unique interpretation, quality of the reference material and the time frame allocated (3-5 hours on average). Some drawings are more successful then others, but I have to tell you .... in the morning when I'm starting the day's assignment, I have only one goal in mind: to create a masterpiece! I'm elated when I hit it right on the nail, but if I'm not so happy with the result, .... I simply blame it on the photo! ;-)