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Sketch artists discuss challenges of capturing what cameras can't at impeachment trial

Posted at 12:28 PM, Jan 28, 2020

CLEVELAND — The small space was tucked away off a hallway.

The five Cleveland Institute of Art students replaced plush purple chairs with wooden drawing benches, ripping paper from pads and sorting through charcoal and pens.

“When we’re doing figure drawing, we do a couple of one minute – 30 second poses – to try and loosen up and try to get everything, like, to just get the handle of it,” said Liana Gonzalez. “And, then, eventually, like, you like learn how to get everything you need quicker and the angles and everything. And, then you get better.”

Gonzalez and several of her classmates honed their skills over years of training to capture the subtleties of human movement.

“The body itself is really impactful,” she said. “Like, everyone has a body. You can’t escape that.”

Several of the students in this small group are also in a class where 100 drawings are required for the semester.

“But, I feel like there’s beautiful things in, like, moments when you decide to capture a certain part of the body. Like, not even in the face but in someone’s hands – hands are very expressive,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez isn’t alone.

Sitting in a semi-circle around a student model, the artists sketch fast, the charcoal dragging against the textured paper and filling the hallway space with tiny noise.

“Sometimes you can just make a mark and it’s perfect right away. But sometimes you have to go back and wipe it away and just keep adjusting over and over and over,” said Jay Peperone.

Peperone said when they sketch, it can be stressful.

“It can be a lot. But it’s really fun,” they said. “You can’t think about ‘Oh, the head is here and the shoulders are here.’ You have to look at the angles of the body and think like, ‘Okay, how does this connect and what is the anatomy doing in this scenario?”

For these students, that stress and training could come in handy.

“Well, I think it really does convey a kind of psychology and emotion to a viewer that the camera cannot necessarily,” said Sarah Kabot.

Kabot watched over the students during their session. She weaved through the benches giving prompts to challenge the students.

“Well, you know, humans are moving around all the time. It’s very difficult for us to stand still,” she said. “So, gesture drawing – which is what they students were talking about – involves people moving around relatively quickly. And, that really has to do with replicating the real conditions of the real world.”

For the last several weeks, those replicated scenarios are playing out on an international stage.

After the announcement from the Senate that cameras would be limited to a singular view of the impeachment trial, journalism outlets found another way to bring the entire picture to viewers.

CNN employed a sketch artist to capture the moments the camera can’t.

“Of course, you know, we have what the cameras can see. And, those are limited viewpoints,” Kabot said. “But, especially consider the trial we’re all watching these days that the – a lot of the decisions are being made behind the camera in other areas of the Senate.”

The sketches released by the news network show how Senators are handling the marathon testimonies.

The hand drawn accounts from artist Bill Hennessy show big moments like when a protester was thrown out of the Senate gallery, and small things a camera could miss, like a spittoon on the floor.

Hennessy’s drawings caught Sen. Marco Rubio using a quill pen at his desk, Sen. Richard Burr leaning back in his chair, and a group of young women watching intently from the gallery.

“I also think that in a situation where one is drawing and there is a lot of dramatic action happening in front you, you also learn to separate yourself from the drama of what happening in front of you,” Kabot said. “You decide a role for yourself and that role is as a recorder.”

Looking at Hennessy’s sketches, he’s used color to highlight action for viewers.

Kabot said sketching from real life moments means sitting with the drawing even after the moment happened.

“As you’re drawing you are building up a series of marks that record this larger moment. And, so, in so doing you are spending an extended amount of time in the presence of the event,” she said.

For the students at CIA, the idea of a stressful drawing environment has the class split.

Gonzalez said sketching in moments like this does not appeal to her.

“I think it’s critical to be able to express something that is so momentous in a way that is, in a way that is accessible and in a way that is readable,” Peperone said. "I love portraiture and I love drawing people. I think it would be awesome to have to work in an environment like that and to be able to.”