March 4, 2008

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).


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:


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:

On the web: and


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:

On the web: and


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.

On the web: and


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:


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:


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:

Thanks to all the artists for their participation!


Very nice. I have always been amazed at some of the details these artists can capture in the courtroom.

Really interesting post - thankyou! I’ve often wondered about courtroom artists and will read more on these.

This is one of your most interesting posts. Thanks!

Patrick Flynn has some nice stuff. His depiction of W 31st and Fremont is very indicative of the location in MN:

Great post.

Great stuff!
But I’d suggest to publish post more shorter than this…

Steve Werblun was also the storyboard artist for Equilibrium. I don’t quite remember how I found out; I think I Googled for information about the film’s production design and stumbled across a recount of his story.

That’s really fascinating. I love how you can really see the different styles each artist has, and how it translates from their work to their courtroom sketches.

Great stuff. I really like all the techniques but especially MARILYN CHURCH. Wow.


Holy mother of pearl! How can there be a discussion of courtroom artists without mentioning the greatest of them all: Howard Brodie
This is like discussing the Renaissance without mentioning Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo.
He covered The Chicago Seven and Charles Manson, among many many others. He was also the main artist-correspondent for ABC during the 70’s.
Oh, and he was also the main sketch artist for WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
He was born in 1915 and I believe he is still alive.
You should all be very embarrassed!

Great post, as usual!

What I like about this entry is that it’s a topic you don’t realize you thought about (probably subconsciously) many times in the past, until you actually come across the post.

I read somewhere that Matt Groening, the Simpsons creator, started out as a courtroom artist, and that he even appeared in that role in an episode where Bart is taken to court.

For those who care, here’s a link to courtroom sketches of Dutch artist Aloys Oosterwijk:

One of the first I recall was Ida Libby Dengrove, whose work was used on NY TV stations, and then picked up on the national news.

My mother was the artist at the trial of infamous mass murder, Charlie Starkweather. She was a successful fashion illustrator and it was her only experience as a courtroom artist. She told me that the second she saw Starkweather she could tell he had something seriously wrong with him.

In that Exxon Valdez drawing, is Clarence Thomas asleep?

Good entry. I just worked as a courtroom artist for two weeks here in Asheville. As part of my “professional education” (meaning learning what I’m supposed to be doing after the fact), I was looking for courtroom art online and your page came up. Thanks for pointing me in some interesting directions. By the way, I really like your Princess Leia/Darth Vader word cartoon!

Amazing post.

Thanks for a great article. I am an artist and have had an interest in courtroom sketch art for years. I may try my hand at it in the future and am in the process of gathering information. Thanks again.

Betty Wells worked for NBC as a news illustrator for twenty-five years, pictorially documenting trials, legislative decisions, and Supreme Court proceedings. She was a pioneer in the ways she used art in the news to cover investigative reports, television specials and dangerous undercover work. We are currently working to document all the important trials and court decisions she was involved with, and she also worked with her good friend Howard Brodie. She is retired now but is still very active in her art studio creating whatever her heart desires. She has just finished a series of art deco paintings. Thanks for the place to make a comment.

Wonderful post.

I was a video technician for the Westmoreland\CBS case in the early 80’ and am doing research to try and locate an artist who worked for the Daily News or Post. This will help.

I’ve had an interest in caricaturing for many years and just stumbled across this site. I’d not really thought about this use of the art before this and found it very interesting. This method of giving the public a view of what is going on in the court room, though an admirable art, it seems to give the impression that the court case happened back in the 20’s or 30’s and detaches us from the fact the crime was actually quite recent. I admire what the caricaturists have done, but may be it is time to come in to the 21st century.
I made my own website to promote caricaturing in the UK. I hope you take a look.

Never thought that court sketches were an art form themselves.

Nice post.

i like your pictures.courtroom pics.


this is a wonderful tribute to inspirational portrait illustrators and their outside work. as someone who aspires and is inspired by the classic forms of illustration, i was happy to stumble upon this!