go to Reviewsgo to Servicesgo to Registered Usersgo to Resource Centrego to AbleStable: Helpgo to About Us
go to AbleStable: Home Articles
go to Search

go to Exhibitions Centre
  The creative life: exploring the world of creative professionals
go to Help
go to Resource Centre
go to Library
go to Articles
go to E-Books
go to Glossary
go to Reviews
go to Web Link
Library > Articles > The Creative Life > 011

E-mail this web page address to a friend or colleague
Enter their email address below (no record is kept of this action)


Forensic Art: Little Known, Highly Effective
Contributor: Wesley Neville

Uncovering the profession of the forensic artist, this article provides a rare insight into a valuable speciality of law enforcement.

The 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 cold case.

My 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 Sheriff’s 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.

The 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.

Composite Drawing
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, to homicide.

Three-dimensional facial reconstruction
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 skull’s 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.

Two-dimensional reconstruction
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 victim’s 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 artist’s 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 victim’s family to put the element of the "unknown" to rest.

Crime-scene sketches
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
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
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.

Production techniques
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 poster’s 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 or agency.

Photo line-ups are also assembled by forensic artists; offering investigators professional, non-biased, court ready line-ups.

Other duties of the forensic artist
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 forensic artist.

Take care, and stay safe.

Authors background
Wesley Neville is an expert forensic artist with many years experience in
the field. He offers advice, articles and more about forensic art on his website together with a number of related services including: Composite Drawing; Two-dimensional Facial Reconstruction (Hand Drawn); Decomposition Sketching; Three-dimensional Clay Facial Reconstruction; Fugitive Age-Progression; Image Enhancement; and Missing Persons Age-Progression.

Wesley can be contacted by emailing and his website can be found at

Copyright Notice
Although our contents are free to browse, copyright resides with the originators of all works accessed at AbleStable®, and unauthorised copying or publication of our site contents is strictly prohibited.

AbleStable © 2002-2007

 All Material: AbleStable © 2002-2007
go to Frequently Asked Questionsgo to Feedbackgo to Press Centrego to Privacy Statement