Ted Michalowski has a personality as energetic and vibrant as his art, so it’s hard to imagine him working in a serious courtroom setting, but when any opportunity to illustrate anything presents itself, the 40-year-old Scranton resident accepts the challenge immediately.
All children draw, he notes, but Michalowski never lost his youthful fascination and passion for illustration. Studying under Fred Brenner privately and at Marywood University and later under Murray Tinkelman in the Syracuse Independent Study Design Program and at the Hartford Art School, he credits his teachers with not only influencing his distinctive, extemporaneous style, but also with his desire to pass his knowledge onto others.
He accomplishes this both as an educator and as a colorful social butterfly, hosting Drawing Socials with live music every Sunday at the AfA Gallery in Scranton and painting murals locally and as far away as Poland, including work recently featured at Carl Von Luger Steak & Seafood just down the street from the AfA.
“The true excitement comes from finding what you love to do and then seeking people who have done it who can teach you how to do it better, but almost more importantly, excite you to be excited to do it and then surround yourself with peers who have such stimulation and urge to pursue it in their lives. Then pass it on to those who would be students, and then hopefully they repeat the cycle,” Michalowski explained.
So when ABC News in New York contacted him out of the blue in 2005 to cover a child custody case as a courtroom illustrator, he eagerly embraced the opportunity despite the work being so different from his characteristically fun and friendly drawings.
“I didn’t try to understand it. I just roped it, rode it, and branded it. It made perfect sense to me to do that type of job because it was very challenging, very intense; it felt as close to doing something athletic as doing something artistic could be because I’m right there in the middle of an event. I have to step up to the plate, and you can’t take a break in the middle of a game,” he emphasized, adjusting his mindset to focus on the serious nature of the job.
“I just have to put my game face on and focus on drawing journalistically because that’s what I’m there to do. … I’ve got to show it as it is and be totally objective and nonpartisan.”
From there, he covered the Hazleton immigration ordinance trial of 2007 and the “Kids for Cash” trials of disgraced Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan in 2008 and 2011, his work featured on CNN, CNN en Español, CBS News, ABC News, Fox News, and several local affiliates and newspapers. Teaching at Keystone College at the time, CBS called him just 45 minutes before the Conahan and Ciavarella trial started, forcing him to borrow his students’ supplies before rushing down to the courthouse.
“I’m probably more familiar with those drawings than any other drawings I do because I’m often asked to show them at schools and in programs,” he said.
Michalowski will be showing these drawings next at the Dietrich Theater (60 E. Tioga St., Tunkhannock) on April 7 to coincide with a 7:30 p.m. screening of “Kids for Cash,” the documentary of the trials. Following the movie, he will give a PowerPoint presentation on the illustrations, which he believes reveal more than film ever could.
“It’s interesting and most important to see what drawing can convey beyond what the camera can convey. The story it can tell and the graphic impact of a drawing and the storytelling capacity of a drawing and the way a drawing can lead an eye is how a camera can’t,” he enthused.
“The movie is all done with the video camera, so they see everything just as it is, but to see the drawings, they take us somewhere else and that hits the mind a little bit differently.
“The drawings do more than simply replace the camera – they tell what the camera can’t.”