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Book Review of Forensic Art and Illustration (by Taylor), by Taister (Forensic Science Communications, January 2001)

Book Review of Forensic Art and Illustration (by Taylor), by Taister (Forensic Science Communications, January 2001)

January 2001 - Volume 3 - Number 1

Book Review

Forensic Art and Illustration

By Karen T. Taylor
CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, 2000
ISBN 0-8493-8118-5

Reviewed by:

Michael A. Taister
Forensic Artist
Investigative and Prosecutive Graphic Unit
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, DC

With the success of the Timothy McVeigh composite drawing, many law enforcement agencies have taken notice of forensic facial imaging. Karen T. Taylor’s Forensic Art and Illustration, a comprehensive text that examines forensic art and its role in criminal investigation, is a book essential not only to law enforcement and criminal justice personnel but also to forensic and social anthropologists, police artists, and mental health care professionals who assist crime victims. Beginning with a history of the field, Forensic Art and Identification contains information concerning the sensitive interviewing of a violent crime victim with the intent of getting a physical description and explains the concept of and requirements for completing professional forensic images, composite drawings, face-to-skull reconstructions, and facial aging or postmortem drawings, among others.

Forensic Art and Illustration is divided into four categories, each of which offers a step-by-step explanation of how to proceed with a forensic imaging case. Part 1, “The Foundation,” presents the history of forensic art and details more than a hundred years of forensic artists’ contributions to law enforcement. This introductory section describes the muscular and skeletal anatomy of the skull and face with regard to racial groups and sex as well as generalized facial features and expressions. Guidelines for drawing faces, hair, and accessories such as hats and glasses are accompanied by suggested tools and techniques for the drawing process in the latter half of this section. Taylor also highlights differences in drawing styles and facial proportions and includes a section on improving drawing skills.

Approximately 60 pages in Part 2, “Forensic Art: Finding and Identifying the Living,” are dedicated to interviewing a witness—the most important process in creating a forensic drawing or composite sketch. Taylor’s discussion of memory, interviewing techniques, witness psychology, and stages in creating a forensic composite will enable artists to conduct an effective legal interview and produce a drawing suitable for use in criminal investigations and the courts. This section also includes an analysis of composite imagery, which describes the appropriateness and value of various media used to prepare a facial image. Descriptions and discussions of individual expressions and the dental and facial changes that occur naturally with age and growth, especially as seen in missing children and adult fugitives, conclude this section.

Part 3, “Identifying the Dead,” describes the various methods forensic artists can use to reconstruct a face for identification purposes based on morgue photographs or a skull. These methods are illustrated by case examples created using two- and three-dimensional techniques and demonstrate that facial reconstruction is the last and, perhaps, best means of identifying an unknown individual. As explained in Forensic Art and Identification, a facial reconstruction is more than just the application of clay to a skull—it is a mixture of science and art. Taylor emphasizes the importance of a collaborative relationship with a forensic anthropologist and other science professionals who can determine the age, sex, and race of an unidentified skull. This section, expertly cowritten by Betty Pat Gatliff, explains the techniques of facial reconstruction in detail, beginning with the preparation of the skull and the addition of tissue depth markers and concluding with the sculpting of the mouth, eyes, and nose.

In Part 4, “Additional Responsibilities,” Taylor presents a segment concerning professional ethics and conduct. This information is extremely important and should be considered a high priority for anyone in the field of forensic art. Especially interesting in this section is the discussion of forensic art in court, which includes evidence handling, expert testimony, and relevant case law. This legal section also targets the related topics of hypnosis and the admissibility of forensic art in the courtroom.

Composite artists, readers interested in police art, individuals seeking careers in forensic art, and anyone who may someday require the skills of a composite artist will benefit from Forensic Art and Illustration. With more than 800 illustrative photographs and drawings, Taylor’s well-referenced text provides an intensive analysis of the training required to create accurate and effective facial reconstructions and enables the reader to differentiate among forensic artists and fine or graphic artists. The numerous case examples accompanying each artistic technique featured in Forensic Art and Illustration vividly explain how the work of a forensic artist can be an invaluable asset in criminal investigations. Agencies and organizations that do not yet have a composite or forensic artist staff position or which will likely require or benefit from the skills of an artist at some point in the future will find this text especially informative.


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