What is a Composite Drawing?
Many are fascinated by my work with the police. Being a forensic artist certainly is an interesting twist to my career. But what exactly is a composite drawing? Many think it is an actual portrait of a suspect, but they would be wrong.
A composite drawing is a mere representation of an individual. It is a verbal description of the characteristics remembered by a witness or victim. The characteristics are drawn as the witness recounts what they’ve seen. And the final drawing creates a “category” of characteristics to look for, not a portrait of a certain individual.
What a composite is designed for is to narrow the field of possible suspects. It is more about eliminating suspects than it is about zeroing in on one person. It is an aid to the officers and detectives, telling them the type of individual to look for. By giving them this visual profile, they know which people NOT to look at, and instead, focus on a small group that resembles the composite.
Many will comment how the composite and the mug shot do not look that much alike. That is quite typical, for you are drawing a memory, not looking at anything real. But, the composite, no matter how weak it may be, has still done its job. It has narrowed the possibilities, and given the officers enough look alike characteristics to take a second look at someone.
Sometimes, your witness will be good at describing things, and you can become somewhat of a team, making the process a fun game. People like the feeling of being included, and feeling like they are helping. But sometimes, the trauma of being a victim interferes with their memory. Fear, pain, and feeling vulnerable, will often have them not wanting to remember, to the point of blocking things out. This is when I believe my personal skills help the police the most.
I have a very relaxed interview technique. Being that I am older, and a female, I can be very easy to talk to. I can be nurturing is I need to be. Often, especially in cases of sexual assault, the witness will confide in me more than they would a uniformed officer. Since I don’t represent authority in their eyes, they no longer fear a right or wrong answer. In cases like this, the art becomes second to the psychology. All you can do is the best you can with the drawing, for any composite is better than nothing at all.
To work with my witnesses, I have facial identification catalogs I let them look at. These are books provided by the FBI with photos of thousands of faces and facial features. No one could do a very good job of describing something out of the air. Even describing your own mother would be a problem, without something to refer to. By showing me facial features that remind them of what they saw, we can compile a pretty close representation. The catalogs are divided into categories of each facial feature. Going from head shape, to face shape, and then eyes, nose and mouth, the witness selects possible combinations for me. Through the process of elimination we work together as a team to complete the drawing.
The following composites represent how they look at the end. Some of these are very poor reproductions, because the police take the originals and enter them into their property. But, you can see how they look very lifelike and give the officers what they need.
I have a very high apprehension rate with the work that I do. Many cases are solved very quickly, once the drawing is put on the news. I have chosen deliberately to not show the mug shots of the criminals apprehended as well, although admittedly it is fun to see how close some of them get. But, criminal or not, I believe their right to privacy should be protected, and I do not want to use the misfortune of others as a way to boost my personal agenda.
Art #1 This composite shows a rough complexion and a necklace the assailant was wearing.
Art #2 This composite describes high cheek bones and a hooded sweatshirt.
Art #3 This composite also shows a rough complexion and distinct facial feature.
Art #4 This composite shows recognizable facial hair.
One of the benefits of a artist drawn composite is the fact that I can capture unusual characteristics. Often these things are not easily created with a computer program. I can draw things in like a easily recognized tattoo, or an identifiable scar. I can create unusual hairstyles, broken teeth, clothing, and bad complexions. All of these things can help narrow the field of possible suspects.
I can also draw inanimate objects, such as jewelry, or personal items that have been stolen. When something that is “one of a kind” goes missing, there is nothing but a photo to say what it looked like. When photos are not available, I can step in and create the visual instead.
Identifying Unusual Characteristics
This is an example of creating unusual traits. In this composite, I was able to recreate his memorable facial hair, as well as a unique scar he had on his forearm.
In this drawing, I was able to recreate a recognizable tatto that the criminal had on his chest.
Drawings From Videos
This example is a drawing I did from a video surveillance camera. While the image was a still shot taken from an actual video recording, I was able to create a drawing of what the individual would look like based on what I could see.
In this age of photos and videos, more and more crime is now being captured on film. When the image is such that enhancement cannot be done well enough to publicize, I can help create a better visual to aid the police and help the public with the case.