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What Are Courtroom Sketches?

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  • Written By: Marco Sumayao
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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Courtroom sketches are visual representations of legal proceedings created with pencil, ink, or paint, among other applicable materials. A courtroom sketch artist is asked to prepare an accurate likeness of courtroom scenes, most commonly for use by mass media agencies. Courtroom sketches are usually completed within a matter of minutes, as artists attempt to capture multiple scenes within the trial's time frame. The rarity and uniqueness of courtroom sketches, particularly those of high-profile legal proceedings, make them valued among collectors.

In certain jurisdictions, cameras and photographers are strictly disallowed inside courtrooms during legal proceedings, as it is believed that the presence of cameras and reporters might be distracting for those involved. This makes courtroom sketches the only possible way to release an image of the trials through mass media. The practice has steadily grown in popularity as public demand for information continues to increase.

News agencies often appoint sketch artists to attend the proceedings as regular members of public, rather than representatives of the press, to capture courtroom scenes on paper. The artist quickly composes sketches depicting key characters in the proceedings, as well as any extraordinary incidents that might happen during the trial. Sketches are typically done within 10 to 15 minutes, using a variety of media to achieve likenesses. In some jurisdictions, sketching inside the courtroom is prohibited, forcing artists to compromise by taking notes during the proceedings and basing their final works on what was taken down.

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Materials used for courtroom sketches vary from artist to artist. In most cases, pastels are used both for their colors and ease of use. This allows artists to capture scenes and personalities more accurately in a short span of time. Pencils and inks are other common options, although the lack of color makes them less popular choices. Paints are rarely used and are often only utilized by artists who are afforded more time to complete their work.

The unique nature of courtroom sketches has given them collector's value. Since these are often the only images captured within the confines of the courtroom, they offer extremely rare glimpses of certain events. Sketches from high-profile legal proceedings in particular can demand significant prices at art auctions. Although the art form is prone to fraud, as artists can attempt to sketch courtroom scenes without even being present during the proceedings, collectors continue to seek out and purchase these items. Those that can be verified as authentic sketches created at the scene of the proceedings can fetch attractive sums.

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