By Kaeli Van Cott
What began as sketching courtroom drawings for an individual court case led to a much more involved career. Janet Hamlin, the Guantanamo Bay courtroom sketch artist, came to Hofstra to speak about her work and the collection of that work in her book, “Sketching Guantanamo.”
Originally, Hamlin sketched dutifully for newspapers and news services like the Associated Press. She shifted gears to courtroom sketching with the Martha Moxley trial and eventually worked at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, beginning with the Omar Khadr trial.
According to Hamlin, the body language of her subjects tells her what to draw. She explained that she draws “Whatever I think is important to tell the story.”
Hamlin expressed the level of difficulty that sketching the Guantanamo Bay trial involved, explaining the restrictions on her illustrations. No photographs could were permitted for the trials in the courtroom. It was up to Hamlin, the only sketch artist present, to replicate the court proceedings for the public to see. Most of the time, she viewed the courtroom with other journalists from behind a glass panel.
One of the sketches she displayed showed a distanced perspective. Other times, she had to remain in a completely separate building from the courtroom and sketch drawings based on what was on a monitor in front of her. In this case, the only way that she could see a person’s face was from viewing the split-screen monitor.
Most of all, she faced pressure when she had to complete her sketches quickly. Depending on the time she had, her sketches could take 15 minutes to 2 hours to complete.
Although this type of high-pressure atmosphere fills her work environment, Hamlin comes prepared. She pre-sharpens her tools and often has four of each tool that she needs. She uses pastels, because if she is ordered to change the face of a person or a feature of the courtroom, she can do so with ease.
Hamlin shared some of her sketches after her presentation, allowing a closer look at the details in each sketch. Her sketches are vivid and almost life-like portrayals of the activities in the courtroom. The colors and strokes Hamlin uses in her artwork makes her images appear similar to that of a photograph.
Hamlin’s drawings are evocative and realistic. Without words, Hamlin records history each time she enters a Guantanamo Bay courtroom. Her art is the only visual record of Guantanamo Bay proceedings. “Sketching Guantanamo” compiles her sketches from the military trials between 2006 and 2013. After her visit to Hofstra, Hamlin said she would return to Cuba to continue her work.