Drawing Artistic Inspiration From C-SPAN's Talking Heads

Originally published on March 24, 2013 1:49 pm

A few months ago, Reid Cherlin, a GQ magazine contributor and former White House spokesman for President Obama, was sent a link to a website with what he says was "a sort of grotesque sketch" of his face.

It was the website of Michael McCutcheon, a 73-year-old retiree who draws sketches of all of the guests on C-SPAN's morning programming. Cherlin was a guest on C-SPAN last year, a pretty normal thing for D.C. pundits.

Intrigued by the site, Cherlin contacted McCutcheon and wrote about him and his drawings for The New Republic.

McCutcheon, who has no formal art training, says it's just some "random thing" he does in the morning hours to occupy his time. He says he uses C-SPAN because it gives him time to draw the guests.

"If you go anywhere else and try to find someone to draw a picture of, they're moving around and you only get a couple of seconds at it," McCutcheon tells Rachel Martin, host of Weekend Edition Sunday. "These folks are there for 15-20 minutes, sometimes. So they're just a talking head, I guess."

As far as the criticism that his talking head sketches aren't always true to life, he says it doesn't bother him.

"I don't really care how they come out," he says. "If they look right to me, then that's good enough."

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Washington, D.C. is a predictable place and the bureaucrats, politicians and pundits who work here aren't a group that surprises easily, which is why this next story caught our eye. It starts with a guy named Reid Cherlin. He was a White House spokesman for President Obama in his first term. Now Cherlin is a political contributor for GQ magazine.

Last year, Cherlin was invited to appear on a morning show on C-SPAN. Totally normal, this sort of thing happens to D.C. pundits all the time.


MARTIN: It all went fine, nothing out of the ordinary. Then last month, Cherlin was sitting in his apartment when all of a sudden...

REID CHERLIN: I got a notification on my phone of a strange-looking tweet with a link I didn't recognize. And I clicked on the link and it pulled up a sort of grotesque sketch of my own face.


CHERLIN: And it scared me considerably.


MARTIN: Cherlin says after he calmed down he decided to investigate. He started clicking around on the website with his portrait on it, and he started seeing other drawings of people he knew. It was a blog.

CHERLIN: A blog where a man named Michael McCutcheon sketches all of the guests on C-SPAN's morning programming.


MARTIN: There were pictures of Washington politicos of all stripes, but not exactly as they had imagined themselves from their C-SPAN appearances.



ANNIE LOWREY: I'm Annie Lowrey. I'm an economic policy reporter for The New York Times.


LOWREY: To be honest, I'm very flattered. Like, I don't think anybody has ever drawn me before. My face is a little bit elongated...


LOWREY: ...and I have an Adam's apple.


LOWREY: And it's - I have what appears to be an older man's nose, but otherwise spot on.


MARTIN: Reid Cherlin wanted to know more about the man behind these sketches. So he reached out to the artist, Michael McCutcheon.

CHERLIN: I mentioned it in passing to my sister who said, you know, you should really be careful - this is someone who's been staring at your face.


CHERLIN: But that just sort of made it all the more interesting. And I got an email from Michael saying: I'm a 73-year-old retiree in Texas and I'd be happy to answer any question you have.

MARTIN: Cherlin found out all kinds of things about the man who had sketched him. For starters, that he didn't have any kind of artistic training and how little connection he actually feels towards his subjects.

Again, Reid Cherlin.

CHERLIN: Being a former Washington person, and still having a lot of friends in politics and journalism in the Capitol, I think we have this impulse to think, oh, this man is interested in us. But actually...

MICHAEL MCCUTCHEON: It's just pretty much of a random thing.

MARTIN: Ladies and gentlemen: Michael McCutcheon. He likes politics. But when it comes to the pundits he draws, he's pretty apathetic. Really, it's just something to occupy his time in the morning hours.

MCCUTCHEON: Bright and early or sun-up, have my oatmeal and sit down on the couch about 12 feet from the screen there - it's a 41-inch flat screen. And I have a clipboard with some 50-pound paper and all lead pencils. And that's about it.

MARTIN: But not everyone - I mean a lot of people watch C-SPAN and not everyone might find artistic inspiration in C-SPAN, shall we say.


MCCUTCHEON: Well, you know, if you go anywhere else and you're trying to find someone to draw a picture of, they're moving around and you only get a couple of seconds at it. And these folks are there for, you know, 15 or 20 minutes, sometime. And so they're just a talking head, I guess.


MARTIN: And what about the criticism from these talking heads that his sketches are not always true to life? Well, McCutcheon says that's the point.

MCCUTCHEON: I really don't care how they come out, you know. I mean, if they look right to me, then, you know that's...


MCCUTCHEON: ...that's good enough.


MARTIN: Reid Cherlin's story about Michael McCutcheon at his blog appears in the New Republic.


MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR news. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.