Art: Little Known, Highly Effective
the profession of the forensic artist, this article
provides a rare insight into a valuable speciality
of law enforcement.
role of forensic artist
Who needs a forensic artist? The answer is simple
-- every law enforcement agency! When law enforcement
officials arrive at the scene of a crime and there
is no evidence other than a child witness, the case
is often at a standstill, and countless man-hours
are utilized in an attempt to identify the perpetrator
of the crime. This is where the Forensic Artist
comes in. Many criminal cases are eventually shelved
due to lack of evidence and workable leads. The
forensic artist breaths new life into an otherwise
passion for forensic art
Let me first introduce myself. My name is Wesley
Neville. I grew up in South Florida; and moved to
Dillon, South Carolina in 1986. This is my 15th
year in law enforcement, working my way through
the ranks with several different departments. In
1998, I became a member of an innovative, progressive
department The Florence County Sheriffs
Office in Florence, South Carolina, where I supervise
and maintain the Forensic Art / Polygraph Unit.
In 1994 I discovered an aspect of law enforcement
that would quickly develop into not only a job,
but also a passion. That passion is Forensic Art.
skills a forensic artist employs
Little is known about the forensic art profession
and what the forensic artist has to offer. Throughout
history, forensic artists have been utilized for
a wide variety of services. These services include
composite drawing, three-dimensional facial reconstruction,
two-dimensional facial reconstruction, hand drawn
or computerized crime scene sketching, computerized
and hand drawn age-progressions, image enhancement,
wanted poster development, video enhancement, demonstrative
evidence, custom photo line-up assemblage, and general
art related duties.
The most common and well-known service the forensic
artist provides is composite drawing. Composites
are drawn for several reasons; first and foremost,
to identify an otherwise unknown suspect of a crime.
Composites can also be used to eliminate suspects.
By eliminating suspects, time and money is saved
pursuing alibis, interrogation, etc. When used in
the proper manner, composites are a valuable investigative
tool; they are media friendly, allow for public
involvement, and can be sent out to agencies by
utilizing the quality faxing / e-mail capabilities
of the personal computer. By using this method of
distribution, all departments, and news media, have
the information in their hands to perhaps assist
in a quick identification and apprehension of the
suspect. Composites can be used for any crime involving
an unidentified suspect, ranging from shoplifting,
When skeletal remains are found, and the victim
remains unidentified after traditional means of
identification fail, investigators may call upon
the forensic artist to utilize the three-dimensional
facial reconstruction technique. The three-dimensional
process is initiated by placing the skull on a workable
stand, where the skull can easily be tilted and
turned in all directions. The skull must be positioned
in the Frankfort Horizontal position. Tissue markers
are glued directly onto the skull. The tissue markers
size are determined by scientific data accumulated
over the years and determined by race, gender, and
age. Artificial eyes are placed in the skulls
eye sockets, centered and at the proper depth. Clay
is systematically applied directly on the skull,
following the skull's contours -- paying strict
attention to the applied tissue markers. Various
measurements are made, and logged, to determine
nose thickness/length, mouth thickness/width, and
eye placement. Information such as geographic location
of where the deceased lived, his or her lifestyle,
and the various information provided to the artist
by the Forensic Anthropologist and other professionals,
is heavily relied upon when completing the reconstruction.
Hair is accomplished by means of a wig, or by applying
clay to represent hair. Various items (props), such
as glasses, clothing, hats, etc. may be applied
to better accentuate the features of the individual.
Upon completion, the sculpture is photographed.
All procedures are documented and working notes
collected. When executed properly, this technique
is proven to have a high success rate.
As with the three-dimensional technique, the two-dimensional
reconstruction may be used when unidentified skeletal
remains are found. The two-dimensional reconstruction
process is initiated by utilizing the same data
as used for the Three-dimensional clay reconstruction.
The process begins by gluing on the proper tissue
markers in the proper predetermined locations. The
skull is then placed on a stand in the Frankfort
Horizontal position. The skull is photographed;
profile and frontal views, at a 1:1 scale, with
a ruler positioned aside of the skull. The photos
are then enlarged to life size 1 to 1 dimension.
The frontal and profile photos are then taped, in
the Frankfort Horizontal position, directly aside
one another on two separate flat boards. Upon completion
of the above process, transparent natural vellum
sheets are taped directly over the printed photographs.
Sketching begins, where the artist follows the contours
of the skull, along with using the tissue markers
as guidelines. Measurements for the mouth, nose,
and eyes, is the same for the Two-dimensional process
as it is with the Three-dimensional process. Hair
type and style is determined by samples found on
the scene by investigators, or by educated estimation
determined by victims race, gender, and/or
ethnic background. Information provided by the Forensic
Anthropologist and other professionals is also utilized.
All procedures are documented and working notes
collected. This method has also been tried and proved
over the years. Benefits of this method over the
clay reconstruction are cost and completion time.
Another method of Two-dimensional identification
is that of reconstructing a face from a decomposing
body. Utilizing the artists knowledge of the
face, how the soft tissue lies on the skull, and
a general knowledge of how the human body reacts
to decomposition, the artist can make educated estimations
on how an individual may have appeared prior to
death. All methods of facial reconstruction allow
the investigators, and the media, the opportunity
to put a face with the victim, and a possibility
of a speedy identification saving man-hours,
and allowing the victims family to put the
element of the "unknown" to rest.
Crime-scene sketches can either be computer generated
or hand drawn. A Forensic Artist possesses the talent,
knowledge, and necessary tools to complete a polished,
court ready crime-scene sketch. Software such as
AutoCAD and Corel Draw are ideal for computer generated
crime scenes. This allows the investigator to bring
to court a professional presentation, thus, resulting
in a higher conviction rate.
Computer-Generated and hand-drawn age-progressions
are done both for suspect and victim identification.
Family members of persons that have been missing
for an extended period of time, as well as investigators
can benefit from an age-progression. The most common
usage for the age-progression is to assist in the
capture of wanted fugitives. Often, suspects are
wanted for crimes and have not been located; the
only available photographs are outdated. The artist
then takes into consideration all the variables
involved with the natural process of the aging of
the human face. Information is gathered on the suspect
or victim, such as: lifestyle, genetics (for weight
considerations) and hair loss, occupations, etc.
By utilizing all this information, the artist can
produce an educated estimation on how the individual
should look. When doing age-progressions with the
computer, programs like PhotoShop are used to paint
directly on a digitized photograph of the suspect.
When a quality photograph is not available, a hand
drawn sketch may be done in lieu of the computer;
both methods are tried and proved.
Image enhancement is used on images such as bank
surveillance photographs, convenient store video,
parking lot surveillance cameras, and unclear photographs
of suspects. By utilizing graphics and photo retouching
software, the artist can "clean up" photographs
that are too dark, too light, or scratched or damaged.
The artist can also use Image enhancement as a means
of image manipulation. This process can be a valuable
investigative tool. By using image enhancement,
accessories such as hats, hairstyles, moustaches,
glasses, etc. can be added. When a photograph cannot
be enhanced, a sketch may be completed. Several
photos of the same individual taken at different
times and/or angles allow the artist to piece together
different features of that individual.
By using software similar to the ones utilized for
the above techniques, Flyers, business cards, letterheads,
etc. can be designed and developed by the artist.
When the forensic artist designs wanted person flyers
for distribution, he or she can assure that the
finished product is professional and accurate. It
is proven that the greater the professionalism of
the posters appearance, the better the likeliness
is that it will be noticed; subsequently, resulting
in a better chance for subject identification. The
artist is also adept at developing Demonstrative
Evidence such as flow charts, graphs, and other
courtroom presentations. This is a valuable service,
and again will reflect highly on the department
Photo line-ups are also assembled by forensic artists;
offering investigators professional, non-biased,
court ready line-ups.
Other duties of the forensic
General Art related duties, including sketches of
tattoos, jewellery, clothing, birthmarks, hats,
personnel, and special event posters. The artist
may also be adept in web page development. Any art
related duties might be completed by a competent
Take care, and stay safe.