Jane Rosenberg is a veteran courtroom artist of more than 40 years.
She's sketched many high-profile defendants, from John Lennon's murderer to Donald Trump.
Some defendants have given Rosenberg specific requests for how they would like to be depicted.
Jane Rosenberg has had a busy month.
In the past few weeks, Rosenberg has shuffled from courthouse to courthouse in Manhattan, where she lives, to sit in on a couple of different trials of the century.
She's witnessed the eldest Trump sons testify in the New York attorney general's $250 million lawsuit against their father and the family's nearly century-old organization. Down the block in another courthouse, Rosenberg watched Sam Bankman-Fried and his colleague and ex-lover Caroline Ellison take the stand before a jury convicted the crypto mogul of seven counts of fraud and conspiracy on Thursday.
She's not a lawyer or a journalist, but another fixture of high-profile cases who sometimes slide under the radar: a courtroom artist.
Rosenberg is a veteran courtroom sketch artist of 43 years. She's drawn the likeness of many famous and infamous characters, from John Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, to Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein.
In 2021, she captured a chilling portrait of Jeffrey Epstein's accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell, who was staring right back at Rosenberg while sketching the artist herself.
There's a fairly obvious reason her subjects are often noteworthy.
"I only cover high-profile cases because nobody wants to pay me to go to the small stuff," Rosenberg told Insider.
The artist becomes the subject
Some judges prohibit using cameras in their courtrooms, which means the media and curious viewers rely on artists like Rosenberg to get a snapshot of the emotions defendants go through when they're on the stand or hear the verdict.
But recently, the artist herself was thrust into the center of the story in articles and on social media for her work — attention, she says, that baffles her sometimes.
"Social media brought me attention, both negative and positive," she said. "I'm not sure I like it. I don't do Twitter. I don't do Instagram. I don't do any social media stuff."
One of the recent viral moments came with her drawing of Ellison.
Ellison certainly has distinct facial features, but on X, formerly Twitter, some users have wondered if the courtroom artists, not just Rosenberg, have a personal vendetta against Ellison because of their drawings of the former Alameda Research CEO.
Slate's Luke Winkie, who wrote that he found Rosenberg's drawings "both majestic and fucking bizarre," described the portraits as Dali- or Munch-esque, in which Ellison's face almost appears to be "melting on the stand."
"That really pisses me off," Rosenberg told Insider of social media's reaction.
She said it wasn't her best portrait of Ellison, but the artist did have a defense: On the day Ellison took the stand on October 10, she explains, the Alameda Research head was up for just 10 minutes, giving Rosenberg a short amount of time to render Ellison's likeness.
Rosenberg added she was trying to capture Ellison in her emotional state at the time of her testimony.
"I have some really good ones I did of Caroline Ellison. That was my first one. … I did like three or four good ones, and nobody ever saw those. So that's the way it goes."
A very 2023 twist to the viral moment was when an AI-generated image of Bankman-Fried, made to look like a genuine courtroom sketch, circulated online, depicting the FTX founder with a heroic jawline and physique.
Predictably, speculation from bottom-of-the-barrel social media users ensued as to why Bankman-Fried got such a favorable portrait compared to Ellison.
Here are the Courtroom sketches of Sam Bankman-Fried and Caroline Ellison
Can YOU tell who has more money ? pic.twitter.com/md5KwbMYxh
— Marjorie Taylor Greene Press Release (Parody) (@MTGrepp) November 1, 2023
"That was ridiculous," Rosenberg said. "I don't get it. People have nothing better to do. That stuff did not resemble him even slightly."
Rosenberg does say that Bankman-Fried was a particularly challenging person to draw.
"Most of the time, I was sitting diagonally behind him, and he has a very unusual face," she said. "I'm trying to figure out what's going on. If he turns a fraction of an inch, suddenly, he has a pudgy face, but all of his facial features disappear."
Trump Jr. and Harvey Weinstein have requests
Rosenberg recalled that on the first day of his testimony, before photographers had a few minutes to take pictures of the defendants at the defense table, Trump Jr. asked Rosenberg to "make me look handsome."
Then, as photographers were allowed inside the room, Trump Jr. quipped: "I should have worn makeup."
On day two, Thursday, Trump Jr. approached Rosenberg again, this time asking her to "make me look sexy." He also took a moment to ask Rosenberg about the AI-generated Bankman-Fried photo.
"He's talking to me, standing right over my shoulder, and asks: 'Have you seen the Sam Bankman-Fried image?' And then he pulls out his cellphone, he starts scrolling around, and he shows me that AI image, and he says, 'Look at this, they made him look like a superstar.'" Rosenberg said. "I said, 'That's fake!' That's not even a real courtroom sketch.'"
"It was like fooling around," Rosenberg said of the moment. "It didn't seem like a big deal to me."
As someone who isn't chronically online, Rosenberg wasn't aware of Trump Jr.'s thoughts on her sketch of him afterward.
On Friday, Trump Jr. jokingly lamented on Instagram that Bankman-Fried "gets to look like a superhero Zac Efron," while he gets the "Kermit the fricken frog" treatment.
After being shown a screenshot of Trump Jr.'s Instagram post by Insider and some of the top comments, Rosenberg is once again baffled by social media: "What the fuck?"
"Did Hunter draw this?" Rosenberg read aloud from Trump Jr.'s post, perplexed. (The comment was referring to Hunter Biden.)
"Whatever," she said.
Trump Jr. wasn't the first time a defendant was concerned about his courtroom sketch.
"I didn't say anything to Harvey Weinstein," Rosenberg told Insider. "There's no way he's getting more hair, and there's no way I'm changing his image. Whatever I draw is what I draw. I'm not going to follow anybody's direction on anything."
When asked how often people give her directions for her depictions, Rosenberg said, "It doesn't often happen in front of a room full of reporters."
Rosenberg's big break
In college, Rosenberg described herself as being a bit of a "closet portrait artist" in a time when realism was out and abstract art was in.
She spent a lot of time drawing tourists in Provincetown, Massachusetts, but soon grew tired of doing so and, like many "starving artists," realized she needed money. After sitting in on a lecture by another courtroom artist, Rosenberg decided to try courtroom drawing.
Her first big job was covering the "Murder at the Met" trial with Craig Crimmins, who was convicted in 1981 for the murder of violinist Helen Mintiks.
Rosenberg told Insider that a lot has changed in her job since then, as technology evolved and the 24/7 media cycle caught on.
Before, Rosenberg said that she might have several hours to turn in a sketch. Now, with endless news coverage and cellphones, Rosenberg said she has "deadlines every minute."
Social media has also added a new wedge in her job, but not all the attention on her has been negative, she said.
Earlier this year, Rosenberg's sketch of Trump inside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse for his arraignment — capturing the former president's iconic scowl and sullen disposition — was featured on the cover of the April issue of The New Yorker.
She told the magazine in an interview that it was the most "stressful assignment" of her career to date.
"I find there's usually a lot of art critics out there," Rosenberg told Insider, referring to people who pick at her work. "Although, occasionally, it's all good news."
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