Jeff Kandyba has been sketching in Colorado courtrooms since the 1980s. But after over three decades on the job witnessing some of Denver’s most high-profile cases, Kandyba’s work has finally been given national attention thanks to Taylor Swift.
The pop star has spent last week in a Denver courtroom facing former radio deejay David Mueller, who was found guilty on Monday of assault and battery against Swift for groping her at a meet-and-greet photo session in June 2013.
Since electronic devices including cameras were not allowed in the courtroom, the closest anyone had to seeing Swift in the trial was through Kandyba’s work. And boy, did his sketches make headlines, with many Swifties criticizing the artist for his work.
“LOL since when is Taylor Swift a 40-year-old mom??” one fan wrote on Twitter. “What a terrible court sketch. The sketcher needs to be fired.”
“How long before Taylor Swift sues this courtroom sketch artist?” asked another.
But according to Kandyba, the “Shake It Off” singer isn’t the easiest to draw.
“A person like Taylor Swift, who is very pretty — has perfectly proportioned dimensions on the face — is actually much harder [to sketch],” Kandyba told Fox-31 Denver. “The shape of her eyebrows has a really distinctive arch. They start off really close down here to her eyelid… Everybody’s got little idiosyncrasies about them that you want to pick up on.”
“It’s hard,” he continued. “Some people are just much easier to draw than others. If you give me somebody with a beard and glasses, got it!”
To prepare for trial, Kandyba spent weeks doing his research on Swift. “It made me very nervous going into it,” he said. “That’s why I did practice sketches ahead of time just to kind of try to figure out the nuances in her face.”
Though unlike still portraits, courtroom sketches have an additional challenge for the artist in that their subjects never stop moving.
“I’m probably sitting 35 feet away from her looking through binoculars — and if you’ve ever tried to draw anything looking through binoculars, it’s not the easiest thing in the world,” Kandyba explained to Westword. “You go more for resemblance, and hopefully you can at least get that.”
“I don’t think you can ever draw a personality like Taylor Swift well enough to have everybody go out and say, ‘That’s great,’” he added.
Kandyba first started his career as a courtroom sketch artist by accident in 1986, when one of Denver TV station’s “go-to guys” was unavailable for a gig.
He’s been doing the job ever since — sketching every major case from the 1987 murder trial of Alan Berg to the 2010 terrorism trials of Aurora shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi and his father.
It’s cases like those that had Kandyba feeling a little more casual about the Swift-Mueller face-off.
“I’ve been surprised that it’s getting the kind of attention it is,” he told Westword. “I’m aware that Taylor Swift is a huge celebrity, but it’s not like this is a landmark, precedent-setting anything. I don’t even really consider it all that newsworthy. I don’t have anything one way or the other against any of the people. It’s just kind of a tawdry little affair.”
“We’re talking about a federal court case dealing with some guy grabbing a girl on her butt,” he continued. “I still can’t wrap my mind around that. None of that computes. Personally sitting there listening to it, I can’t imagine that this guy ever thought he had a case to begin with. I know the Taylor Swift camp never wanted to make this public. And this guy keeps saying, ‘I need to move beyond this, I need to move beyond this’ — but he’s the only one making any noise about it. If that’s really what your intentions are, you’re making this so much worse.”
Mueller first sued Swift in 2015, claiming he lost his job after the singer’s security team accused him of groping her butt during a meet-and-greet at the Pepsi Center in June of 2013.
He denied the allegations and also accused his colleague of sexually assaulting the singer, but a rep for Swift told PEOPLE at the time that “the radio station was given evidence immediately after the incident” and “made their independent decision.”
One month later, the “Out of the Woods” singer countersued Mueller, saying in court papers he “intentionally reached under her skirt, and groped with his hand an intimate part of her body in an inappropriate manner, against her will, and without her permission.”
On Friday, U.S. District Judge William Martinez dismissed the case brought against Swift by Mueller who claimed the pop star essentially ruined his career. Mueller had sought $3 million in damages from Swift.
On Monday, Swift was awarded $1 for her victory. In a statement released to PEOPLE, the 27-year-old thanking the judge and jury “for their careful consideration,” as well as her attorneys “for fighting for me and anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault, and especially anyone who offered their support throughout this four-year ordeal and two-year long trial process.”
“I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this,” she continued. “My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.”