Forensic Artistry – Design in the Crime…

Skulls on a Beach: "Currents carry many d...

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OK here is a newer forensic field which you may not of heard about before.

Forensic Artistry – Using skills as an artist to re-create the features of a person or to enhance images to show that person older than what the original image shows…


Try this………


Age progressions….

That’s all I could think of when I saw these pictures I’m about to point you to.  Imagine you are asked to do an age progession, and they only want to add 2-3 years to the person (usually we’re talking a fugitive age progressionhere.)  Age progressing a kid a couple years is one thing, there are definite changes depending on what age you are starting from.  But in an adult? Not much to do, unless you have  a great lead or something…maybe massive weight gain or loss,  they know somebody got a nosejob  (not likely, but still….) or changed their hair, or grew a beard. So imagine you got sent this picture, and you were told you age progress her 3 years. What would you do?
Courtesy: Multnomah County Sheriff, Ore.

I might add a tiny bit of gray, a tiny bit of sagging around the eyes, soften the jawline a smidge. After all, it’s only 3 years, right?  And then they bring her in and she looks like this:

Courtesy: Multnomah County Sheriff, Ore.

WHOA. This is the effect that methamphetamines have on a person. And this is something all forensic artists need to keep in mind when they are age-progressing a fugitive. After all, you start with a picture of a fresh-faced kid at 18, it’s hard to image them as a 30 year old that looks more like 60. But it can happen if drugs, and especially meth, is involved. I think when age progressing someone, unless you know they are an art dealer that has absconded to Bermuda with a stolen Picasso, or some kind of software tycoon, keep in the back of your mind you might need to make them look worse than their years. Of course, you need to go on what the officer is telling you that he knows about the person. If someone is a health nut (and yes, some fugitives are) then they would most likely not turn to drugs. The officer or agent requesting the age-progression will know more about this person than you, so listen to what they have to say. And if your bad guy is on the run,  already has a history with other drug use…..well, it’s something to keep in the back of your head. I know I’m going to pay more attention to this from now on.

To see the entire photo gallery (and prepare to be shocked) go to  ”The Faces of Meth: Before and After.”

Age Progression

How age progressions work

I won’t attempt to explain all the science behind the human brain, which neurons are firing in which lobe when we are able to recognize someone when even years or decades have passed.  I’m sure there is some research and study on that, and I’d be happy to link to it in the future. But that’s not the point right now….

What I do know is that I was watching “The Pacific” the other night, and there was one early scene where a doctor is examining a patient, a young man, and I was looking at his face, thinking “Where do I know him? Where have I seen him?“  Just a few seconds passed, and it popped in my head: “the kid from Jurassic Park.”

And guess what, that’s exactly who it was. I recognized someone that was a child actor in a movie 17 years ago. It turns out his name is Joseph Mazzello (I had to go to IMDB to find that out….sorry, Joseph):

Photo courtesy


…and he grew up from this little boy here in Jurassic Park:

Photo courtesy

Jurassic Park  came out in 1993, and I’ve probably seen it a couple times since then, but still….17 years?? I can honestly say that I haven’t seen him in any of the other shows listed…he was in one episode of CSI, but apparently I didn’t see that one.   I just think it’s an amazing thing that humans can recognize someone from that long ago. We have incredible recognition capabilities. Years and even decades can pass, and still, it works. So what was it? It was mostly his eyes that caught me, and his mouth. Given that his facial proportions changed wildly over those years (and proportion is one of the key factors in facial recognition) makes that all the more amazing to me.

Which gives all forensic artists a shot in the arm, because we work on age progressions of fugitives where we may be adding a good 30 years to them. And sometimes we wonder, “Is this going to be any help at all?” Yes, it sure could.

Or, consider the excellent artists at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), this is the type of work they do, day in and day out (go click that link and see some of the amazing work they do). They do it with an impressive success rate as well. They’ve taken photos of children, age progressed them by any number of years, and the child was found looking startling similar to the artist’s conception.

Which makes all forensic artists look good. Thanks, NCMEC.

****ALERT!!*** Boy, talk about great timing! I wrote this post days ago, posted it hours ago, and now just saw that practically seconds ago, Joe Mullins posted a news story on his“Forensic Art Talk” page about NCMEC, featuring forensic artist Steve Loftin. Steve did some incredible age progression work  on two missing little girls, the Lyon sisters, who would be in their 40′s now. NCMEC keeps these cases open until they know what happened. That’s just remarkable, and inspiring. So, please, check out this news story HERE.


“I’m in high school and want to be a Forensic Artist. What should I do?”

At this point…stay out of trouble. Seriously, at this part of your life, the most important thing you can do, more important than any art or science class you can take, is to stay out of trouble. And by that I mean, drugs, alcohol, anything that could lead to a police record.

The fact is that most forensic artists work in Law Enforcement (LE); most do composite sketches or facial reconstructions as part of their work in an agency. They could be a detective, a patrol officer, crime scene tech, whatever. But they have a steady, full-time job in LE, and do the forensic art in addition to that. And getting a job in LE when you have a police record, or have shown a pattern of bad behavior is going to make things tougher on you. Maybe not impossible, but still, tougher than it needs to be.

If you’re a good kid and intend on staying that way, then consider what type of full-time job you would want to have in LE, and work towards that. Of course, take some art classes, and work on your drawing skills too. But being a part of LE is the most necessary step to getting work as a forensic artist. Get your foot in the door there, and then the opportunities to being a forensic artist can open up. You’ll still have to work at that part though, by getting forensic art training, talking to your supervisors and letting them know how sending you out on a composite sketch could help a case. But you’ll be where the work is.

So how do you go about gettting a job in LE? I just found a very helpful website called Discover Policing that can probably give you all the information you will need.


Q: I am interested in a career doing facial reconstruction. It seems that all the jobs go to those in law enforcement. I really want to help victims and families, so where do I start?

A: This is the short answer…and I promise to write several blog posts in the coming days outlining it more:

1) Possess art talent: If you don’t have any innate skill in drawing and sculpting, then you will be at a severe disadvantage. Don’t spend your money taking a forensic art or facial reconstruction class… yet.

2) Research to see how many unidentified victims (UIDs) are in your city/state: A couple sites to check out are and If there aren’t many, there is likely not much need for your services (so you may have to move if really want to pursue this). But if there are:

3) Become employed by a law enforcement (LE) agency or medical examiner’s (ME) office in some capacity.
This is because a skull is evidence, and part of a LE investigation, and they will NOT hand it over to anyone that is not an employee of an agency.  There are a handful of artists that are the exception to this rule, and trust me, they have earned that spot. If you’re just starting out in the  field, the skulls won’t be going to you.

4) Learn the inner workings of the agency: If you took a facial reconstruction class, would they let you do a facial reconstruction? This is where you might hit a brick wall: *Not every agency or medical examiner believes in facial reconstruction so they may give an emphatic NO!*And they’ll likely stick to their guns.

Many artists already in LE have run into this, and they will never do a facial recon unless they move somewhere else, or the people that said “no” move somewhere else, or retire.

5) If they say YES, take several facial reconstruction classes: One 1-week class is generally not enough to do this work and do it justice (check my training page.) There’s no sense in spending hundreds or thousands of dollars taking classes before you know whether the agency will let you do one. Plus, you will probably have to pay out of your own pocket. Every artist I know has had to pay for their own classes at some point…another reality of the field.

6) If they say NO: you will probably have to move to find an agency that will allow you to do facial reconstruction.

This is why it is so hard to get into forensic art: The work is in law enforcement. You generally need to join first, then dig in your heels from there.

And..even then, you will have do it as a sideline to your regular job in LE. There are probably less than 50 full-time forensic atists out there, and they do all facets of the work (composites, age progressions, etc), not just facial reconstruction. I can’t think of anyone that does facial reconstruction as a full-time paying career, 40 hours a week. That  job just simply doesn’t exist.

I would STRONGLY advise anyone reading this to NOT attempt to volunteer in this capacity! Facial reconstructions are the victim’s last chance to be identified; this work should only be done by highly trained people working within a team of anthropologists and other LE professionals.

This is another requirement of forensic artists: let go of your ego and desires. They don’t matter.

Only the victims matter in this line of work.  If any artist forgets that, they are doing a disservice to the victims, and to the field as a whole.

Here is the site all this came from. Its a great site.

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