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Composite drawing is the most widely known application of forensic art. Composite drawing uses descriptions given by witnesses to create a drawing that is a useful tool for identifying or eliminating a suspect.
A composite drawing is not intended to be a portrait of an individual, but more of a two-dimensional likeness that is a visual record of the witness' recollections.
Creating a composite drawing requires skill that goes beyond the technical. The artist must also be able to interview and relate to the witness, eliciting valuable information that will form the basis of the drawing. A composite drawing is made in three stages. First, the artist will block out the facial proportions—whether the suspect has a long chin, for instance, or a wide forehead.
Then they will fill in shapes of facial characteristics, such as a bulbous nose or thin lips. Finally, shading is used to create facial form and texture.
Sometimes, the very process of talking to the artist will bring up other important facts and memories from the witness. The drawing can be a powerful corroboration of a witness statement.
The advantage of a composite drawing is that it can be widely circulated—in newspapers, on message boards, or by fax or email to interested individuals.