So I went court sketching last week. Something I had always wanted to do and to be honest: courtroom artist is one of my secret dream jobs. I admire people who, with just a few strokes, can capture faces, gestures, the overall mood of any given situation.
This opportunity opened up quite out of the blue. Recently, I joined an art group that gets together every once in a while to draw and paint different subjects of interest. Judging from the number of sign-ups, this seemed to be a popular session. As only a limited number of participants would be allowed inside the courtroom, I didn’t make the cut and was put on the waiting list. But on the day of the trial, I got a confirmation that a spot had opened up and I was able to join.
Disclaimer: I have the court’s permission to publish my sketches. To err on the side of caution, I won’t be discussing any more details about the trial.
No liquid art materials inside the premises! Here’s what I packed instead:
- 1 sketchbook
- 2 pencils: 2B and 4B
- 1 mechanical pencil
- 2 colored pencils: orange and lavender (I figured orange for highlighting flesh tones and the latter for lightly sketching out the interior)
- 1 sanguine pencil
- 1 small piece of kneaded eraser
No overpacking. I wouldn’t want to draw attention to myself by rummaging through a large case of art supplies. Worried that the tin pencil case would make too much noise when opened, I made a mental note to place it carefully on the floor, not on my lap where it could easily fall down.
When I arrived at the court, there were already a few people waiting outside. I introduced myself and learned that I wasn’t the only novice in the group. We stowed our coats and backpacks in lockers and shortly after were let inside the courtroom.
Our group was sitting in the second row behind the defendant’s party. As the trial began, I started lightly sketching people and the interior with a lavender shade. With a number 2 pencil, I first sketched the outlines of the defendant and his translator, always switching between face, body and attire. This was the tricky part: Only when the defendant faced the judge did I catch a glimpse of his profile. I had to be quick and deliberate when drawing forehead, cheekbones, nose and chin.
I then moved on to sketch the defendant’s lawyer, the judge and, what I presumed to be the state prosecutor, sitting next to him. There were more people sitting at the bench that I didn’t get to sketch; I was too slow (the group had agreed on a two-hour time slot). Every time I drew someone else, I changed pencils to see which one felt right.
Here are some of my mental notes while sketching:
- It’s easier to draw attire than faces, especially when they are farther away;
- Being apt at drawing faces from any angle, especially profiles, is important. I will need to practice that part;
- There’s something about the mechanical pencil that feels more natural for this type of sketching, and the lines look more expressive and sharp than the ones drawn with the regular pencil;
- The big challenge of court sketching is being able to place people in architectural surroundings (architects, urban sketchers and the like might find this part less daunting);
- Developing a sense of scale and distance between people and objects is crucial;
- Drawing people sitting in chairs is something I need to practice;
- Drawing interiors and furniture is something I need to practice;
- This is so much fun! I want to be a courtroom artist!
At home, I looked at my sketches and felt the need to add a bit of watercolor to make people and scenes come alive. Even though the sketchbook paper isn’t meant for watercolors, I like how the washes turned out. The colors are more expressionistic than an accurate representation.
Overall, it was a great experience and one I would like to repeat. It was exciting to meet new people and spend an afternoon sketching together. There were mixed feelings about being present in the courtroom: For two hours I was a part of someone’s very private life. This lead to the thought that, if I was skilled enough to give an accurate rendition of that person’s face, would I want to?
And there you have it. That was my exciting day in court. I hope you enjoyed reading this post and I wish you lots of joy with your creative endeavors.