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Kevin Sprouls for Worth Magazine

Posted by Workbook on 01/23/2014 — Filed under:  FeaturesGalleriesHeadlineIllustration

Kevin Sprouls has been doing business portraits ever since he pioneered the hallmark style for the Wall Street Journal. Here are some illustrations he recently created for Worth magazine.

Kevin Sprouls for The Wall Street Journal

Posted by Workbook on 06/25/2013 — Filed under:  FeaturesHeadlineIllustration
Kevin Sprouls created this full-page portrait for Ernst & Young's tribute to CEO Jim Turley for the Wall Street Journal.

Sprouls Method - The Hedcut

Posted by Workbook on 02/01/2012 — Filed under:  FeaturesHeadlineIllustration
By Kevin Sprouls

All right, everyone, gather ’round! I’m going to show you all how I create those iconic portraits, in the style I introduced to the Wall Street Journal and still seen around the world today.

The required tools include:

A soft pencil (I actually use a lead-holder, like the old draftsmen used back in the day, HB grade lead.)

Ink for the technical fountain pens (You can use a dip pen like this, but I wouldn’t recommend it— hard to control, and messy!)

And you’ll need an eraser. (The one pictured is known as a “Pink Pearl”— I prefer the kneaded rubber type, which is superior.) A fine, high-quality paintbrush and some white designer’s gouache will take care of any “adjustments” which might be necessary.

Many of my clients send photos to work with that, I must say, can be challenging. The following illustrates one case of a recently produced portrait. Step one: The Client sends me the photograph. It looks like this:

Not great, but it has just enough detail to work with. Step two: get the image into photoshop, convert to grey, size image to my liking, and crop.

Step three: I print out the greyscale image and transfer the photo’s information onto illustration board by tracing on the photo. The resulting contour drawing is like a map for me to follow as I “ink” the finished product.

Everything is done by hand, one mark of the pen at a time. Once the portrait is inked, the pencil lines get erased, and I’m ready to “touch up” any visual issues with the paint brush. And the final result:

This is a large image, to show detail. Below is the portrait as it might be used on the web or in print.

I hope you enjoyed my tutorial. I understand that the folks over at the WSJ use a slightly different process to get their hedcuts into the paper, but the hallmark style remains the same: Picturing Business.

Plaque City

Posted by Workbook on 08/03/2011 — Filed under:  FeaturesHeadlineIllustration
By Kevin Sprouls

I’ve been involved in quite a few projects lately involving the use of my portraiture, sometimes referred to as the Wall Street Journal “hedcut” style, on engraved plaques. It’s gratifying to see my efforts on paper committed to permanence in etched metal.

The first time I considered the conversion of a portrait into a plaque occurred a long time ago. It was like this:

I was fresh out of art school and cutting my teeth, and had the good fortune to work under an Art Director named Dick Martell. The man was a wizard of wit, let alone graphic design. Dow Jones & Co. was lucky enough to grab him, temporarily, for the Marketing Dept. during their 1977 to 1978 season.
The Marketing Department back then were always trying to get out the message that it was truly worthwhile to advertise in the Company’s publications: The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, The Asian Wall Street Journal, etc. When corporate folks would then spend big bucks advertising in one of our publications, they might be rewarded with premiums, as a kind of “Thank You”.

One of the premiums was a strange, carved, bas-relief, full-color representation of a V.I.P of the client’s choosing, on wood. We saw a few of these float through the office, on their way from Giapetto’s workshop to the proud recipients. Dick remarked that he’d love to get one of these produced to use as the seat of a chair!

One of Dick’s memorable stories concerned his direction of a team tasked to create a graphic identity for the New York City Sanitation Department’s collection vehicles, aka garbage trucks. He gave us proteges (my colleague, Kevin Harrington and me) a detailed account of months and months of diverse design concepts, and the considerable sweat exuded over logotypes and color treatments. “What is the Quintessential Color appropriate for a New York City Sanitation truck?” … In the end, after many trials in the fevered-brow, Pantone universe, it was decided that White was the appropriate color for an NYC trash hauler. The signage was to be in the color Black, Helvetica Regular.
Our last day under Dick’s tutelage witnessed great, 3-foot-long, card-stock airplanes being hurled from our communal cubicle into the outside, managerial realm. Aside from being an Art Director of superior intellect and discrimination, Mr. Martell was a pioneering force of iconoclastic mirth.

But, I digress…

Recently, I was tapped to provide 35 portraits for an architectural installation at the headquarters of The World Food Prize. This organization is roughly equivalent to the Nobel prize, only for contributions to the alleviation of hunger and poverty. Gensler, in Chicago, designed the new space. (Elevation plan, above.)

Here is one of the 35 illustrations in engraved form, ready for mounting. This is the first portrait I produced for the series. Another project I’ve been involved with is an honor wall dedicated to members of a Native American tribe in California.

Nicely executed by Designer Jim Guerard in Los Angeles.

One of the illustrations for the Wall of Honor.

Lastly, I was tapped by Pentagram in New York for this one:

Here is a rather lengthy, yet concise, description of the project (from the Client):
“The Koch Institute Public Galleries serve to connect the public to the work of the new Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. Within the Galleries, visitors can explore current cancer research projects, examine striking biomedical images, hear first-person reflections on cancer and cancer research, and explore the geographical and scientific contexts out of which the Koch Institute emerged.

A prominent section of the Galleries is the Philip Alden Russell (1914) East Gallery. Mr. Russell was a beloved friend and mentor to Charles B. Johnson, who, with his wife Ann, has given generous support to MIT and the Koch Institute. Their gift is a tribute to this friendship and this remarkable man. An engraved stainless steel panel in the Galleries recognizes the support of Charles and Ann Johnson and displays a portrait of Mr. Russell created by Kevin Sprouls.”

This describes one of the two images I produced for Koch Instiute (detail above).

I know that was a rather longhanded installment. Thanks for your interest in my continuing pursuits!

Kevin Sprouls' Workbook Portfolio

Illustrator Kevin Sprouls: Joint Ventures

Posted by Workbook on 08/06/2010 — Filed under:  Illustration
If you've ever read the Wall Street Journal, then you'll find the style of these images pretty familiar.  Kevin Sprouls, the man responsible for many of the illustrated portraits seen on a daily basis in the paper, features some of his multiple character hedcuts and the often difficult process of fitting everyone into them.  Additional work from Kevin is at and

These portrait drawings, known in the parlance of the Wall Street Journal as hedcuts, were produced while I was heading up the in-house illustration team at the paper during the 1980′s. Normally, we generated single portraits; however, there were those instances when we needed to depict more than one person within our space on the page. For this application, we were granted a full column, rather than the usual half-column window.

Jim Wright and Tip O’Neill are shown below. Can you identify the rest??

Next, name the astronauts (bonus points!)

…from a human interest piece. It was always a challenge to “put together” these multiple portraits. We had to jam folks as closely together as was feasible, squeezing them into the two-and-a-half inch column width. My approach was usually to blend them together with a tonal fade. Can you find my signature?

These guys are described merely as "detectives".  Check out the fade technique.

… a business couple with great hair.

Eighties icon the Thompson Twins. More great Hair! My kids loved this band when they were tots.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour through my portrait collection— more to come…