Courtroom artist Art Lien sketched history in the making during the recently completed term of the United States Supreme Court. Lien reflects on his 38-year career, and shares some of the historic cases, and his personal favorites, from this past term.
I got my start sketching courtrooms when Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel went on trial in 1977 for mail fraud and racketeering charges. I had just graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art and was otherwise employed painting houses, tarring roofs, and laying sod. After the Mandel trial I contacted the national networks in Washington, and the rest as they say, is history.
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke was the first big Supreme Court case that I sketched back in 1977, and I had only the vaguest idea of what it was all about. Since then I’ve learned a lot, and my drawings, I hope, have improved as well.
Thirty-eight years is a long time to spend sketching the same courtroom. Not much changes there. The curtains are draped differently, and the once vertical flags flanking the bench are now canted forward. The seating order on the bench changes whenever a new justice joins the Court, but other than that, it’s the same courtroom. I have found ways though, to keep it new, to look at it with fresh eyes. One way is to change media from time to time. Lately I’ve switched to pencil and watercolor. It’s so simple and fast, I love it. A couple years ago I started covering more arguments, not just the big ones. That has allowed me to loosen up and try new things. I have to say, the Supreme Court has been very, very good to me.
A version of this article first appeared in the Full Frame blog.