A Courtroom Artist Attempts to ‘Capture’ Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

A sketch by Art Lien of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev during the second day of jury selection
A sketch by Art Lien of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev during the second day of jury selection –Courtesy of Art Lien

If you’ve seen a courtroom sketch of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the past month, there’s a pretty good chance it was drawn by Art Lien.

Last month, Lien was in attendance at the final pre-trial status hearing in U.S. vs. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It was the first courtroom appearance by the alleged Boston Marathon bomber since his July 2013 arraignment.

Lien’s sketch from that day was striking, and a far cry from the images of Tsarnaev that had flooded newspapers and websites since his arrest.

“People said I made him look too old. He is young, but he has a very strange look, his eyes. Almost seems like he just woke up, or he’s high,’’ Lien told Boston.com.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in his first court appearance since being arraigned. —Courtesy of Art Lien

It was in stark contrast to the criticism hurled at Rolling Stone over what some called a “dreamy’’ depiction of Tsarnaev on the cover of their August 2013 issue.

But Lien isn’t fazed by the fact that his depiction of Tsarnaev wasn’t to everyone’s liking.

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“I struggle to do the best I can to just capture what I’m seeing,’’ he said. “I like the idea of documenting things through sketches.’’

Lien usually spends his days as a courtroom sketch artist at the United States Supreme Court, where he documents the goings-on of the nation’s highest court for NBC News.

In addition to his work at the U.S. Supreme Court, Lien sketches a range of other high-profile courtroom dramas. He has sketched Roger Clemens facing perjury charges, jury selection in the trial of Jerry Sandusky, Jack Abramoff being sentenced for corruption, and Whitey Bulger facing the families of his victims.

For the next several months, Lien will be spending his days in Courtroom 9 at Boston’s Moakley Courthouse, providing the public with some of its only glimpses of Tsarnaev as he stands trial on more than 30 charges related to the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013.

Roger Clemens on trial for perjury. —Courtesy of Art Lien

While there is no indication that cameras are coming to federal courtrooms anytime soon, Lien said the number of courtroom sketch artists has dwindled during his 38 year long career.

Jurors report for duty on Monday, January 5, 2014 —Courtesy of Art Lien

“There used to be many more of us. It used to be that every network had their own artist. Local stations often had their own, too. And then papers often had their own,’’ Lien said. “At a trial like this you would have had four to eight artists. So far for Tsarnaev there are just two of us.’’

Lien at work on a courtroom sketch —Courtesy of Art Lien

Lien doesn’t show up to sketch unprepared.

“I try to find out as much as I possibly can. I read the filings. I read the media reports. I even look at Twitter. I look for all the information I can get,’’ he said.

When he’s not sketching in a courtroom, he can often be found sketching urban scenes in and around Baltimore.

Or building bicycles. That is, if he isn’t tied up practicing mandolin for an upcoming performance of his mandolin orchestra.

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