Sketchy Business: The Life of a Courtroom Artist

Courtroom sketch artist Shepard (in red) shows one of her drawings of the Martha Stewart trial to a reporter. © Ramin Talaie/Corbis/2004

Why can't they just use a photographer?

In many cases in the US (and the UK and Canada), cameras aren't allowed into the courtroom. Especially in high-profile trials, where the presence of many media personnel and their equipment would present a distraction for the court. (There are exceptions, of course, and some states allow camera blanket access to courtrooms).

A sketch artist, however, armed with a pad and some charcoal pencils, is usually less intrusive than someone with a bulky, ever-clicking camera.

Even then, though, sketch artists are sometimes not permitted to actually draw during court proceedings, lest they cause a distraction, and must draw later from memory or notes. A federal judge in Oklahoma infamously threw a Texas television station's sketch artist out of his courtroom, claiming that the artist's work disrupted the trial.

Before the 1950s, cameras were commonly allowed in courtrooms. They were gradually shut out after several convictions were overturned by appellate courts based on claims that the atmosphere created by the media presence led to unfair trials—most notably, the case of Sam Sheppard. By the mid-1960s, Texas and Colorado were the only two states still allowing cameras, but similar overturned convictions convinced both states to finally join the camera ban.

As cameras get smaller, quieter and less conspicuous, though, they may make a comeback in the courtroom, and several states have already started allowing their use again. One courtroom that won't be getting cameras any time soon is the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice David H. Souter was particularly strong in his feelings on the subject. He said, "I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it's going to roll over my dead body."

Is this a real career? How much might I get paid?

While a few court sketch artists might be on-staff at newspapers and TV stations, the bulk of them are freelance. Like other media freelancers, the money depends on what kind of work they're doing and for whom they're doing it. The sustainability of the career depends on how good they are and how much they can hustle.

Often, sketch artists can take their talents to more lucrative, or at least solid, jobs on the side. Steve Werblun, who'd sketched for the Philadelphia Daily News since 1975, left for Hollywood after 30 years and has worked as a storyboard artist on films like The Day After Tomorrow, Along Came Polly, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Dana Verkouteren, who's sketched for CNN, ABC, FOX and other broadcast outlets, sidelines as an illustrator and caricaturist.

What happens to the sketches after the trial?

Depending on the contract between the sketch artist and the media outlet, one party or the other keeps the sketches and the right to their use. Sometimes, the artists might sell their drawings to memento-seeking judges or attorneys depicted in them. The lawyers involved in former New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas' 2007 sexual harassment case reportedly bought a good number of sketches produced during the trial.

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Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
The Covers of Jack Kerouac's Classic Titles Are Getting a Makeover
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press

Readers have been enjoying classic Jack Kerouac books like The Dharma Bums and On the Road for decades, but starting this August the novels will have a new look. Several abstract covers have been unveiled as part of Penguin’s "Great Kerouac" series, according to design website It’s Nice That.

The vibrant covers, designed by Tom Etherington of Penguin Press, feature the works of abstract expressionist painter Franz Kline. The artwork is intended to capture “the experience of reading Kerouac” rather than illustrating a particular scene or character, Etherington told It’s Nice That. Indeed, abstract styles of artwork seem a fitting match for Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose”—a writing style that was influenced by improvisational jazz music.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of The Dharma Bums, which was published just one year after On the Road. The Great Kerouac series will be available for purchase on August 2.

[h/t It's Nice That]

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John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz
Murdered

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.

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