Courtroom Sketches

I was sitting in on a court case today and had my first-ever opportunity to sketch in a courtroom.  I arrived a few minutes before the first case was called, so I did the quick sketch above to feel out the lay of the land and get my bearings. I used a Pentel Gray Aquash brush pen for all of my sketching today. The sketchbook is one of the new Zeta hardbound books from Stillman & Birn. Going right in with an ink-filled brush is really my favorite way to go about this kind of thing, especially on this smooth Zeta surface. The two facing pages of this spread had been slightly toned with a warm-colored watercolor wash several days previously. I laid in a bit of color after I got back home just to liven it up a little.

This was the Albany City Court building. I wouldn't have minded an entire day there just to sketch architectural elements. The hallways were filled with magnificent marble arches and a central winding marble stairway. This courtroom had exquisite woods with intricate carvings, which of course I didn't have time to render.

The proceedings got underway, and I got to experience at least a little bit of what courtroom artists are up against when they are trying to capture a scene amidst a cast of changing players. I have to say, it was really a lot of fun to do this, though I'm not sure I'd want to do it under the kinds of pressures that the courtroom artists endure. There are lots of things I'd plan differently the next time around, such as leaving spaces to put in figures that would move into various positions in the room, then pop them into those spots as the situations present themselves.

This second sketch was done over a blue wash, which was a little bit dark in terms of being able to present my light values. That's something I'll have to take into consideration next time, especially if I plan to use watercolor over it. I resorted to a little white gouache to reclaim some lights, like on the table tops. It also would have been nicer to work a larger size for this; however, I was trying to remain inconspicuous, so the double spread of a 5.5x8.5" book was perfect for a few minutes of stealth sketching.


  1. These are great, Jamie! So cool to be able to do that.

  2. I've always been impressed with how well artists in court can capture the mood of the moment with a "simple" sketch using pen & ink and a watercolor wash. No doubt there's a scientific paper in answering "What is a pen & ink drawing so effective?" .. :-) .. Thanks for sharing!