Stipple Me

I’ve always been fascinated by the portrait illustrations of celebrities and public figures on the Wall Street Journal. Today, I decided to do some googling and found that this sort of illustration was called “stippling,” which Wikipedia says is “is the technique of using small dots to simulate varying degrees of solidity or shading.” I’d be very curious to see how I or some of my friends look in stippled form. The portraits done using the stipple technique are called “hedcuts” and has been used by the WSJ since 1979.

I spent some time looking through these WSJ portrait collections by illustrators Kevin Sprouls, Randy Glass and Noli Novak. Although there are plug-ins and methods on Photoshop to get very close to the stipple effect, it looks like the manual process is still very much preferred. And this also makes me wonder – do people featured as hedcuts in the WSJ ever get their own copies of the artwork? Do any of them hang them up on their walls or paste them in their press scrapbooks? There’s a pleasing quality to a stipple portrait that neither color photography nor caricature can produce – only the dramatic black & white photography might surpass it in terms of classiness.

On an unrelated note (or maybe somehow related, you never know), I happened to be flipping through Ian McEwan’s Saturday, which just arrived last week. I’m usually in the habit of juggling three or four different books at a time, reading bits from each depending on my ever-changing moods. I had (re)started on Saul Bellow’s Herzog a couple of weeks ago, but when Saturday came, I was eager to start on it and put the other books, including Herzog, on momentary hold. To my surprise, when I opened up to the first few pages of the book, I saw that McEwan had included, of all things, a passage from Herzog! And while a coincidence such as this may sound pretentious and hardly interesting, I thought I’d write the passage up here just so I can later recall it more clearly to see its connection to both books. Already the Vietnam-Iraq thing is very apparent, but hopefully there’s something more subtle there. Here goes:

For instance? Well, for instance, what it means to be man. In a city. In a century. In transition. In a mass. Transformed by science. Under organised power. Subject to tremendous controls. In a condition caused by mechanization. After the late failure of radical hopes. In a society that was no community and devalued the person. Owing to the multiplied power of numbers which made the self negligible. Which spent military billions against foreign enemies but would not pay for order at home. Which permitted savagery and barbarism in its own great cities. At the same time, the pressure of human millions who have discovered what concerted efforts and thoughts can do. As megatons of water shape organisms on the ocean floor. As tides polish stones. As winds hollow cliffs. The beautiful supermachinery opening a new life for innumerable mankind. Would you deny them the right to exist? Would you ask them to labor and go hungry while you yourself enjoyed old-fashioned Values? You – you yourself are a child of this mass and a brother to all the rest. Or else an ingrate, dilettante, idiot. There, Herzog, thought Herzog, since you ask for the instance, is the way it runs.

Herzog, Saul Bellow, 1964

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