Home » Uncategorized » Life of a courtroom sketch artist: You have to draw as fast as humanly possible – by Jonathon Berlin

Life of a courtroom sketch artist: You have to draw as fast as humanly possible – by Jonathon Berlin

bambi larson

(Undocumented Suspect In Bambi Larson Murder Makes First Court Appearance – 14 March 2019)

Cheryl Cook, or Cookie as she is known, has been capturing what happens in Chicago courtrooms for more than 20 years, most of those as the Tribune’s go-to courtroom artist.

brady sketch



(Tom Brady of New England Patriots in court)

After a day covering the tribulations of one larger-than-life sports figure in the courtroom (Bulls legend Michael Jordan suing Dominick’s over the use of his likeness) we asked her what she thought about another larger-than-life sports figure in the courtoom (Tom Brady up against the NFL — and a much maligned and shared courtroom sketch of the New England Patriots QB).

Cook’s first courtroom drawing was at 26th and Cal during the 1994 trial of congressman Mel Reynolds. Here’s what she had to say about the Brady situation and a sample of her work. Q&A with Tribune courtroom sketch artist Cheryl Cook

What is a typical day in court?

The best way I can describe this is to be as alert and nimble as you can muster. Always listening to the case and watching responses and other nuances occurring all around you. Typically you arrive early to get the best view possible for the day’s events. After many years of working with great people in the court system, we have gotten to know each other and every effort is made to assist us when possible. They verify with the judge what we are allowed to draw, where we can sit and any other instructions from the court. Then you just have to draw as fast as is humanly possible to record as much of what is happening as possible.

What do you think courtroom artists add to news coverage?

Court artists provide a view of what is inside the courtroom to accompany the written word. A court sketch artist can capture an entire day’s worth of action into a single sketch when necessary to tell the story. We also can hear, feel and sense what other nuances are happening in a courtroom. No camera will ever be able to replace that! One would also have to watch the entire day’s events focused on one camera angle to see what took place.

Paul manafort

(Paul Manafort)

You’ve covered a lot of high-profile cases, do you feel extra pressure when a well-known person is involved?

My focus each time I enter this arena is to act as a human recorder visually. The pressure I feel is the same whether it is a well-known person or not. However, we all know that if you don’t get a great likeness of someone well-known no one is more disappointed than the artist. We are often in hearings that might only be a 15-minute interval of time. Now that is pressure: fast and good, very difficult.

What do you make of the crazy reaction to the Tom Brady sketch? Have there been discussions about it in courtroom artist circles?

This makes me wish everyone could attempt to do this job themselves. With no time and high expectations, creating the visual record of events is a fascinating task. Not that I would ever compare myself to the great artists who created the visual record of the signing of the Declaration of Independence but in many ways there had to be someone like us doing the job the same way. In a room trying to capture as much information as possible.

In the courtroom sketch artist circles, we have been talking about the comments made by reactions to Tom Brady’s sketch indeed. We have all had our share of sketches that did not meet our personal standards over our careers. It is hard not to, we are human after all. My heart went out the this sketch artist and at the same time I confess I was relieved it was not me, lol

Any pointers for people trying draw accurate portraits?

Strange as it sounds, studying people and how they move and practice practice practice will serve anyone well who wants to draw accurate portraits. People have rhythms to how they stand or gesture that will go a long way in identifying who they are.

See Also: Boston Marathon Bomber Courtroom Sketches –


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