The Jordan Linn Graham murder trial provided an unexpected abundance of work and a fresh civic perspective for Missoula artists.
Over the course of the four-day trial, artists recorded events from the courtroom, where cameras were not allowed. Many said this week was the first time they had done court sketches.
Stephanie Frostad, who usually uses oil paints to create figurative and narrative art, used graphite and white chalk to capture the scenes in U.S. District Court on Monday.
While she’s used to quickly sketching subjects, the urgency of the courtroom and the press of deadlines surprised her.
“It is really intense, just the physical compactness and the atmosphere in the courtroom,” she said, referring to having limited space in which to work.
KPAX-TV initially solicited Frostad’s work. After a flurry of interest from other news outlets, Frostad returned to court for ABC and sold some sketches to CNN as well. And she provided a gallery of her sketches to the Missoulian, which are attached to this story at Missoulian.com.
In addition to paying well, sketching people in the courtroom is a sort of civic engagement and was a real-world application of her talents, Frostad said.
What she created will serve as a record of events and the people who were part of them after the trial ends.
“It is trying to get something that feels like it’s a good likeness, just in terms of being fair,” she said.
Fellow sketch artist Nikki Rossignol said she too tries to draw what she sees without creating caricatures.
Sometimes, looking so intently at people in the courtroom is trying, Rossignol said. “It was really tough for me to draw Jordan’s brother and Cody’s mother. It was just hard for me. I wanted to leave them alone instead of staring at them and drawing them.”
Her work as an illustrator isn’t all that different from what she did in the courtroom, where she used a pencil and sketchpad to draw and later used watercolors to finish the pieces.
A friend told her KECI-TV was looking for a sketch artist for one of the preliminary hearings and, although she had never done court sketches before, Rossignol called the station. She sketched two of the preliminary hearings and worked for KECI and “Dateline NBC” during the trial, she said.
Because she has to finish work quickly, her sketches aren’t as refined as she would prefer, Rossignol said. “I’ve calmed down a lot about detail. I’ve had to take a good breath and decide it’s much better to capture it rather than lose it.”
“I’ve learned how important it is to observe people really closely,” said Claire Emery, who usually avoids drawing people in favor of the natural world, but took ABC up on its offer to sketch this week’s proceedings.
Drawing the witnesses and trial participants wasn’t just about their bone structure, she said. “There’s so many subtleties of emotion going on within people.”
The courtroom formalities, emotions and sparring between lawyers made for a study in human nature, said Emery, who usually creates woodblocks and who is a trained natural science illustrator.
“It was an incredible, intense fishbowl of human nature at work on many levels,” she added.
Her work was a service to the court and to the people she drew, she said, adding that she tried to honor each person she sketched. “I wish I could do something more for all the people up there besides just draw them, you know, hold their grief.”