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Donald Trump’s face is ‘elusive’, say court artists as observers criticise bizarre sketches

Depending on your point of view, the court sketches of Donald Trump may resemble either an orange gargoyle or a sulky, smooth-skinned man practising his side-eye.

Observers on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, have taken aim at the bizarre variety of drawings emerging from US courtrooms this summer.

One sketch from Florida in June shows Trump looking youthful and slim with a faint blush of tangerine about his forehead, while others depict rubbery features and bushy brows.

But court artists are a rare breed and the pressures on them are immense, so they can’t always deliver what the public perceives an individual to look like, artists have told i.

Mr Trump at his arraignment hearing in New York in April (Image: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

Siân Frances, formerly one of the UK’s foremost court artists, said time constraints mean there is “never enough time to do the finish you would like”.

“An artist will have to compete with rest of press for a seat and may not have a great view,” said the artist.

The “more famous the person, the more difficult [it is] as drawings will be compared to film and photograph, and [there are] often of people arriving and leaving the court if not in custody”, she said.

“Don’t compete with them and do your homework if you have time,” she added. “It is reportage and should compliment the piece to camera or on the page.

“Impart a visual of the court for viewer [or] reader who may never have been in one. It’s a part of news gathering.

A slimmed down, young-looking Trump depicted during his arraignment in Miami on 13 June (Photo: William J Hennessy Jnr)

She said that in the US, “the huge difference is you can draw in court, and you can’t in the UK, it’s from memory and outside of court, maybe in press room”.

In the US, the veteran cadre of courthouse artists include Elizabeth Williams, Aggie Whelan Kenny and Jane Rosenberg, whose rendition of Trump glowering during one arraignment in April made the cover of the New Yorker.

The viral sketch was completed on 4 April, after Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony criminal charges of falsifying business records in a Manhattan criminal court, as part of a hush money scheme involving the porn star Stormy Daniels.

Discussing the sketch with art platform Hyperallergic, Rosenberg said Trump was “looking glaringly at the district attorney as he was reading the indictment. I had to get that expression”.

“He looked pissed off; he wasn’t happy to be there.

“Trump is really fun to draw. He’s got tons of expression on his face and that crazy hair that is almost like a hat.

“I’m not saying it’s a happy or pleasant face, but he has a unique look that is fun to capture.”

Rosenberg’s portfolio includes high-profile criminals such as Harvey Weinstein, El Chapo and Ghislaine Maxwell – a sketch of whom went viral after Maxwell appeared to be sketching Rosenberg at the same time.

William J Hennessy Junior was among three artists who drew Trump during his arraignment in Miami on 13 June, looking slim and more youthful than his 77 years would suggest, which attracted negative criticism.

“Is this William J Hennessy Jr’s audition to do Trumps official White House portrait?” one user asked.

“That last sketch of Trump looks almost exactly like the recent photo of his son Barron,” commented another. “Wonder if it was done on purpose?”

Speaking to the Boston Globe, Mr Hennessy said: “It’s rare I get any kind of feedback.

“Some said he looked too thin, too young, and some said he looked too good.”

“I don’t editorialise,” he added. “I just draw what I see.”

While cameras are allowed in some courts in the US, they are not allowed inside federal courts. They are also banned in the UK, but British court artists are prevented from drawing pictures while in the court itself, by an Act of Parliament dating back to 1925. Instead they make written notes about individual’s posture, manner, clothing and any arresting features.

Elizabeth Williams has worked as a courtroom sketch artist for more than 40 years and also covered the trials of Maxwell and other well publicised cases, including R Kelly and Martha Stewart.

Speaking to The Guardian, she said Trump’s likeness “can be elusive” to artists.

“He doesn’t have a lot of defining features, other than the tan face and the hair. Michael Cohen and El Chapo had the same thing. It can be challenging.”

“He has a very difficult face to capture,” she added. “I’m looking at my picture right now, and that doesn’t look like a 77-year-old man. I don’t know how much plastic surgery Trump has had, but that face does not look 77.”

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