Forensic Art 101

To better understand what forensic art is, it helps to know what forensic artists do, which is, Composite ImageryAge Progressions and Image Modifications, Facial Approximations from the SkullPost-Mortem Imagery, and Demonstrative Evidence (such as trial charts used in the courtroom)

composite sketchCOMPOSITES are the one type of forensic art that you are probably the most are familiar with. These are the drawings or computer images that you see in the newspaper with headlines like, ”composite sketch released in search of robbery suspect” or “suspect sketch released in area stabbing incident.”

Traditionally, a “composite sketch” meant that the image was hand-drawn by an artist with pencil and paper, and a “composite image” was assembled with a computer application. With the advances in software technology, those distinctions have become blurred. Now, artists can draw directly on a computer screen with a digital pencil, and computer operators can assemble sketch-like images without ever having taken an art course. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine exactly how a composite was created just by looking at it anymore, and in the end it really doesn’t matter. Whether it’s called a composite sketch, drawing, or image, the purpose is the same: to provide police with leads to the identity of the person depicted.  Continue Reading…

age progression fugitiveAGE PROGRESSIONS of adults are pretty much what they sound like: “He’s been gone for 15 years, so take this photo and make him look like he’s 50 years old and balding.” These are done in cases of endangered missing adults as well as fugitives, all in the hopes of generating renewed public interest and fresh leads for investigators. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but forensic artists don’t have any special gifts or psychic ability to predict what someone will look like in the future. What we do have is in-depth knowledge of facial anatomy, we’ve studied aging patterns of the face, and we have the artistic ability to illustrate those changes. Continue Reading…

facial approximation skullFACIAL APPROXIMATIONS are drawings and sculptures created from an unidentified human skull. These are the coldest of all cold cases. By the time a skull makes it to a forensic artist, all other means of identification have been exhausted. Years, or even decades, have passed. This is why a facial approximation can literally be the last chance that person has to be identified. Which means it can also be the last chance for that person’s killer to be identified. Remember, the investigator can’t begin to find out who the murderer is until they know the name of the victim.
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post mortemPOST-MORTEMS are drawings or retouched images of unidentified people from morgue photos. Death at the hands of another is horrific and violent and awful, and these are the faces forensic artists see every day. Our job is to do the forensic version of what mortuary specialists do. We digitally heal the broken bones, bullet wounds, and decomposition on the faces of the dead so they can be released to the public.

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