Courtroom sketch artist takes Americans where cameras cannot go
Ashburn, Virginia — In a year of blockbuster courtroom moments, there’s always a reserved seat up front for Bill Hennessy and his pencils and pad.
For more than 40 years, Hennessy has been one of the busiest and most prolific courtroom artists of his time, sketching the drama that plays out in front of America’s judges and juries.
“It’s my reaction to what I’m seeing,” Hennessy told CBS News of his work.
His work has been especially in demand over the past year, producing the first image of the $787 million courtroom settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems.
He also stayed atop a wave of Jan. 6 prosecutions and provided some of the only images inside the Supreme Court.
He got his start in this unique line of work while still in graduate school.
“Someone called and said, ‘We need an artist. Is there anyone willing to go to a courtroom and draw?'” Hennessy said. “And I jumped at it because I need to. I need to support my family.”
It stuck, and he fell in love with being not just an artist, but a journalist, seeking the newsworthy moments in each case, then sketching under fierce deadlines.
“I mean, sometimes it’s literally, you know, a few minutes,” Hennessy said of his often tight deadlines.
He has been there to sketch it all, from celebrities who have gone to court — like Chris Brown and Roger Clemens — to the historic election case of Bush v. Gore.
“Sometimes people say, oh, you have a photographic memory,” Hennessy explained. “I do not … that moment just sort of sears itself briefly, and I sketch as quickly as I can.”
The use of a courtroom sketch artist might seem like an old-fashioned notion, but these artists have a bright future ahead of them. Repeated efforts to require or allow cameras in federal court and the U.S. Supreme Court have failed.
Washington defense attorney Steve McCool handles high profile trials and knows what it’s like to be sketched by Hennessy.
“He’s watched the proceeding and captured it as an artist, and he’s captured a moment in time,” McCool said.
Hennessy said he often gets defendants who reach out and ask for a sketch.
“I’ve had several who say, ‘I want to get a copy of that,’ you know. And I think, well, let’s see how this goes. Let’s see if you’re still thinking that way at the end.”