Last weekend I got all dolled up to go to the Latke Ball (Portland’s answer to New York & LA’s Matzoh Balls), a yearly blowout where young people in the city can come together to celebrate one night of Chanukah. In years past I have been heavily involved in planning events like this, my typical calendar month held 2-3 major group events. I was looking forward to the chance to get fancy and see some friends. What I didn’t expect was the reaction I got when I turned up at the party- “Oh my god- you’re actually here!” It turns out my study bubble has been a lot more intense than I thought it was; I’ve effectively fallen off the radar in my own community since at least the summer.
So what have I been doing this whole time? Mostly I’ve been reading every forensic art and anthropology book I can get my hands on in coffee shops across the city, making copious notes, and practicing however I can (while also balancing my work as a freelance designer and artist). I thought I’d put together a little overview so my friends know… it’s not you- it’s me (and all of my books). I don’t think this trend is slowing down any time soon, so consider this an open invitation to join me at the coffee shop, or in my living room, and we can nerd out on separate things, together.
Does She Have Any Wrinkles? Composite Practice With Friends
I will note that this was generally a very silly exercise and I recognize that it absolutely does not reflect the seriousness of an actual composite interview.
Composite drawing is a tricky thing to practice, as there are only so many aspects of the interview and drawing process that can be mimicked in a study environment (by yourself, I’m sure workshops are great). It’s generally frowned upon to traumatize your friends for the sake of study, so when my best friend offered to choose some faces to describe to me for the sake of practice, I was all for it. I was unsure if I would get to use much of the interview techniques I had studied, but it turns out, trauma or not, describing a face in detail is not second nature to most people, so I had the chance to ask a variety of clarifying questions.
My favorite clarification exchange went like this:
Me: How old is she- young, mature, senior?
Friend: Um… She’s. Mature.
Me: Ok, does she have any specific wrinkle patterns, smile lines, crows feet maybe?
Friend: Um. No. She doesn’t have any wrinkles.
For this exercise I sat across from my friend while she had a reference picture in view to refer to. We tried to keep the process as serious as possible, but given the un-serious circumstances, I’d say we did the best we could. It was very hard not to laugh when I saw who the miraculously wrinkle-free mature woman was. Together we went through the basic steps of creating a composite drawing, starting with a rough lay in of proportions, moving towards refining the features together (“No, you can see all of her eyelids, and her eyebrows are much higher”), and finally when she was pleased with the likeness she revealed her reference photo to me.
We went through this process twice in an afternoon, the second drawing was much more tricky. The light in the room was beginning to dim, and we went back and forth much more intensively about the shape of the face and features.
How Deep Is Your Face? Making notes, more notes, and better.
As an art student I trained in classical figurative style art- proper anatomy, proportions, and rendering. Most of that knowledge was literally surface level- what we can see with our own two eyes of living subjects. Studying forensic art has required a much deeper dive into scientific anatomy than the one course I took at the age of 18 (where I may have spent half of my time writing haikus to my roommates). My study habits as a young adult were… inconsistent at best.
The difference between studying at the end of my adolescence and studying now as an adult is staggering- mostly because I actually take notes now, and have seen fit to improve on my first scribbles. I have to add the caveat that these charts, while the drawings are done in my own hand, the information has been referenced from Karen T. Taylor’s “Forensic Art and Illustration” and William Bass’ “Human Osteology”.
All I Want For Christmas Is Someone Else’s Front Teeth – Thanks, Family, For Understanding
The most amazing thing I have learned this year has nothing at all to do with forensic art, or scientific anatomy. This year I discovered a well of support and faith from my family and friends that I truly never knew the depth of. Last year around this time I had begun exploring skeletal anatomy in my fine art work, by the spring my exploration had turned to direction and study, and by summer I began actively pursuing a career in forensic art. This exploration has pushed me out of my usual comfort zones in many ways, one of the most awkward things I’ve had to get used to is asking for help, but that has enabled me to make the largest strides in my studies. I asked my mom a couple months ago if it would be an insane thing to ask for a skull for Christmas- not really expecting anything would come of it. This weekend (compromising timing between Chanukah and Christmas), I was presented with a 3D printed skull that I can practice facial reconstruction on.
Thank you to everyone who has been so generous to me- with their time, their patience when listening to me talk about some of the unsavory things I’ve learned, and now by providing me with a chance for practical study. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world this holiday season.