(NEW YORK) — Jane Rosenberg got her start as a courtroom sketch artist drawing prostitutes in New York’s night court in 1980.
Forty-three years later, Rosenberg’s newest subject was former President Donald Trump, whose arraignment in Manhattan on Tuesday on 34 charges of falsifying business records provided her the opportunity to draw two viral sketches of the defendant.
“My hands are just flying,” Rosenberg said of the time sketching Trump. “My fingers were going faster than my brain, and then it was over.”
The New Yorker is publishing Rosenberg’s sketch of Trump on the cover of its April 17 issue, the first time in its history the magazine printed a courtroom sketch on its cover. For a magazine whose cover art frequently etches a place in popular culture and history, The New Yorker’s decision to print Rosenberg’s sketch marks a historic point for not only Rosenberg’s career but also courtroom sketch art broadly.
Rosenberg came up as an artist in the late 1970s when abstractionism was the norm, rather than the realism portrayed in her courtroom work.
“I did portraits in my kitchen as a closet portrait artist,” she said.
She eventually found herself working as a portrait artist in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the late 1970s, though she was looking for a more stable way to earn money as an artist.
In courtrooms where photography is prohibited, artists offer the public a way to see inside court proceedings, selling the right to their art to media outlets for a profit. Rosenberg learned about courtroom sketches during a lecture, then made her way to court with some lawyer friends from college to try the artform.
A week later, Rosenberg was sitting in the jury box of a Manhattan courtroom to sketch a defendant during an arraignment. She then sold that first professional courtroom sketch to NBC News, which photographed the sketch and put it on television.
“I went home and watched it on my tiny black and white TV, called my parents and said, ‘I’m on TV’,” Rosenberg said.
That first success set Rosenberg on a path to sketching famous witnesses and defendants such as John Gotti, Ghislaine Maxwell, and Tom Brady (though that sketch went viral for not fully capturing the likeness of the famous football player), having her art featured in museums and the Library of Congress, and being one of the few people to attend Trump’s arraignment in person.
Rosenberg said she had been anticipating the moment of Trump’s arraignment for weeks.
“As soon as he announced, ‘I’m being arrested on Tuesday,’ I had a lot of people interested in the sketch,” she said, referencing a post Trump made to Truth Social on March 18 about his then-potential arrest.
While Trump was not arrested that Tuesday, his indictment came a week later on March 30, followed by an arraignment on April 4.
According to court documents, prosecutors alleged Trump engaged in a “scheme” to boost his chances during the 2016 presidential election through a series of hush money payments made by others and repeated falsification of New York business records to cover up that alleged criminal conduct. Trump, who has denied all wrongdoing, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment to all 34 felony counts.
When the moment arrived for the arraignment, Rosenberg arrived at court early, waited hours and passed multiple layers of security to get a seat in the witness box for the court appearance. Between the number of officers in the courtroom and the commotion from the protestors and media outside, she described the atmosphere in the courtroom as unprecedented.
“When I first arrived, there were the most court officers I’ve ever seen in the courtroom ever,” she said, though she noted that the courtroom itself was as “quiet as could be” during the actual arraignment.
As she got settled, she began work on her first sketch using pastels – painting the foreground of the sketch prior to Trump entering the courtroom. Expecting a brief court appearance, she got to work quickly.
“I thought I’d have like seven minutes to do a quick sketch and need to be out,” she said.
But as the hearing continued longer than expected, she decided to do a second sketch – the one that eventually would make it to the cover of The New Yorker. As her pencil hit the paper, she said that Trump’s expression changed, looking towards the government attorney and giving him “side eye.”
“He held that position; I felt like, ‘Ah, I have to get this moment,'” she said.
The final sketch shows a expressive Trump, eyebrows and frown accentuated.
When asked about social media users claiming there are similarities between the sketch of the former president and Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, Rosenberg defended her work. Trump was looking “a little bit unhappy,” in her own words.
“No way – I never would do intentional Grinch,” Rosenberg said. “First of all, I tried to show what expression I saw; that’s what I tried to capture.”
If anything, Rosenberg said she enjoyed sketching the former president.
“He’s got a great head to draw, his hair is a little like a hat, he’s got a lot of expression in that face – he’s fun to draw,” she said.
Rosenberg said she has no plans to sell the physical Trump sketches, despite the interest expressed in the pieces. She has already sold the rights to use the sketches to multiple outlets, including directly to ABC News.
Selling her work to newspapers and media outlets across the world and the accomplishment of landing the New Yorker cover are enough for the viral artist, who arguably has reached the mountaintop of courtroom sketches.
“Maybe that’s it – I’ve reached the pinnacle and it’s over – maybe there’s nothing else,” she said. “But you never know; I’ll just keep going on.”
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