Connecting The Dots
Stipple artist finds a home in Riverside
Article about my life, art and strange things I do, by Tim Gilmore
(To read from Folio, click on the image bellow)
Meet the "WSJ Five", a crew of staff illustrators who cover all of paper's illustration needs. This group of artists hasn't changed in decades. Scan the Internet for information, you'll most likely get a wrong idea about who we are. Paired with the fact that we aren't credited in the paper (due to our staff positions), the confusion only grows bigger, so at the time when fake news and fakery in general is hard to avoid, it has become of utmost importance that we set the record straight and give credit where credit is due.
We are (in order of seniority):
Laura Levy http://www.lauraloulevy.com/illustrations.htm
Noli Novak http://www.hedcut.com/
Nancy Januzzi https://www.nancyjanuzzi.com/
Bill Hallinan https://www.behance.net/boodha
Bonnie Morrill http://bgmillustrations.com/
One more artist that must be mentioned, is our long time colleague Hai Knafo who retired 7 years ago. Although he still might do an occasional hedcut drawing, Hai spends most of his time curating the Museum of Nervous Energy, MoNE. https://www.museumofnervousenergy.com/
So, there you have it. Whatever else you might have heard, is simply false. There are no other illustrators drawing for the Journal and there are no automated applications making insta-hedcuts, not for the paper nor for outside clients.
As a group, we fought hard to keep this style of illustration present on Journal's pages to this day and in the process, it became not just "the look" of the Journal but an iconic style for the business world in general. Over the years, we had to find our way around many obstacles and challenges but we endured and even created a smooth transition into the digital realm.
It is also important to mention that contrary to another Internet rumor, the five of us have always been available for freelance work. We have been covering the needs of a variety of clients, especially the financial sector's, for many decades as well.
If you're in need of this kind of illustration, refer to the list above to make sure you're working with an authentic hedcut artist.
Curious about hedcuts? Here is an article from 2010 WSJ, touching on our daily routine and a little bit of history . Video on the bottom.
The National Portrait Gallery is in the news lately (see the case of Chuck Close) and I was reminded that Hedcuts are also included in the NPG. Since I had a hand in making it happen, here is my story.
It was 2001, just a few months after the attacks of 9/11. The WSJ offices were located across the street from The World Trade Center, and our building was heavily damaged when the towers collapsed. In order to continue publishing a daily newspaper, our entire company and all of its operations had to immediately relocate to our parent company Dow Jones' corporate headquarters in South Brunswick, NJ.
The newsroom was still in shock from the attacks. We were uprooted from our daily routines and to make things worse, we had to commute such a long way, it was hard to squeeze out even one drawing a day. There was also a lot of talk about company's restructuring at the time, which caused additional pressure on us. I was so demoralized, that was the only time I actually hated my job.
Then one day, I was introduced to Anne Goodyear, curator of the National Portrait Gallery. She came to our office interested in including Hedcut portraits in the NPG collection. I was assigned a task of helping her, which worked wonders for lifting my spirit at the time.
The task however, was monumental.
Anne was interested in the history of hedcuts first and we spent long hours talking about everything hedcuts, from the evolution of the previous art styles, to all the artists who contributed their time and talents in creating the hedcut technique used today. When it came to compiling drawings, the task became even more complicated because a lot of our original artwork was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks, and archiving programs were still clumsy and not very reliable. In addition of going through hundreds of digital archives, Anne had to spend long hours in WSJ's storage building which housed decades of original artwork in dusty boxes.
After a few long months of work, Online Hedcut Gallery was created and the WSJ donated all the needed artwork.
20 of my originals were selected, dating from 1989 to 2001, picturing public figures of the time. They include Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart and a drawing of my future boss, Rupert Murdoch and his new bride. Click HERE to see the rest.
Fast-forward to today.
My technique of creating hedcuts, has changed significantly since the early 2000's. The paper's needs keep changing, our deadlines are shorter, the quality of newsprint paper is different, but most importantly, online display of hedcuts was ultimately the biggest influencer for continuous updating of my technique.
When it comes to my process, the tools and art supplies I use, the biggest change happened when I was sent overseas to train the hedcut artist in our Brussels bureau. The Journal wanted the hedcuts used in the European edition of the paper to look more similar to the US edition's. In an exchange of artistry, the lady doing "European heds" introduced me to a completely new way of creating hedcuts and I use her system to this day.
I plan on doing a post about that sometime soon.
The Arts & Culture app, which matches selfies with classic artworks, was used on Wall Street Journal portraits. Outtakes from the article in Tech section of the WSJ, 1/17/18
Click HERE for more (subscription needed)
From her home in Riverside, Noli Novak creates Wall Street Journal’s iconic portraits of famous, obscure
Article in The Florida Times Union, By Matt Soergel, 1/12/18
Noli Novak, working out of her home studio in Riverside, is one of just a handful of artists who supply the Wall Street Journal with its iconic stipple “hedcut” illustrations — the lifelike, hand-drawn head-shots made up of hundreds of dots and dashes and lines.
Over 30 years, she’s done thousands upon thousands of the portraits, of news-makers famous and obscure. Many people she’s done numerous times over the years, as they — and the times — change.
She offers some insights: When drawing a near-photographic likeness of President Trump, you might think it’s his rather unusual hairstyle that would be the hardest thing to capture.
No, says Novak. “He actually has crazy eyebrows. Nobody notices that.”
She is one of two full-time stipple artists at the Journal, where she was hired while still in her 20s, a recent immigrant from what was then Yugoslavia.
Though her newspaper work is uncredited, she’s well known in the world of stipple illustrations, sought out for freelance work from major corporations and exhibited in galleries. And on Friday she’ll be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where she’ll showcase the technique and invite those in the audience to try it out themselves.
She’s not crazy about the cold anymore — never was — but it will be good, she says, to be back in New York.
Until Sept. 11, 2001, she worked out of the newspaper’s headquarters next door to the World Trade Center. On that morning, she was at her apartment in New Jersey, getting ready for work, when a co-worker called to say something had happened at the World Trade Center.
Novak turned on the TV, then looked across the Hudson River and saw the second plane hit the south tower. Then she watched as the buildings came down. It was nightmarish, unbelievable, she says.
The Journal’s offices were badly damaged by the collapse, and Novak lost years of work she’d stored there.
After that, illustrators began working from home. Within a few years, she moved to Jacksonville, where her husband, George Cornwell, had grown up.
They’d met in New York, playing music, and formed a band that ultimately became known as NovakSeen. They played at well-known New York clubs, were signed by a German record company, toured Europe. She sang, and he played the guitar.
She smiled: “We were loud guitars, drums, punk rock, metal, kind of a garage band. The ’90s were our era, up in New York.”
Even so, they’ve played occasionally in Jacksonville, and she has long black hair and dark-rimmed eyes that suggest both her artistic and musical lives.
After New York, Jacksonville seemed a good spot: warmer weather, no commutes, cheaper rent, more room for George’s fine-art printmaking studio. They settled downtown at first, figuring that was the spot, but soon grew disenchanted. “There was no central scene where I could find myself hanging out with people I had something in common with,” Novak says.
Moving to Riverside, a short distance away, solved that.
Cornwell now has a studio at CoRK, the artists’ studios in a warehouse on the edge of Riverside. Novak says she came up with its name — the Corner of Roselle and King — and enjoys spending time there. She needs the camaraderie of other artists and does some collaborative work there.
Her Wall Street Journal work, though, along with a steady flow of freelance work, comes to life at her home, a brick building she jokingly calls the ugliest house in Riverside.
She has a second-floor work-space, complete with a balcony, overlooking the street. From there, she can see people walking or biking or driving, can say hello to friends.
It’s no New York, to be sure, but it suits her need for an urban neighborhood. “I’m definitely not a suburban type of girl,” she says.
She doesn’t drive — never has — but from home she can walk or bike to Publix, stores, restaurants, CoRK and its environs.
She grew up in communist Yugoslavia, in what’s now Croatia. Her hometown, Zadar, is an ancient city that was largely destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II. Her father was a photographer, and she still has hundreds of negatives he shot of the damaged city; she’s trying to figure out how to preserve them and have them exhibited back in Croatia.
As a child, she studied music and art; when she was about 10, one of her pieces of art — a paper collage of men and women dressed in national costumes — was chosen to be a birthday president for Yugoslavia’s President Tito.
She keeps ties to her homeland: Every year, she and her husband return to a small stone cottage they built in the traditional style on an island in the Adriatic.
Novak continues her Journal work even from there. Each assignment begins with a photograph, sent by editors.
“I’m given this one photo. That’s all I know about this person. Sometimes the photo is very bad, yet I’m supposed to capture the person in this style,” she says.
From that photo, she traces the face’s major details, then, using three different Rapidograph pens, she begins creating the portrait in a meticulous process using dots, dashes and cross-hatching to create hair, clothing, shadows and light. Each hedcut takes between two to five hours, usually, to finish.
“This is the look of the Wall Street Journal,” she says. “It’s totally iconic for the Journal.”
As befitting the Journal’s focus on Wall Street, the stipple art is meant to resemble old-fashioned engraving found on currency bills. It’s designed to be uniform, but she can always spot the work of her colleagues: each person has his or her style.
It’s a craft that passed down from person to person, Novak says. She trained some of the freelancers that the paper uses, and says it takes several months to learn the process.
Many of her subjects are famous: Queen Elizabeth or President Obama, Steve Jobs or baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr., her subject on a recent day.
She drew Hillary Clinton numerous times over the years too, as a new portrait was needed with every hairstyle change. Martha Stewart, by the way, was never happy with any of her hedcuts.
Often though, Novak doesn’t even know her subject’s full name or their significance. All she has is that photo to work with.
“Sometimes I have to read their minds, looking at the picture. Maybe I have to cut down on the double chin, but I need to to make them look like themselves,” she says.
“I try to read their minds: What kind of person are they trying to show?”
Matt Soergel: (904) 359-4082
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