For a while when I was younger, I thought about becoming a courtroom artist.
See, I used to naively think that the courtroom artist was permitted to sit in on whole trials, perfecting their sketches and then selling their drawings on to the newspapers at the end of the day for big money! But this is not so.
I recently read a newspaper interview with a 68 year old courtroom artist named Patricia Coleman which was a real eye-opener. Born in Texas, Patricia worked in graphics for a Houston TV channel before emigrating to the UK in 1987 where she swiftly began working as a courtroom artist.
Mainly working for ITV News, Coleman has covered almost every major legal event for the past 26 years. She says:
“There have been lots of cases and they have all been different and there are different ways to work at them as well. Sometimes I get to sit inside the court but most of the time I have to observe and then run outside the court, find a quiet spot and do the sketches from memory.”
Did you hear that? From memory!
This is not an easy thing to do at all and I should know. Because I just tried it myself.
Here’s Patricia Coleman’s courtroom sketch of infamous British serial killer, Rose West:
As an exercise, I stared hard at Patricia’s sketch for exactly 3 minutes straight and then I quickly turned away and gave myself exactly 2 minutes to draw my own version from memory. This is the best I could come up with:
…As you can see, my version, whilst slightly resembling Rose West, is not a patch on Patricia’s which was done in a similar time frame.
As mentioned before, Coleman has covered pretty much every major British legal event of the last 26 years and I always imagine that it would be difficult not to let the things you overhear during trials influence your drawings. I mean, we all know that Ian Brady is evil but it’s not the courtroom artist’s job to paint him as being evil, right?
Here are some more of Patricia’s sketches…(Click on them to enlarge)…
“Some of them have been very memorable and the most upsetting was the Lockerbie trial in Holland. At the end of the trial, they read out the name and age of every one of the victims and where they were from and it seemed to go on for so long. I found it just so sad. That is one of the saddest things ever.”
Courtroom Artistry will soon be a profession of the past. Earlier this year, Channel 4 screened a version of Nat Fraser’s murder trial. 6 weeks of proceedings condensed down to 2 hours for television. It was fascinating.
Cameras are being granted unlimited access to courtrooms more and more these days and while I think that is a very good way to educate the public on exactly what happens during a trial, it will mean the end for the courtroom artist. And that’s a sad thing.
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