The video crawled forward on the screen, frame by frame. The angle was from a building on Boylston Street looking out over the heads of a throng of people pointing, waving, laughing and cheering for loved ones or complete strangers finishing the 2013 Boston Marathon. As the frames ticked by I found myself willing everyone to be moving out of frame — away from the bag containing the second bomb. But everyone moves on a preordained trajectory, nothing can change what is about to happen. Then the video pauses at the critical moment. One side of one tenth of a second and the scene remains the same. One tenth of a second further and the horror begins. Prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty flicks back and forth between the two.
I knew what to expect. I had seen the footage. I’d followed the news reports of the blast, the manhunt, the lead-up to the trial. I thought somehow that knowledge would leave me emotionally buttressed enough that I could focus on my job and be unaffected by the evidence on display around me. But so much for that plan. I did fairly well through most of the prosecution’s closing statement. Then, at one point, a shaky, almost unwatchable, piece of video taken by someone inside the blast radius was played. The photographs, of course, are gory and haunting, and the videos running in slow motion are nauseatingly engrossing, but the thing that hits you worst of all is the sound from this clip. The sound. Captured in the immediate few minutes of the aftermath of the second explosion, it is absolutely heart-rending. Not crying is not an option.
Now I have done a little bit of court sketching, a few big trials even, but this was by far the biggest. I was there to sketch the various involved parties, so that when brilliant Washington Post reporter Adam Goldman filed his stories, my sketches would complement his work seamlessly.
I felt creakingly rusty at first, with every drawn line not quite going where I wanted. So these above all look a little forced to me. Signs of pressure and lack of practice leap out in my eyes. The key for me then was to warm up as quickly as possible. The only way to do that is to get all the bad drawing out of the way early. So I just drew.
And whenever I had a little down time when no activity was going on inside the court I kept up my drawing in the hopes of warming up further.
I sketched this scene at the top of the page in the reporting anteroom, as gory exhibit photograph after photograph paraded across the screens – the exact same as the jury was seeing right next door while the prosecutor’s closing words filled their heads. “This was a cold, calculated terrorist attack,” he said. “Now, finally is the time to hold him accountable. We ask you to do that now.”
Through some twist of fate and Scottish charm I managed to weasel my way into the main courtroom for the defense’s closing statement. This would seem to be it. My big chance to capture the murderous Dzokhar Tsarnaev himself, live in court. Bit of a setback at first because I ended up tucked way in the back corner. There wasn’t much time to fret as I had bills to pay. First up was Judy Clarke, the defense’s closer.
Like Mr. Chakravarty before her, Ms. Clarke instructed the jury on the task. In her talk she concentrated on what had actually been proved, on holes and supposition present in the prosecution’s case. She didn’t attempt to make Tsarnaev appear innocent, but instead gently offered the jury an alternative narrative that allowed them to consider the possibility that his big brother might have been the real bad guy. The jury seemed stoic and impassive. One of the court guards came by and reiterated that I could not draw the jury.
I then turned my attention to drawing the entire courtroom and the back of Tsarnaev’s head. These scenes are quite challenging because nobody really sits as still as you might think. People shift weight from one buttock to the other and lean forward and back constantly. And the five rows of people in front of me also shifted every once in a while to try to catch a fleeting glimpse of the back of Tsarnaev’s head. Challenging.
Regardless I was close to complete when the judge huddled once finally with all of the lawyers to straighten out some point of procedure that we were not a party to. I quickly sketched them all grouped together in the far corner. For some reason while this was happening, real cheap happy light jazz music was played through the courtroom speakers. There were mumblings of disdain from the press. “Quiet in the court,” admonished one of the security guys. So I drew him in last of all squinting at us all. That is the back of Tsarnaev’s head way over there on the right.
After the jury withdrew I took myself across town to Boylston Street, the scene of the initial bombings. There was little or nothing on display to say that anything had ever occurred there. At the first bomb site the pavement has been replaced but there are no ribbons or memorial plaques and no flowers that I could see. Although a pair of running shoes hung in the tree nearest. I squatted across the street with my back to the concrete barrier outside the main library and drew the scene. Everyone who walked by could see what I was up to. “You know what happened there right?” someone asked.
I also drew at the second scene. The same spot where the images I had watched in court had taken place. There is again little to mark the spot. There is however a new tree held up by two stakes. The original tree was taken away as part of the investigation’s evidence collection shortly after the blast. I used much of my second afternoon standing under an umbrella sketching this scene from across the street. In each case I ignored the cars parked in the foreground and drew right to the pavement. The new tree doesn’t look a lot different from any of the other trees on the street. In a few weeks it will blossom and leaf just like all the others.
The word among the reporters was that even if the jury was just ticking guilty in every box on the charge sheet, the sheer bulk of the charges – Tsarnaev had 30 separate counts against him — might well take awhile. So I filled my time with sketching the milling international journalists, filling the halls and anterooms of John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, unable to leave, but basically doing nothing at all.
On Tuesday I sketched Jade Liversidge of Britain’s ITV news as she stood checking her phone on the balcony outside the Tsarnaev courtroom. She moved on before I could add in her legs so I drew in the rest of the scene and then used another reporter’s legs to finish it off a bit later on. The architecture in this one was the obvious challenge. The curve, perspective and elliptical foreshortening all had me scratching my head. At various points I expected this sketch to fail.
The tension was palpable wherever you went. Any purposeful movement by courthouse staff was tracked with immediate interest by the throng of journalists hanging around. It could be a clue after all.
The sheer mass of the media spectacle is well illustrated by this next sketch. I counted 22 separate cameras all pointing at the courtroom doors. The cameras and their bored resigned crews all stood waiting for their moment, drinking coffee and discussing their verdict pool.
I started this sketch by drawing Suzanne Guiggey of WMTW leaning back against a concrete bollard. She was the core of the sketch. If she had shifted in the initial few minutes the rest of the sketch would have been impossible, but once complete she became the scale that I used to position every other element. I used her to position the feet of the tripods and the height of the cameras. After that it was just a matter of joining the dots — more or less.
The police presence was considerably less than I expected. There were no SWAT or automatic weapons on display.
There were only a few protesters. A couple of older ladies handed out sheets of paper — “The defendant in this case has been neutralized and will never again have the ability to cause harm. Because of this, we, the Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts, believe that society can do better than the death penalty,” read part of the leaflet.
On the polar opposite end of the protesting spectrum a young man, hood up and face covered and wrapped in the American flag stood with his body shrouded by two placards. The text of his message was less conciliatory – “This is not Islamophopia. It is about denouncing and Islamo-Fascist Terrorist Ideology. F—k The Islamics Terrorists,” read the bottom board.
I sketched him right after the camera scene. I was already pretty cold at this point but I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. A couple of pool photographers asked if they could take a photograph of me while I drew. That is how bored they were.
I was also fortunate enough to spend some time with the real courtroom artists who were there at the trial. One of those was Art Lien — possibly the greatest courtroom artist still drawing breath in the world. We had time for a bit of a chat and a decent exchange of tips and tricks and some healthy discussion on the state of the industry.
Courtroom artistry is incredibly difficult, exacting work. The artists have to view and capture what they see, often in color, drawing people who do not sit still, under deadline, in time periods that would leave even the strongest visual artist gripping their drawing utensil twice as tight as they would normally. For me the key is not to get flustered or distracted. The mantra that runs in my head is ‘just draw what you see.’ The real court artists manage to create full-color pieces, I am lucky to get something in black and white.
I did this sketch of the court artists doing their thing in one of the overflow rooms. They spotted me drawing almost immediately but were good enough not to make a run for it. Which is what I would have done. Although Mr. Lien did keep crossing and uncrossing his legs which threw me for a while.
Then on Wednesday afternoon just after most of the media had skipped lunch – so afraid were they of missing the announcement – the word came down that the jury had reached a verdict. The media dinosaur went from sleeping Diplodocus to adrenalin-fueled Tyrannosaur in the time it takes to send an e-mail. The halls were suddenly full again, competition for chairs in anterooms was heated, laptops were knocked on the floor by the late arriving. Then we all watched and waited.
Tsarnaev stood flanked by his defense counsel. They all maintained a very solemn position heads slightly bent forward looking at the monitor. The verdicts were read. Charge by charge — guilty, guilty, guilty. I watched Tsarnaev for any sign that this was having an effect on him but his posture and countenance remained the same throughout. It took probably 25 minutes for the guilty verdicts to be read. ‘Just draw what you see,’ ran through my head the whole time.
Charge by charge they continued — guilty, guilty, guilty. The sketch of the verdicts being read is not great but it captures the mood. I would say that Tsarnaev was generally unresponsive to the verdict. Guilty, guilty, guilty.
In my opinion it is hard to see how it could have been a better verdict. A day and a half of deliberations — enough time to show that the jurors were taking the task very seriously, but a swift enough decision to express validation and surety.
The next phase – the penalty phase — is more difficult. There is no penalty that matches this crime. There is no penalty that brings justice, or solace. A life sentence? Why should he be allowed to live, when he took the lives of others? But a death sentence? What does it make us if we take his life? And is martyrdom what he wanted all along, a wish he expressed in the boat before capture?
I did this last sketch of Tsarnaev after all the verdicts had been read, before he was whisked back to his cell. At no point had he looked toward the jurors. As the judge instructed the jury once more on what they could and could not do, he dropped his head and looked down, whether avoiding looking at his surroundings or finally contemplating his future, I don’t know. I had maybe two minutes. Read into it what you will.
There’s no justice. There can’t be. It might be that these days, a resoundingly guilty verdict in hand and the penalty not yet decided, bring the greatest peace possible to those victims and their survivors. But I hope not.
I hope peace is all around them.
Full Tsarnaev trial gallery here. Tsarnaev trial gallery
Lastly then I’d like to put a plug in for an artist of the week — this time for Marc Taro Holmes, out of Montreal. Marc is one of those strong renderers who has taken the leap forward into water coloring and has never looked back. And now strength of his drawing combined with the fluid loose use of color allows him to leap tall buildings and makes him one of the brightest, most vibrant, continuously surprising and therefore humbling artists out there.
Marc is teaching a course down in Richmond next week. Already sold out, sorry, but that is the kind of following we are talking about here. His course is attached to an urban sketching exhibit that might still be worth visiting though. I have a small display of my own artwork there.
Here is a link to all I know of it. There may even be some pieces on sale.
Full details here. Virginia Center for Architecture.
Below are some samples of the prodigious talent that is Mr. Holmes.
You can see more on his weekly blog here.
Got a question on fashion or tact or even drawing? Ask me. Got a drawing? Send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are out there and doing stuff I need to see then please do send it along. I’ll post it up here on the Washington Post’s best Urban Sketching blog.
Want to see more of my work? www.newsillustrator.com.