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Tsarnaev court sketch artist Jane Flavell Collins opens up about colorful career

The award-winning New England artist is sketching accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Jane Flavell Collins with her many court sketches.Nicolaus Czarnecki, Metro

Bored.

If court artist Jane Flavell Collins had to describe the subject of her latest sketches, that’s how she’d describe accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Over the course of her eclectic career, Collins has become a fixture in area courtrooms, her pad and pastels in hand.

“I could always get a good likeness for some reason,” Collins said.

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The Duxbury resident studied art at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and earned a masters degree in Florence. She decided to become a court sketch artist 25 years ago after Channel 5 gave her a shot. She vividly remembers her first day in court. Her large pad and art supplies poked rows of court reporters as she entered, and she accidentally sat in the defendant’s chair.

“I was very embarrassed,” said Collins. “I went to the back of the room and said to myself, ‘I can’t do this.’ But then I kept with it, and I learned a lot over the years. I really have enjoyed it very much.”

Collins is currently drawing Tsarnaev, 21, in Boston’s Moakley Federal Courthouse. Opening statements in his trial have been pushed off until later this month as the parties have been unable to select a jury they consider impartial.

“I only go to the most interesting cases,” said Collins, who has covered high-profile trials including those of mobster Whitey Bulger and shoe bomber Richard Reid, the British man who in 2001 attempted to set off explosives that he’d stuffed into his shoes while on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami.

Collins recalled the moment Reid lashed out at the judge.

”I stopped drawing. It took my breath away. The shoe bomber got angry, and pretty soon he was sputtering and flailing his big, long arms,” said Collins.

Bulger, on the other hand, kept a low profile, keen on scribbling away on a legal pad.

“He hardly moved,” Collins said “Every once in a while someone would throw a bad word at him and he’d respond,” she said.

Tsarnaev is a new beast. The Chechen native is accused of detonating two homemade bombs at the Boylston Street finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264. An MIT police officer was killed in a shootout with Tsarnaev .

As the trial gets underway, all eyes are on Boston, and without cameras in the courtroom, Collins must provide be the eyes of the world.

Since jury selection began last month, Tsarnaev’s look has changed.

“I noticed the beard right away,” she said. “And his hair has been cut. The last time I saw him everyone was mentioning his hair. It had been very, very curly and getting long and hanging over his face. So they tried to clean him up a little bit.”

As Collins’ pastels sketch Tsarnaev’s image, she tries to capture his detached demeanor.

”If I had to describe him in one word, I’d say bored. I really think [court] is very tiresome for him. He’s a young man, and there is no way out, so he is resigned. He keeps tugging at his collar. I noticed that, too,” she said.

For Collins, the challenge is capturing the details at a moment’s notice. Suspects may only be in court for a moment – sometimes a matter of minutes if it is an arraignment, like Tsarnaev first appearance in federal court in July 2013.

“He was in an orange suit – so that’s easy – because of the bright color, and knowing how he’s tall and thin, I just put it all together in my head,” said Collins.

If you have experience is it makes you go for what you won’t be able to get later - his face, the way he stands. Maybe he likes to hold one hand in front of the other. I’ve had things go so fast sometimes, men would have ties on, and I’d touch it with a color go back to fill it in later.”

Collins says she dreads the day when livestreams and camera phones make courtroom sketches obsolete.

“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do this. I think they will start allowing cameras [in Federal court] soon. Everybody is asking for them. It’s sort of like the court puts up with what I do,” said Collins. “Hopefully I’ll make it a little while longer.”

 
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