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Just Science: Identification: Just Drawing Knowledge from a Forensic Artist

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2019
2 pages

This second episode of the Identification season of the NIJ-funded Just Science podcast series consists of an audio interview with Suzanne Birdwell - a forensic artist with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Chair of the International Association of Identification (IAI) Forensic Art Science and Practice committee - who discusses sketching from memory, facial reconstruction, age progression, and other aspects of forensic artistry.


Birdwell first discusses what brought her into the field of forensic artistry. She was active as an artist prior to being drawn into art's use in forensic science. She indicates having done work as a forensic artist in approximately 700 cases. She discusses the various types of roles the forensic artist could have in cases managed by law enforcement agencies. She first describes the forensic artist's work with victims/witnesses who have a visual memory either of a person they saw committing a crime or who had committed a crime against themselves as a victim. The interview is a progressive effort between the victim/witness and the forensic artist in developing a sketch that accurately captures the visual memory of of the victim/witness. Another function of the forensic artist is to develop the facial features from the skull of a skeletonized decedent for the purpose of identifying him/her. Another function of the forensic artist is to develop a sketch of a missing person for whom there is no photo. Such a sketch is developed through interviews with persons who know the missing person. In addition, forensic artists develop age-progression sketches of known offenders who have escaped arrest for a number of years or of persons who have been missing for years. The enhancement of video images of offenders is also done by forensic artists.

Date Published: February 1, 2019