This article has been republished with the the author's permission.
It was initially published on the Orange County Sheriff's Office Composite Drawings Web site.


Composite drawings are the main function of the forensic artist, also known as a "sketch artist," or "police artist."  Composite drawings are drawings done by an artist at the direction of a witness or victim, of someone they saw committing a crime.  Composites are a conglomeration of features that make up a generic person.  They are a witness, or victim's, memory of a real person recalled to the artist for rendering. 


Successful Composites,
This artistís techniques  

 I start the drawing by having the witness go through the FBIís FIC (Facial Identification Catalog) feature by feature. I always start by having the witness look through the FIC for the shapes of the suspectís head, or face.  This is very important because the shape of the head is one of the three main components to getting close to the suspectís actual look.  I stress itís importance. I set my drawing up on my paper before every composite.  This is also important because it keeps all the drawings to a certain scale and helps with symmetry.  
  I then move on to the suspectís eyes.  I rush the witness just a little bit so they donít make themselves crazy looking at all the different eyes.  I explain the importance of choosing only the closest set of eyes.  I let the witness know features can be changed, or fine-tuned, when the line drawing is completed.  I make sure the witness understands they should concentrate but not get frustrated by all the choices.        
Once they choose a set of eyes, I sketch in the eyes and eye brows of the eyes they chose.  I donít want to nit-pick them on features.  Eyebrows donít normally make or break a likeness so, if they remember specifics I will note it, if not I skip the eyebrow section.  

  I use a regular #2 pencil because it is harder than my finishing pencil, erases easier, and draws lighter.  I have the witness start looking at noses while I sketch the eyes.  I draw the nose while I have the witness looking for a mouth. 
  I draw the mouth while the witness looks through the chins.  I draw the chin and sides of the face, after referring back to the shape of the face.  I always draw the top of the head with just the forehead.  I always put generic ears on, unless they were a feature the witness remembered specifically.   
I get the witness to find the hairstyle somewhere in the book.  Once the line drawing is completed I have the witness look it over.  I make changes by erasing with the kneadable eraser and re-sketching until the drawing is as close to the suspect as the witness can remember.  I have the witness rate the line drawing on a scale of one to ten, "ten" being a portrait (really close), and "one" being no where near close.  Now, with the line drawing as close to the suspect as the witness can remember, I add skin tone and shading.   
  I use a 9b woodless pencil because it is soft, goes on dark, and smudges easily.  I get good contrast between lights and darks.  Shading takes practice.  Achieving a good skin tone is important because it will make the composite believable. After, the composite has skin tone it should appear closer in the rating scale, or at least no change.