SCOTUS Sketch Artist Art Lien Retires

Respected and long time U. S. Supreme Court sketch artist Art Lien is retiring.

From SCOTUSblog:

Yesterday was the last case Stephen Breyer heard as a justice, but it was also the final argument for another SCOTUS stalwart: Art Lien, aka@Courtartist. Art is retiring this summer after more than 40 years sketching the Supreme Court, including the past nine for SCOTUSblog.

We’ll have more to say about Art and his iconic work at the end of the term. (And we trust he has a few more homepage banners in store for us before then.) But for now: Thank you, Art, for giving us all a vivid view inside 1 First Street, where cameras aren’t allowed.

Here’s Art’s final oral argument sketch, showing @KannonShanmugam facing a hot bench in yesterday’s case, Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta.


Arthur Edward Lien’s mini-autobiography:

I’ve been sketching the courts since 1976, and for most of that time the U.S. Supreme Court has been my regular beat. I’ve been working almost exclusively for NBC News since 1980, and more recently for SCOTUSblog.

Courtroom sketching is a form of visual journalism or reportage drawing that is slowly dying out. Where once upon a time news organization each had their own artist covering a story, today a “pool” artist often sketches for all. It is a demanding and stressful discipline where the drawing is often done directly and under tight deadline.

In 2016 Art was  interviewed by Trial for

Q- You’ve said that courtroom sketching is a dying art. Can you elaborate?

A- Cameras aren’t coming to the Supreme Court anytime soon, but I do think the trend is going that way. Eventually, I think there will probably be cameras in every court.

Besides that, I think the whole attitude toward courtroom art has shifted. People consider it archaic. And then there’s the issue of budgets. News organizations don’t want to pay for sketches anymore. But I will keep sketching the Court as long as I can.

Q- What does a sketch contribute to a news piece that a photograph cannot?

A- Sketching is a wonderful storytelling medium. An illustration adds narrative; it emphasizes certain elements. A good illustrator can tell a story very well—much better than a camera could.

In 2018 Art was interviewed by Drawing New York where the process was discussed.

DNY: What are your go-to drawing materials? How did you arrive at those choices?

Right now I use a mechanical pencil (no need for a sharpener!) and watercolors that I apply with a waterbrush. The waterbrush is a nifty new tool that has water in the handle. It’s soft plastic so you can squeeze water through the brush thereby cleaning it at the same time.
Over the years I’ve used many different media, and some haven’t worked well at all. When I was first hired I decided to use gouache on Color-aid paper. I was getting nice effects in the studio but in the courtroom the non-absorbent Color-aid paper caused my colors to run all over…

When I started working in DC for the networks I came under the influence of Howard Brodie, one of the greats, and adopted his materials which were Prismacolor pencils on Strathmore paper. That worked well, but my drawings started to look too much like Howard’s.
I’ve also worked in pen and ink with watercolor, and for awhile I used pastels which I hated. Before my current pencil and watercolor, I was using Prismacolor and watercolor markers for about ten years.

The above sketch apparently showing Justice Thomas napping is a favorite of The Left.
But the HuffPost scotches that idea by talking to the artist:

It looks like Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is either sound asleep or slowly slipping out of his chair.

An image created by Supreme Court sketch artist Arthur Lien last Wednesday showed Thomas with his head leaning back and eyes closed. But Lien said Thomas wasn’t sleeping on the bench.

“He often leans way back in his chair and looks at the ceiling,” Lien said in email. “In this case, he may have been reading something or just listening.”

Art does have a sense of humor and whimsy which shows up in his banner illustrations for SCOTUSblog. In some of these he exercises his cartoonist muscles.

below: tele-justice during the Covid era.

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