When it comes to capturing an entire courtroom with a quickly drawn sketch, the pandemic has had one unintended benefit.
“It’s easier—there’s no nose, mouth or chin,” said Vicki Behringer, a veteran courtroom sketch artist in Northern California who has attended every day of the Theranos trial.
With cameras and audio recordings banned inside the federal courtroom, Ms. Behringer is the public’s primary source for visualizing the scene at the criminal fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes. Her signature pen-and-ink and watercolor images have appeared nightly on television news, in newspapers and on media outlets across the internet, including The Wall Street Journal.
For Ms. Behringer, the trial is the latest in a string of high-profile cases she’s illustrated in her more than 30-year career.
Her first big break, she recalls, came during the late-1990s criminal trial of “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski in Sacramento federal court, which ended in a guilty plea. Chosen as the pool illustrator for weeks-long jury selection in the case, her images were suddenly all over the news.
Other highlights since then have included the Michael Jackson criminal trial in 2005, which ended in acquittal; the Prop 8 trial in 2010, which cleared the way for gay marriage in California; and Barry Bonds’s 2011 steroid trial, which ended in an obstruction of justice conviction of the baseball superstar that was later overturned.
One recent challenge came earlier this year in trying to capture Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook during the company’s trial against Epic Games Inc. The courtroom was filled with plastic dividers because of the pandemic, and Mr. Cook was wearing a face shield, creating reflections in all directions. She remembers thinking, “Everybody is going to know this sketch, I’ve got to get it right and I can’t hardly see.”
Every courtroom artist has their own signature style, she said. Hers includes outlining every person and object in an image in purple, which she found helps make the illustrations stand out on television. With each painting, she strives to capture realistic depictions of the major players, plus any emotion playing out in court.
A few things have changed over the years, she said. There are fewer artists, and courts have clamped down on illustrating jurors in any way past shadow figures. But the joy of the job has stayed the same.
On her very first assignment, she said, “it was perfect; when you feel like that’s where you’re supposed to be.”