Sketching Impeachment: An Artist's View Of The Senate Trial Art Lien, a courtroom artist who normally covers the Supreme Court, has been sketching the Senate proceedings. "I'm looking for color," he says — such as sleeping senators and fidget spinners.
NPR logo

Sketch Artist Captures 'Something Unusual' At Senate Trial

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sketch Artist Captures 'Something Unusual' At Senate Trial

Sketch Artist Captures 'Something Unusual' At Senate Trial

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Most of the public gets one camera angle on Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial. It's a video feed controlled by the Senate recording studio. The cameras are operated by government employees. They're generally pointed squarely at the dais. And no other visual recording is allowed in the chamber. But the rules don't say anything about sketch pads. That's why Art Lien has been sitting in on the proceedings. He is a courtroom artist who's normally based at the Supreme Court. He's covering the impeachment for The New York Times, and he's now here in the studio.


ART LIEN: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: I'm excited to see that you brought your sketch pad. Will you show us what you've got?

LIEN: OK. Well, here's one I did yesterday of Senator Collins and Murkowski.

SHAPIRO: Hunched over a pile of papers.

LIEN: And they seem to be paying very - you know, following along the arguments very closely.

SHAPIRO: These are not just any two Republican senators; they're two Republican senators who seem to be more moderate, and their votes may be in question. And so there is a real news judgment that you're making as well.

LIEN: Oh, yeah. That's why I sketched them because, you know, when it comes down to voting on witnesses, they're going to be key.

SHAPIRO: How about another one?

LIEN: OK. Let me see. I have - oh, OK. This was sort of iconic yesterday. We noticed that several of the senators had fidget spinners on their desks.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

LIEN: And so here is a sketch of Senator Burr with his fidget spinner.

SHAPIRO: Your focus on the fidget spinner tells me that you're approaching this job with a sense of humor.

LIEN: I try to.

SHAPIRO: So what are you looking for?

LIEN: Well, I'm looking for color, you know, something unusual, something that says something or tells some kind of story.

SHAPIRO: Give us an example.

LIEN: Yeah, the - a big hit on the very first day, Senator Risch...

SHAPIRO: This is Senator James Risch, Republican of Idaho.

LIEN: Yes. Senator Risch, on the very first day, fell asleep. It was that late night, but this was only 5:30.

SHAPIRO: He was at least described as the first to go.

LIEN: He was the first to go. Actually, I haven't seen any other senators falling asleep.

SHAPIRO: And you caught it on your sketch pad.

LIEN: I did.

SHAPIRO: Show us.

LIEN: It's right here.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) He's between two other senators. His head is resting on his hand.

LIEN: Between Crapo and Blunt.

SHAPIRO: Red tie, yeah.

LIEN: Yeah. And his spokesperson said he was just simply listening with his eyes closed. But his head was definitely going down and down and down.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Have you heard from any senators or their staff about how you have portrayed them, either positive or negative?

LIEN: Oh, I have.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Tell us about it.

LIEN: North Carolina Senator Burr.

SHAPIRO: Richard Burr, yeah.

LIEN: Yeah. He caught my attention because he wasn't wearing socks in his very expensive loafers - or they seemed that way. And so I did a sketch of him. And the next day, he had it as his profile picture on Twitter. And...

SHAPIRO: Really?

LIEN: Yeah. He's...

SHAPIRO: Well, that's a compliment.

LIEN: ...Very interested in it. Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Do you complete all of these sketches sitting there in the chamber, or do you do the ink outlines and then bring them back and finish the watercolors in your office or someplace else?

LIEN: I'm not allowed to bring my little watercolor. I have a very small box with my watercolors, and I can't bring that into the chamber. So in the chamber, I'm just doing a line drawing, and then I come outside and finish it in the press gallery.

SHAPIRO: I think many people find doing watercolor to be almost a meditative activity. You're doing it on deadline as a job (laughter). Is there anything peaceful about it, or is it just, like, got to churn this one out and get onto the next one?

LIEN: Well, there's watercolor, and there's watercolor.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

LIEN: I'm really doing drawings and just adding a splash of watercolor.

SHAPIRO: It's the short order cook version of watercolor.

LIEN: When I retire, my ambition is to do real watercolors.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Then you'll do sunsets.

LIEN: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Art Lien is sketching the Senate impeachment trial for The New York Times.

Thanks for coming in. We'll let you get back to work.

LIEN: Thank you very much, Ari.


Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.