A facial reconstruction begins with the factual details from these reports. All information about race, gender, age, height, and weight are crucial because reconstructions are based on tissue depth charts that are set from these parameters. When we have remains where we can’t determine the weight, we use the normal weight for that type frame.
Creating facial reconstructions for young children can be especially difficult. In the past, we lacked information for this age group; new research specific to children now allows us to create more accurate work for them. As Caroline Wilkinson states in Forensic Facial Reconstruction, “Until 1963, there were no published juvenile facial tissue depth measurements, and anthro-pometrical studies concentrated on facial growth patterns rather than facial standards. However, there has been a great deal of anthropological research into age and sex determination, and the growth of juvenile skulls.”1 Most age determinations of preadolescent children are now based on dentition formations. Determining gender in very young children, however, can still be challenging because there are few facial differences present between males and females until puberty.
Forensic artists may also provide separate drawings for specific details to accompany the main forensic artwork. For example, artists will sometimes render an enlarged detail drawing of the mouth and teeth area to bring attention to problems like a chipped front tooth or dental caries. These features would stand out in someone’s mind and might help them make an identification. An artist might also create a single view or a detailed image of scars, tattoos, or other distinguishing marks. Drawings can also be made of jewelry worn by the deceased. Again, these details cannot be overlooked because they are closely associated with the person whose identity is being sought.
But the forensic artist’s work extends beyond trying to accurately record the anatomical features of the victim. Any good artwork should breathe a bit of life back into that person. Gary Faigin explains this point in The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expression: “In [Leonardo da Vinci’s] case, the result of all his meticulous effort was not just anatomical drawings. The men in his battle scenes, just like the women in his portraits, have faces more real and more alive, than any that had appeared in paintings before. Science in the service of art led to the mastery of expression.”2
In other words, the forensic artist must stay within the rules of facial reconstruction procedures, but the artist can take a certain amount of restricted license to recreate a personality type. For example, the artist can look for clues to the victim’s personality from the victim’s appearance. After all, we present an image of ourselves to the world with our clothes, hairstyle, and other accoutrements, and artists through the ages have been man’s reporter and recorder of his times and era. From the choices the deceased made about his or her appearance, the artist may gain some insight into the type of activity he or she was preparing for. The artist may also find other clues at the scene. For example, a broken bracelet or only one earring may be significant in identification. Used appropriately, these clues can add important details to forensic drawings.
On the other hand, forensic artists should be careful to present the victim as he or she most typically appeared. Even if the deceased was found with a very formal hairstyle, for example, the artist should probably make the deceased person’s appearance less like “just out of the beauty shop” and more like every day. After all, this is probably how this person appeared to family, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances.