Noli Novak: Portrait of a Stipple Artist The trademark illustrations in The Wall Street Journal look like engravings. But they're actually intricate pointilist portraits. Petra Mayer visits stipple artist Noli Novak at her New Jersey studio.
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Noli Novak: Portrait of a Stipple Artist

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Noli Novak: Portrait of a Stipple Artist


Those little illustrations on the front page of The Wall Street Journal look just like engravings: dignified, respectable, on the money as it were. And, of course, that's exactly the effect The Journal is aiming for. But those intricate portraits called hedcuts are done by hand by people like artist Noli Novak. NPR's Petra Mayer visited Novak at her home studio in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Ms. NOLI NOVAK (Illustrator): What I do first is I try to establish the darkest areas, which is usually the suit, and I usually do that with my thickest pen. This is number-one.

PETRA MAYER reporting:

Noli Novak curls over her drawing board, number-one pen in hand, copying a three-by-five-inch photo onto special velum paper. The technique she uses is called stippling. A constellation of dots, lines and crosshatches is taking shape under her hands.

Ms. NOVAK: Crosshatching is--brings whole other different problems, really. You really have to do it very slow and make your lines very evenly spaced; otherwise it really looks dirty if you don't.

MAYER: Your hands are amazingly steady.

Ms. NOVAK: The line is not that long, the line I'm doing right now, so easy to keep it steady.

MAYER: It takes Noli about three hours to finish a hedcut. She says when she's rushed for time, there are fewer dots and more lines because they're easier to draw. Every morning Noli's supervisor at The Journal e-mails her an image to work from. Today it's Russian politician Anatoly Chubais.

Ms. NOVAK: This guy's turned sideways a little bit, and you can never forget that the face is three-dimensional. See, his face really goes from here to there, and I think that's going to be a problem with this guy. Like, right now I kind of don't like the way I did this outline, and I'm going to have to do some adjusting to make sure he doesn't look swollen on one side. That's how it's going to end up looking if I'm not careful.

MAYER: Noli says her job's never boring. There's always a new problem to deal with. Take, for instance, George W. Bush, a common presence in the pages of The Journal.

Ms. NOVAK: One of the reasons everybody hates to draw Bush, including me, our current president, is because he has a very slight cross-eyedeness. And so, you know, moving eyes slightly sometimes is just required because otherwise it would look like you made a mistake. With Bush, you can't do that; you have to stay as close as possible. But, you know, even if you look at this drawing here, you can see that something's a little off.

MAYER: Noli Novak grew up on the Croatian island of Korcula. Fresh out of college, she came to the United States in 1984, and a friend suggested she try out as a stipple artist at The Wall Street Journal. Now Noli trains the new artists and keeps an eye on them to make sure everyone draws in a uniform style. That's so when you're reading your Journal at the breakfast table, you can't tell there are several different artists doing the illustration.

Ms. NOVAK: I'm going to look and say, `Hey, Bonnie, some of your drawings look a little too dark. You know, maybe you want to scan them a little lighter or watch out when you do the hats. Oh, gee, what happened here? Why is he so--was that a rush drawing?' you know. So we kind of look at each other's drawings and just kind of try to comment and keep an eye on our styles and techniques.

MAYER: The critiques will have to wait for now. Noli's portrait of Anatoly Chubais will appear in the next day's Wall Street Journal Europe. She's got a deadline to meet.

Ms. NOVAK: And there he is.

MAYER: Petra Mayer, NPR News.

LYDEN: To see pictures of stipple artist Noli Novak and samples of her work, go to our Web site at

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