(PHOTO: Greg Banning with some of his sketches, in the dining room at his home in Stittsville. Photo by G. Gower.)
You can see Stittsville artist Greg Banning‘s courtroom sketches in the first few seconds of this trailer for Alias Grace, the tv adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel on CBC and Netflix.
Besides his artwork, Banning will also appear on screen in the series as a courtroom sketch artist. As he explains below, the television gig came as a result of his work as a courtroom artist for the Mike Duffy trial.
On how his work came to featured in the miniseries…
The book is about Grace Marks. She’s convicted of murder with an accomplice, and what the book and movie is trying to do is decide whether she did it or not. I did the court sketches that were involved in the trial itself. Because of my background with the Duffy trial, they heard of me… I got a call out of the blue one day and they asked if I’d like to do some court sketches for the film.
They said they just wanted a copy of the sketches that were originally done for the trial. But I thought, “that’s probably a very different style than the way I draw”. They sent me a copy, and I took a look and thought, “I can’t emulate this…” They said, “just give it a try, see if you can match it, and the director will have a look to see if he can use it”.
So I did the best I could with charcoal and did a copy of it, scanned it into the computer and did a couple of changes in Photoshop and I sent it in. They were really happy with it, and then it evolved to, “can you try to put the actor’s faces in that style in that clothing, so we can use it as a prop?”
So I did that, and I thought that was going to be it. But they really wanted me to come in and film me doing the drawing. Up to the point that I actually left to go to the shoot, I didn’t know how they were going to do this. I’ve got these finished drawings – but how am I going to make it look like I’m doing the finished drawing?
The day of getting to the set, I went to a window with the original drawing I made and traced onto a piece of paper. So then when they filmed me I could make it look like I was sketching it out. They brought the camera right in on me, and another camera in the back of me. I’m looking at nothing — the actress was long gone, and everybody in the courtroom. I was literally the last shot of that day in the courthouse.
It was a fantastic experience – right around my birthday – and they paid for most of my trip to glamorous Brampton. That was a year ago.
I haven’t seen my part yet. I’m kind of nervous. I need glasses to draw and to see — I have progressive lenses. I mentioned that I needed glasses, and they ended up giving me these little Benjamin Franklin glasses, and David Cronenberg supposedly used them in one of the scenes too. So the set director said, “be very careful, David Cronenberg used these glasses”. I felt kind of awkward, looking up and looking down as if I was drawing…
I don’t know if I’m going to make the movie or not, but they’ve used my sketches in the opening scenes. It was a fun thing to do, I never thought I would be in a production — I’m usually on the other side, working with directors. Normally I do storyboards, mostly commercial work — car commercials and things like that.
On how he became a courtroom sketch artist…
It was not my ambition to set out to be a court artist, and I don’t think you can make a living being a court artist. It was just really lucky. One thing can lead to something else. The Duffy thing led to this, and I’m really grateful.
I lived in Toronto for 20 years, and then I moved here… a local illustrator recommended me to the Citizen, and they called up and asked if I would want to do sketch art at the court. I’d never thought of doing it, but I figured I’d get paid to work on my drawing and it was fascinating. That’s how it started, doing work for the Citizen.
Patrick Brazeau’s trial was happening, and CTV called and asked if I would want to do that for them. I did a job for CTV, and they were really happy. The Duffy trail was on the heels of Brazeau, and CTV called, and the Citizen called, then Global called and asked if I could do this… I had no idea how big this was going to be, or how long it was going to be, but it almost became a full time job for me. I was there every day for the trial except to see my son’s Christmas pageant show… I find it very interesting to be in the court and having the opportunity to witness all this stuff.
The first job I ever did, I brought in my laptop and Wacom tablet and sat down on the back bench in the gallery and drew the guy on the computer. The judge didn’t even bat an eyelash. My first one was completely digital.
I thought, if I get into another trial where there’s a lot more people I won’t be able to do this. I thought I’d bring my sketchbook, and scan it, and colour it in the computer. That’s how the process is now. I’ll do a quick little sketch, make remarks about what they’re wearing, the colour of their shirt, their jacket. I’m in and out pretty quick. I get the idea down, and I do the majority of the drawing in the media room at the courthouse, which is like a closet. I scan the sketch into the computer, and then I colourize it in Corel Painter – an Ottawa-based company – and then all I have to do is email a high-res jpeg to the Citizen or whatever other media outlet I might be doing it for.
On why he became an artist…
I’ve always liked drawing, since I was my son’s age, and I just got better and better, and nothing else was panning out for me. I wasn’t going to be the baseball player I always wanted to be – so I ended up sticking with art…. I wasn’t sure if I could make a living out of it. When I was 19 I went to the High School of Commerce just to see if I liked it, and fell in love with it. I found different avenues of art you can make a living in. I went to Sheridan College, did the illustration program there, and found that I was more suited for advertising. So I got my start, unfortunately during the recession in the 90s. All the agencies at that time were downsizing and getting rid of their art departments. I stuck to it, and started getting a job with one agency, next thing you know I got another job. I worked at the last art house in Toronto, TDF, as a junior artist, and when that closed up I went out on my own and I’ve done everything. I’ve worked in advertising, illustrated children’s books, covers, magazines. I did a Maclean’s cover, I’ve worked in video games, I’ve designed coins for the Mint.
It’s wide-ranging. This fits in with my background. I go from the Duffy trail to drawing in a televised movie! I’ve been lucky enough to experience a lot of different facets of the art world and things like this — working on Alias Grace — was exciting. No regrets!