14 floors up, and in courtroom 21 of the London Courthouse, Karlene Ryan has spent plenty of days, but it’s never been because of anything wrong she’s done.
The London born freelancer has put her sketching talents to use. After being approached by a London Free Press editor in 2003, Ryan started drawing at various trials on behalf of the newspaper.
“I’ve always loved to draw people, so it’s just something that came natural to me,” said Ryan proudly.
Courtroom sketches are authentic because they not only capture a visual of court, but because these drawings give viewers a greater understanding of the emotional mood behind the closed doors. In many ways they are the public’s link to the trial.
Karlene Ryan understands she has a unique job.
“I think basically the public really are interested in seeing… what that image is in within the courtroom,” said Ryan as she explains her role, “so I think there’s only few and far between [artists] who can actually capture likeness and draw”.
Long before cameras were invented, in the 17th century, courtroom sketches were the only way for the public to gain an image from a private trial. Nowadays, the power of pencil and paper have been refined, and these sketches are once again in demand.
“It’s kind of like getting prepared for a race, you have all this adrenaline, and you have to get your product out there very quickly in a very short amount of time,”distinguishes Ryan, “it can be stressful, but exciting at the same time, and also very upsetting when you hear certain testimonies”.
With the results of Jian Ghomeshi’s trials set to be unveiled soon, sketches from court will resurface across multimedia, and many of these sketches will have Ryan’s signature on them.
It’s safe to say that her diploma from the Ontario College of Art and Design has served her well. She has done work for all major media outlets.
Karlene Ryan spent a week in Toronto covering the Ghomeshi trials for Global News, and had many other contract offers while she was there. It didn’t help that the Tim Bosma trials were taking place at the same time in Hamilton.
Ryan recalls her week covering Ghomeshi as one of the most exhausting she’s had to endure.
“Basically, you would have to line up at 6 in the morning just to get your place there. As media there are only a few spots available, so if you have not secured your spot than you’re not getting in,” said Ryan.
With such weighted emotions on the stand, it can be challenging to not let be deeply affected even as a spectator at a trial. Ryan sat through all testimonies against Ghomeshi and this wasn’t the first time she has heard witnesses open up about their deep life wounds.
In fact, it was in the London where Ryan inked sketches for the Bandito and Victoria Stafford trials.
“It’s very difficult to go to sleep at night, especially given that I’m a visual person, as well, so, certain image, forensic photos race through my mind,” said Ryan passionately, “but I do remind myself that I’m there to provide the public with an image of what happened in the courtroom, something they would not otherwise have seen”.
Another day at court, another day listening to witnesses, and another day drawing sketches all makes for the life of a courtroom sketch artist. Until the next court case she works at, Karlene Ryan will continue her work as freelance artist in many other areas, like drawing murals.
Ryan is as eager as anyone to get back to her seat in the courtroom.
“I happen to be walking out of the courtroom and Jian Ghomeshi is directly in front of me with his lawyer, and it was just chaos. Cameras coming at you, just insane, a lot of pressure, but you just do your job and that’s basically it”.