Marlene Steele

Court Room Sketch

My courtroom drawing experiences

By Marlene Steele

Working within the courtroom drama is a unique application of drawing and portrait skills. The styling of the images borders on a combination of characterization and cartooning. The economy of the style develops from the palpable pressure to capture quickly the various episodes as they evolve fluidly before you. As an artist working with professional broadcast reporters, I encapsulate the proceedings in a series of “frames” that present the important personalities and events of the case. This provides the storyline that the reporter will write to. Sometimes the news director will have a particular angle to work that will focus my choices of characters and influence the composition. In my job in the courtroom, I am often in awe of the unfolding drama and can read on the faces of all participants the gravity and solemnity of the occasion.

It is a very exciting thing to be working on deadline on a high interest case. It is a test of your drawing speed and efficiency. Also the judges are appreciative if your materials are not messy or your presence is not in any way a distraction to the proceedings. These drawings are in charcoal highlighted with white pencil on a half sheet size of Strathmore Paper which fits easily on my lap clipped to a board. They are vignetted on the sheet to give the videographer a framing advantage. One should always keep in mind the general screen proportions . If I plan the compositions to feature multiple characters, the videographer can do pans and tight shots. These allow the work to be reused freshly in second and third wave broadcasts. Oftentimes, at the end of session, I race down to the sidewalk to shoot the images on the curb. I serve as my own easel while the reporter spots live on the noon news, the midday lunch crowd swirling around us. When not so pressed for broadcast release, I will clarify the details or “clean up” at the studio or in a station conference room. It is most important to keep the images clean and clearly presented.

I always arrive for work on time and with my materials prepared, so that when it counts, I can focus on the work alone. I work feverishly to capture the characters and events, sometimes setting aside an unfinished sheet to begin work on the next unfolding act. For the portraits, I look for physical characteristics that will make my portraits hit the mark, as well as reoccurring gestures.

I am pleased to have my drawings in the collections of several district judges and lawyers.