The Other Art of Courtroom Sketch Artists
In 1996, Supreme Court Justice David Souter told a congressional panel that “the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.” While the controversy over whether or not cameras should be allowed in courtrooms rages on, sketch artists remain fairly non-controversial, covering even the most important trials. The general public sees their artwork on the news, online, and in print. These artists see the trials for us, and often their artwork is our only glimpse into the proceedings.
I found myself wondering who these artists are. Is courtroom sketching a full time job? Are these people fine artists or commercial artists? And what kind of artwork do they do outside the courtroom? I decided to contact a range of courtroom sketch artists and see what I could find out. There are many more talented artists in courtrooms than just the seven I contacted, and I present them in no particular order. (All artwork shown with permission of the artists).
MONA SHAFER EDWARDS
In the courtroom: Mona has been covering celebrity trials in Los Angeles for more than 25 years. Her courtroom sketches have appeared on ABC, CNN, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She recently released a book called Captured! featuring sketches and commentaries from a quarter century of celebrity trials.
Outside the courtroom: Before she began sketching trials, Mona was a fashion illustrator. She has illustrated several fashion books and has taught fashion sketching at UCLA. Some of her fine art is available in posters from Winn Devon. I think she conveys a lot of elegance in seemingly simple lines.
On the web: www.monaedwards.com
In the courtroom:In 1975, Steve was passing through Philadelphia on his way to Hollywood, when a photojournalist friend offered him a press pass to watch the moving of the Liberty Bell with him. As luck would have it, the bad weather that day prevented the photographers from getting the shots they needed, but the fact that an illustrator was present meant that the media could at least get an artist’s rendition of the event. The Philadelphia Daily News was impressed by his work and asked if he’d ever done courtroom sketching before. He hadn’t, but he was willing to give it a try. For nearly 30 years since then, Steve covered court cases for every major media outlet, drawing his courtroom pictures with color markers. A drawing Steve made of Judge Lance Ito, his staff, and all the major players from the OJ Simpson trial hangs framed above the juror box in Judge Ito’s courtroom.
Outside the courtroom: Steve finally made it to Hollywood, where he has a prolific career drawing storyboards for major motion pictures including The Day After Tomorrow, Along Came Polly, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Steve also does fantasy and sci-fi illustration and is working on a book of stories from his illustration adventures. Here’s an example of his storyboard work for The Day After Tomorrow:
In the courtroom: From 1973 to 1998, Marilyn worked for WABC in New York, covering some of the city’s most famous trials. She was there for the courtroom appearances of Woody Allen, Martha Stewart, Don King, Sid Vicious, Mick Jagger, and more. In a 2006 interview, she recalled drawing notorious mob boss Jon Gotti: “He was always turned out in his Armani suits with his hair blown out and back, he exuded charisma. I saw him as terrifying. I used to watch him through binoculars. And one day he wagged his finger at me and pointed to his neck. I had been drawing his fat neck, and he didn’t like it.” Marilyn recently released a book called Art of Justice recounting 30 infamous trials from the artist’s perspective.
Outside the courtroom: Besides her illustrious career as a courtroom sketch artist, Marilyn is an accomplished painter whose post-impressionistic work has earned several solo exhibitions. Here are some examples:
In the courtroom: Patrick recently moved to a state that allows cameras in the courtroom, which pretty much put the kibash on his courtroom sketch art. But for 10 years prior to the move, Patrick’s courtroom art appeared in numerous regional and national press. I quite like his style, which he executes in chalk pastels and colored pencils (“very messy” he notes) because it’s not exactly what I imagine when I picture typical courtroom sketch art. These sketches are from the Kirby Puckett trial and the Marilyn Manson trial:
Outside the courtroom: Patrick describes himself as “a reality-based artist” adding, “I do still lifes, landscapes, and illustrations that make wry comments and witty observations on modern life.” His website features oil paintings depicting Bob’s Big Boy, a series of Pez Dispensers, and a cow-shaped creamer. Others depict seemingly mundane corners of suburban landscape. And his portfolio is rounded out with commercial work showing both creative and technical illustration skills.
In the courtroom: Dana says that the most memorable court case she’s sat in on was NBC Sportscaster Marv Albert’s sexual assault trial, which she describes as “one big surprise after the next.” In that case, Albert was accused of biting a woman, and it was revealed that he sometimes wore women’s underwear. Sometimes, Dana says, time restraints don’t allow her to finish her sketches in the courtroom, so she adds the finishing touches afterwards, even if that means setting up shop in the courthouse bathroom, using the sink for her watercolors. Dana’s courtroom art has appeared on CNN, ABC, FOX, and elsewhere.
Outside the courtroom: Dana’s illustrations have been featured in national publications like Newsweek, which used her work extensively for its article “The Day That Changed America” about the attacks of 9/11. On a more local scale, Dana does commissioned portraits for clients, and is even available as a caricaturist for events.
On the web: www.danaverkouteren.com
In the courtroom: Paulette says about courtroom art: “Being a courtroom artist is like capturing lightning in a jar. The artist must grasp the image of the moment, hold it, and express it onto an 11x14 drawing pad in their lap without spilling ink, paint or supplies onto the lap of the person sitting beside them. The composition must tell the story at a glance. In all my art I go for essence. The essence of my subject in the mood of the moment is my goal. I have written a biography with artwork of the great radical criminal defense lawyer J. Tony Serra, and I’m working on a book about the world’s greatest mime, Marcel Marceau. I learned about essence from Marceau and about drama in the courtroom from Serra.”
Outside the courtroom: In addition to being a courtroom artist and author, Paulette is also a photographer, a magician, a mime, and a fine artist who work was first exhibited in a joint show with her father, designer Paul T. Frankl. Here are two of her portraits:
On the web: www.pauletteart.com
In the courtroom: The United States Supreme Court is Art’s regular beat, drawing for NBC News. But he has covered cases across the country, and even as far south as Guantanamo Bay where his sketches are the only visual records of various military proceedings. He began doing courtroom sketches in 1976, and works mostly with colored pencils and watercolor markers. I asked Art what he thinks of cameras in the courtroom. He said, “My fear is that trials could become reality shows. The viewing public, not realizing that the trial they are witnessing, with commentary from pundits and sandwiched between commercials, is very different from the case the jury gets.” Here is Art’s sketch of last week’s Supreme Court arguments in the Exxon Valdez case:
Outside the courtroom: Art’s courtroom work make up most of his visual artistry these days, but he does practice two other kinds of art that I think are worth mentioning. First of all, he writes an interesting blog where you can see Art’s latest drawings, along with commentary about the cases he covers. And until recently, Art was playing Mandolin in the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra. You can see Art in this photo, partially obscured, third from the left:
On the web: www.courtartist.com
Thanks to all the artists for their participation!