MCBA Visual Journal Collective: Ken Avidor and the Petters Trial Sketches—PLUS a Mini Portrait Party!

February 17, 2010

Ken Avidor shared his courtroom sketching experiences from the Tom Petters trial.
CarolandKenJournal9252 Left: Carol pages through Ken Avidor’s Tom Petters trial journal. On the table is an issue of City Pages open to one of his illustrated trial updates. Artwork ©2009 Ken Avidor.

Monday at the MCBA Visual Journal Collective illustrator Ken Avidor spoke about forensic courtroom sketching and his work documenting the Tom Petters Trial last fall in St. Paul. For non-Twin Citians and people not keeping up with financial scandals, Petters was convicted of a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. A politically active citizen, Avidor began preparing for the trial in advance by arranging for press credentials from City Pages. (His work appeared in that weekly paper throughout the trial.)

He also researched the main “actors” in this drama and practiced sketching them before the trial so that he could render quick likenesses in the courtroom. (Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom. This makes the role of a talented sketch artist important to capture what is mandated to be a "public trial.")

Avidor explained how he would start with a few guidelines in pencil, then add ink, and finish with colored pencil for his larger stand alone sketches which were used on television to document the trial.


Left: Ken Avidor talking to the front row (the rest of the gathering is out of the shot to the left of the camera). Some of Avidor's larger drawings are sitting on the table in a stack in front of him.

In order to meet the broadcast deadline Avidor would need to finish 3 or 4 sketches in about 40 minutes.

At other times in the proceedings—Avidor attended each full day of the trial—he would work directly with ink in his trial journal (shown in the opening photo of this post). He works with a Rotring fountain pen.

Besides the mainstay media outlets Avidor’s sketches and reporting can be seen at other locations on the web. A video Ken made of some of his sketches and one day's trial events can be seen here.


Left: Avidor made artist trading cards with sketches of the key players at the trial. (You can view these at the blogs below.) ©2009 Ken Avidor.

A veteran political blogger Avidor has not one, but two Petter’s related blogs.

Visit Petters' Ponzi Party and Petters' Info for more of Avidor's trial artwork and commentary.

Nineteen Collective members had gathered for this talk. The questions ranged from trial details to drawing-related queries. When asked about how he started a drawing and which features he focused on, Avidor explained that he looked for a feeling about his subject and drew that—he looked for the most prominent thing that would capture that feeling.

Following his talk the group broke up into pairs (and one trio) to sketch portraits of each other—looking to capture “that feeling.” We worked for 20 minutes, with 10 minutes allotted for each partner to sketch the other. (I set a timer.) Below are photos of the the pairs with their sketches. I’ve tried to get all the names right, but for some of the first-time or newer members I apologize if I have misidentified you. Please let me know and I’ll correct it. (Apologies to Jean and Roberta, though you appear in some of the photos I didn’t get a photograph of the two of you with your drawings of each other!)

This was the group’s second portrait party. See the first MCBA Visual Journal Collective Portrait Party here. We all had just as much fun this time (judging by the jolly noise level in the room)! I’m sure we’ll be doing future portrait parties.

When I look over the photos below, what I’m most pleased about is how all the participants managed to capture a feeling about their subject!

 Above: Ann (l) and Theresa (r).


Above: Briana (l) and Molly (r).

Above: Carol (l), Carol (center), and Clare (r).

Above: I hope this is Helen (l) and I know this is Anne (r) because the sketch of this first time attendee is so labeled!

Above: I believe this is Terry (l) and Carolyn (r).

Above: Jean (l) and Roberta (r). (Sadly I didn't get back around the room to catch them with their finished sketches.)

Above: Karen (l) and Talin (r).

Above: Mary (l) with Suzanne (r).

Above: Ken Avidor (l) with me (r). Ken insisted that we both draw at the same time, neither of us being still because we both of us were constantly looking up and down. I've never drawn someone who was drawing me at the same time I was drawing him, so it was an hilarious experience for me and I laughed quite a lot. (I also stopped after the first 10 minutes because I was just fussing!) A couple of moments into the process we worked out a rhythm where one was looking up when the other was looking down. Ken has sketched me a number of times over the years and I have to say this portrait is one of my favorites—definitely catching the likeness of me.

If you haven't hosted a portrait party, now might be just the time to do so. Artist Rama Hughes over at The Portrait Party, inspired our group's portrait parties. He has suggestions on how to go about having a successful party at his site (along with postings of incredible portrait swaps). Get busy and have a portrait party today. You may never sketch at the "trial of the century"—but that doesn't mean you can't capture a likeness today!

  1. Reply

    I LOVE Ken’s drawing of you! Hysterical and definitely a likeness.

    • Christina Trevino.
    • February 17, 2010

    Roz, your mouth is not that big!

    • Alex
    • February 17, 2010

    Roz, I am a little hesitant to write that I’ve given you a Sunshine Award for bloggers, I am not sure what’s your take on such things. You art and enthusiasm for art is an inspiration for me, and I wanted you to know. I realize that you may not feel like playing “blogger award” games, but this was a way for me to acknowledge how much I learn from you and to express my gratitude.

    If you wish, you can get the image of the award here
    post it on your blog, and perhaps give it to other people.

    In any case I am a regular and avid reader.

    • Pat (PJ) Beaubien
    • February 17, 2010

    Did we miss out!!!!!!!! I am using the post (with the photos) of Ken with my students–“careers or work” in art, or, “look where one man has gone with his cartooning.” I hope that next year my work and “portrait night” will not conflict!!!!!! What fun portraits!

    • Roz
    • February 17, 2010

    Christina, I was going to say, “you’ve never met me…” but then there is a photo of me right there—so I have to say YES my mouth is that big, especially if you are trying to sketch me and every time you look up at me I’m wearing my sheepish grin and laughing. Remember, Ken says he always looks for the most prominent feature when he goes for a likeness! (Usually it’s my nose!)

    • Roz
    • February 17, 2010

    PJ I missed seeing both you and Nanette. I hope that next year you can convince the powers to be that this is worthwhile! I’m glad Ken is going to be a role model for your students! I look forward to seeing you on the 28th!

    • Roz
    • February 17, 2010

    Alex, well thank you for being an avid reader and thinking my blog worthy of an award. I don’t post award buttons because things get pretty cramped here as it is—see the new link buttons I’ve added for International Fake Journal Month and An Illustrated Life and Urban Sketchers Network—Twin Cities. I just really don’t want to go to a 3 column design!

    But I do appreciate your note and the thoughts behind it and love seeing the list of people you are nominating. I will write about this in the next few days.

  2. Reply

    The session was great, and my name is Suzanne (the member who’s name escapes you, with Mary). I am loving coming to the journaling collective. It has totally gotten my personal art moving forward again. Looking forward to the “Sketch Up”. Buildings have been interesting to me lately.

    • Roz
    • February 18, 2010

    Suzanne, thank you for writing in! I am going to fix it right now! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the session and I look forward to seeing you at the Sketch UP! (I’ll remember your name!) Thanks.

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