No cameras allowed: Artist Bill Robles makes a career drawing courtroom dramas

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Artist Bill Robles, witness to history

Bill Robles has the mellifluous baritone of a broadcaster, but he’s made a living for over 40 years with his eyes — and his hands. A graduate of the Art Center College of Design, back before it was located in Pasadena, Robles found himself sitting in a courtroom for the trial of Charles Manson in 1970, on assignment for a local TV station. He’s been covering, and drawing, blockbuster court cases ever since.

Flipping through Robles’ work at his home in Bel-Air is like reliving the major news events of the last four decades: John DeLorean. The McMartin Preschool Trial. Michael Jackson. The Night Stalker. Jackson’s, almost a decade ago, was the most grueling, he said: five months of six pictures a day. “I was making a fortune, selling to everyone,” he said. “I can’t believe all the years that have gone by.” Gone are the days where each station has its own artist for each trial, Robles said, but he’s grateful to have kept working through media cutbacks and consolidation: “We’re a necessary evil.  They can’t do without you, that’s the whole thing.”

Some lawyers collect his work, although there are a lot of “cheap” high-profile ones, he said. Robles fleshes out his income by doing portraiture and, in the earlier days of his career, editorial illustration.

At the Newport Beach Public Library right now through March 5th, you can witness history for yourself in a display of the work of Robles and several of his courtroom artist colleagues. It’s in conjunction with a book called “The Illustrated Courtroom: 50 Years of Courtroom Art.” You can meet the artists at a special talk on March 3rd—or you can wait until the next high-profile trial and see it on TV.

Also appearing tonight, March 5th, at USC Visions and Voices, 7-8:30pm, Doheny Memorial Library, USC Main Campus

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The 9-month long trial of Charles Manson in 1970 launched Robles’ career as a courtroom artist.
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Of real estate mogul Donald Sterling’s recent time in court, Bill Robles says it was ‘a great little trial.’
Robles says while covering the 5-month trial of Michael Jackson nearly a decade ago was grueling, the performer’s varying wardrobe kept it interesting.