Courtroom-Style Sketch for ABC News

Although most of my work is cartoony, I also do courtroom sketching whenever a big trial happens here in the Minneapolis area.

ABC News saw my work and hired me to illustrate a courtroom sketch-style portrait for their new podcast about disgraced tech billionaire Elizabeth Holmes, who’s trial begins later this month. Thanks to the “record” feature in Procreate I was even able to include a short video of the sketch which they also used.

I haven’t had a chance to listen yet but you can check out the podcast here.

Courtroom Sketching at Yesterday’s George Floyd hearings

Yesterday (June 29, 2020) I was in a Minneapolis courtroom drawing sketches for brief hearings in the death of George Floyd. Four officers are being charged and each one got a separate hearing before the judge. These were short preliminary hearings lasting about ten minutes each, back to back. So I had to draw very quickly, roughing in poses and colors and then finishing up the drawings by memory afterward. (The actual trial is tentatively scheduled for March 2021).

Former police officer Derek Chauvin, charged in the death of George Floyd, appears via closed circuit video as a judge addresses attorneys for the prosecution and the defense.
Former police officer Tou Thao, one of four former Minneapolis officers charged in the death of George Floyd, makes a court appearance during a brief preliminary hearing a judge addresses attorneys for the prosecution and the defense.
Former police officer J Alexander Kueng, one of four former Minneapolis officers charged in the death of George Floyd, makes a court appearance during a brief preliminary hearing as a judge addresses attorneys for the prosecution and the defense.
Former police officer, Thomas Lane, one of four former Minneapolis officers charged in the death of George Floyd, makes a court appearance during a brief preliminary hearing as a judge addresses attorneys for the prosecution and the defense.

For years now whenever a big news story happens in or around Minnesota I’ve been there to sketch the proceedings. It doesn’t happen often (roughly once or twice a year on average) but when it does it’s always fascinating. My first case involved the capture of drug kingpin Michael Gamboa in Fargo circa 2003. Over time I’ve sketched a school shootings, an ISIS terrorism recruitment, kidnappings, murders, fraud, and police shootings. I was in court for hearings about the Vikings boat scandal, the death of Prince, the man who confessed to the kidnap and murder of Jacob Wetterling, and the police shootings of Philando Castile and Justine Damond. You can view a gallery of my work at

For an artist courtroom sketching has several challenges:

  • Digital drawing is usually prohibited. In Minnesota cameras are generally not allowed in the courtroom (although that is slowly changing. You can read about some of the pros and cons of allowing cameras here). Since an iPad has a camera and could be used to record audio, they are often not allowed in court. Ultimately it’s up to the judge but nine times out of ten I have to lug in a giant drawing board and a bag of supplies and try to draw on my lap while I’m wedged into a crowded gallery. At yesterday’s hearing I was allowed to draw on my iPad but that’s rare.
  • Time pressure is intense. Before a trial gets underway there are usually at least two or three preliminary court appearances that last just a few minutes each. I have to rough everything in quickly and make notes about all the colors, hair styles, clothing, likenesses, etc. so that I can finish the drawing after everyone has left the room. Also, today’s news cycle spins at dizzying speed. There are multiple news trucks waiting outside so they can photograph my drawings and edit them in time for the next broadcast. I just don’t have the luxury of being fussy. While I don’t advocate sloppiness, I’ve nevertheless had to accept that some of my courtroom sketches will not be masterpieces. I have to remind myself that this is a disposable art form that people will view for a few seconds on a screen and then forget about. So I just do the best I can in the time allowed.
  • You may or may not get a good view. When I first walk in the courtroom is usually empty. The news media and the general public start filling up seats in the gallery, which can get crowded. Finally the lawyers and the defendant enter the room and sit at their tables. Only then do I find out if I have a good view or not. One time I had the defendant sit directly in front of me with his back to me the entire time! So, before the trial I try to print out some photo reference of the key players to help with likenesses in case I have a less-than-ideal view. I also use a photographer’s monocular to help me zoom in and see details on the people on the far side of the room who can be as much as thirty feet away.
  • You draw what you see, not what you feel. Real life trials are nothing like what you see in movies and TV. The lawyers don’t pace around the room shouting clever “gotcha” questions that cause witnesses to break down in tears. In reality the attorneys must stay sedated at their tables and politely question the witness from across the room. At times the questions can be belabored and technical. If things do get personal witnesses are often coached to stay calm and keep their cool. So people wind up discussing heavy emotional events with calm tones and stiff body language. Most of the time it feels like I’m drawing not a dramatic trial but a budget meeting in a corporate board room.

    But if that’s what I see that’s what I have to draw. A dramatic pose or an angry face might do a better job of capturing the subtext of the moment (plus it would be more visually interesting) but if that’s not what really what happened, I can’t draw it that way. My job is to objectively show how the players behaved and NEVER editorialize. Ideally our court system is designed to pursue fairness. Anything I draw that overlays my opinion on top of that risks polluting those waters.

Courtroom sketching is fascinating and a nice change of pace that gets me out of the studio. Most of my client work is cartoony and colorful so it’s nice to go back to my life drawing roots now and then.

The next hearing for the George Floyd case is scheduled for September 11. Look for more courtroom drawings from me then.

Courtroom Sketching Interview

Most of my work is very cartoony but once or twice a year I get hired to do courtroom sketches for a big trial in Minnesota. Last month I was hired to sketch the police shooting trial of Mohamed Noor, who shot and killed unarmed civilian Justine Damond. After a month-long trial Noor became the first Minnesota police officer in living memory to be convicted of murder while on duty.

A couple of weeks after the trial ended I was a guest on the Up and At ‘Em podcast, a popular local podcast that discusses Minnesota news and events. My interview starts late in the show at the one-hour-and-forty-minute mark.

You can view some of my other courtroom sketch art over at

Podcast Interview: Up and At ‘Em

During my “day job” as a freelance illustrator I sometimes get hired to work as a courtroom sketch artist. I’ve been at it for about fifteen years and have sketched for some of Minnesota’s highest profile trials during that time including a school shooting, an attempted ISIS recruitment, the kidnapping/death of Jacob Wetterling, and the fight over Prince’s estate, and two police shootings.

Last night I was the featured guest on a popular daily podcast about Minnesota news called Up and At ‘Em. We discussed courtroom sketching, cameras in the courtroom, and Gallagher’s sledge-o-matic (most of the discussion is during the second half of the show). They also gave some love to my webcomics and my book Mostly Nonsense.

Listen here or search for “Up and At ‘Em” (episode #538) on just about any podcast app.

Look, Ma! I’m In The Paper!

courtroom sketchUsually going to court and having the newspaper write about it is a bad thing. This is a rare exception.

Whenever a big trial goes down in Minnesota (about once or twice a year), I usually get a call to do some courtroom sketching for KSTP-TV. That may change someday since Minnesota has opened the door just a bit on allowing cameras in the courtroom. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune decided to do a write-up about it and built the story around me and my work. It was quite an honor, really. The extended version appeared in todays paper but you can see an abridged version of the story on the Star Tribune website.

Courtroom Sketching 11-4-15


I was hired by KSTP-TV to do some courtroom sketching today in St. Paul. Quick background: In 1989 eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted by a masked gunman and has never been seen since. Whatever became of Jacob remains a mystery. Since then Wetterling has become something of a poster child for abducted children and his parents have become high-profile advocates for children’s safety. Everyone Minnesotan who was old enough to be paying attention to the news in 1989 is very familiar with the Wetterling story.

Recently the police have named a “person of interest” in the Wetterling case. Daniel Heinrich was arrested on child pornography charges. DNA evidence has linked him to another child abduction and it is strongly suspected that he may also be the one who abducted Jacob. However Heinrich denies any involvement and as of yet there is no proof that he took Wetterling.

Today was Heinrich’s preliminary hearing on the child pornography charges. I was hired by KSTP-5 to sketch the proceedings. The entire thing only took 90 minutes so I did the best I could in that brief time. Heinrich is on the far right wearing yellow.

The Wetterling family has endured decades of pain and grief not knowing what ever happened to their son. It would be so great to see the curtain of mystery finally lifted so they can get some closure. While that hasn’t happened yet, it’s encouraging to know that we may be one big step closer.