I thought I would use this guy’s mug shot to talk about something that can easily be the death of a successful composite sketch. Not that there is just one way to kill a composite; there are many, but you have to start somewhere in talking about this. Anyway, I am talking about the use of templates.
Following a template during a composite interview will make your drawing go much faster, and yes, it will be “easier” (but not for the witness, mind you).Your drawing will probably look well put-together and polished when it’s done. However, in most cases the resulting composite sketch will very likely have little to no resemblance whatsoever to the bad guy the victim was trying to describe. Why?
Because faces don’t follow templates. We are individuals because of our differences, and how we differ from the “norm”, and what’s average or ideal.
Look at the photo on the left. That’s a real mugshot. This is what an experienced artist would be striving for, by listening to their witness and using their knowledge of facial proportion. Now look at the photo on the right. I Photoshoppe his features to fit on a standard facial template. Big difference, huh?
Notice how normal and average the photo on the right is. Gosh, he’s even better looking! Why is that? I mean, the features are all the same, they’re just moved around and made to fit.
It’s because templates are based on “ideal proportions,” an artistic ideal of what a human face is supposed to look like, and what-features-go-where. For instance, there are “5-eyes” across the width of the face, the nose width goes to the inner corners of the eyes, the mouth is no wider than to the inner edge of the iris, etc. So, even taking average features and arranging them into an ideal placement can instantly make that person better looking. And, probably less like the person you are after.
Unless, of course, your subject is 100% perfectly proportioned in every way. If nothing else, you can determine with just a quick look around your office or dinner table that faces do NOT fall into ideal proportions and symmetry. If you are currently using a template for your composites, and your pencil gravitates to those lines despite what the witness describes, I would urge you to try to break away from the habit. I think most artists use some type of guide, maybe a cross-hair system, or something where the features are not boxed in. Because once you use a template, and you put down those marks of where the features are “supposed” to go, it’s awfully hard to not put them right plunk down in that spot that you outlined, because you already have a preconceived idea of where to put them. And that’s the beginning of the end for your chances of getting the likeness that you need for a successful composite drawing. It also opens up a whole other can of worms relating to leading the witness (and frustrating them as well) but there’s time for that in another post.