Forensic Art Services


A forensic artist is a person who assists law enforcement by combining artistic skills with scientific information to aid in criminal investigations and case prosecutions.

According to the International Association for Identification (IAI):

“It is the responsibility of the investigating officer to pursue every investigative lead. Where one or more witnesses are available to provide descriptions of an unidentified subject, a forensic/composite artist should be able to advise the investigating officer of the forensic art applications that would best contribute to the case. Where appropriate, the forensic/composite artist may also offer advice on the distribution, reproduction, and/or use of any image produced.”

-Standards and Guidelines for Forensic Art and Facial Identification, IAI

Services Forensic Artists Can Provide to Law Enforcement:

There are four categories of Forensic Art: Composite Imagery, Image Modification & Image Identification, Reconstructive and Postmortem Identification Aids and Demonstrative Evidence. An overview of these four categories will be helpful to know, in considering when and how to apply the use of forensic art to your identification searches.


Composite imagery are graphic images referring to any facial or full body image of a suspect or person of interest which is assembled with the assistance of a witness. To determine if a witness is able to provide the information for a composite, the question should be asked if the witness would be able to recognize the suspect if they saw this person again. A YES answer means a composite can probably be done.

There are ways to help access memory without leading your witness even if he/she’s not verbally expressive. But don’t wait until you’ve exhausted all other means for identification because you want to capture the memory early. It’s important to know that the witness should not be allowed to look at allot of mug shots before doing the sketch. And although helping the victim heal is not the job of law enforcement, facilitating the production of a composite can help the victim begin to reclaim a sense of power and may elicit other new information in addition to the sketch.

The composite is divided into 3 stages:

Stage 1 is the initial interview with the witness/victim. Within this interview the witness/victim will be asked to look at reference photographs to assist in memory and aid in facial recognition. The reason for this is the memory of recognition is a much stronger memory, than the memory of recall. This interview will provide the artist with the reference photos used to develop the drawing.

Stage 2 involves the artist sketching the selected features to form an initial composite. This initial sketch may be done at a later time as well.

Stage 3 is the viewing of the initial composite by the witness for final changes and completion. This entire process can take anywhere from two to four hours, depending on the circumstances and your witness. At the completion of the drawing, the composite goes into evidence. 

Composites can:

Eliminate suspects who don’t look similar.

Generate leads through recognition by others.

Yield new information.

Provide proof of deception.


Image Modification and Image Identification are methods of manipulation, enhancement and comparison of photographic images. For example photo-to photo comparisons, child age progressions, fugitive updates, composites from video and Line-up Reconfigurations.

Faces are an important means of identification, but very often the work of cameras and electronics are considered the “final word” on the image of a suspect. Despite the reliance on these devices, they have limitations. All too often, surveillance images are unclear. The poor quality of these images can be due to any number of issues, including cameras that are: 

     Not working properly

     Pointed at an angle that makes it impossible to view a suspect’s face

     Out of focus, causing blurry or fuzzy images

     Set with bad lighting, causing shadows

     Poor quality 

Within the last decade, video enhancement tools have become very helpful for those investigating certain types of crime. But there are times when enlargement of an image simply result in an unrecognizable blurred image. In these cases, a forensic artist can be used to produce the “enhancement”. With knowledge of facial anatomy, a forensic artist can often determine features and structures clearly enough to render a face forward portrait. 

Still in its infancy is the idea of running hand drawn composite sketches through facial recognition software. But Michigan State University is working on developing an algorithm specifically designed to accommodate sketches. They have designed a Facial Recognition System (FRS) called Local Feature–Based Discriminant Analysis (LFDA).

With this system in place, composites can be scanned into the program possibly increasing the odds of identification.


Reconstructive and Postmortem Identification Aids are techniques to aid in the identification of human remains in various conditions. Craniofacial Reconstructions and Post-mortem Reconstructions fall within this category. A facial reconstruction in two-dimensional form may be accomplished using photographs of a skull, which has tissue depth markers properly placed according to the anthropological report. The reconstruction may then be accomplished by hand drawing the facial image on a semi-transparent overlay, which has been placed on top of the life-sized skull photograph. This 2D method was developed by Karen T. Taylor.  

A facial reconstruction in three-dimensional form is accomplished by creating a forensic sculpture using clay or Plasticine, the base of which is a cast of the skull, or in some cases, the original prepared skull. Either reconstruction is based upon the fact that there exists a predictable measurement of the overlying soft tissues on the skull. This method of identification is used when the facial features of the decedent are severely damaged or decomposed beyond recognition.  

It’s important to note that an exact likeness from a skull can never be attained but these methods can produce a face that will look similar to the type of face the individual had before their demise. In many cases, the actively searching family of a missing person will recognize the similarity and identification is made allowing for closure. Any reconstruction specialist will work closely with the forensic anthropologist, pathologist, and odontologist to establish sex, age, and ancestry of the deceased.

 Enhancement of a post-mortem, unidentified facial image can be created through the use of photographic editing software. The resulting image is made suitable for media release to facilitate identification. Ideally, the forensic artist should visit the morgue before or at the time of the post-mortem examination to make an assessment of the case, acquire feature measurements, and ensure appropriate photographs are taken, especially before the post-mortem exam. If the forensic artist is unable to visit the morgue, this assessing and measuring may be done through study and analysis of photographs of the body itself. If photographic material does not provide sufficient information, the post-mortem interpretation might not be possible.  

Before photographs are taken, adjustments to the head should be made, if possible, to closely resemble the natural position in which the head was held in life. (The forensic artist, anthropologist, pathologist, and/or odontologist can advise on this matter).


The concept of updating the appearance of long-term missing fugitives has gained popularity in the last two decades or so. An age-progressed image may be drawn by hand, or a photograph may be enhanced by use of a computer. The first successful forensic art age progression was done in 1985 by two medical illustrators, Scott Barrows and Lewis Sadler. It involved 2 sisters who were abducted by their non-custodial father in ’77. At the request of NBC, they prepared illustrations for a show called “Missing”. Working from old photographs they developed sketches of the sisters. Within 10 minutes of the televised showing, police were getting calls and by 7:30 the next morning the girls and their father were in custody.

A typical computer-based technique will consist of a scanned image of the missing person at an age as close as possible to the age he was when he went missing. That image is then manipulated through the use of photo editing software, using age appropriate photographs of bloodline siblings or parents. Family traits may also be added within the paint capabilities of the program. The end result should be an age-progressed image of the missing person that adheres to the known principles of facial growth and aging. An age-progression of a child still under the age of two years should not be attempted. A minimum of two years should pass from the date of the most recent photograph of a missing child before an age-progressed image is attempted. This length of time will allow sufficient growth in the child to show visible changes.

It is important to note that neither the most skilled computer technician nor the finest portrait artist can produce a high quality age progression without knowledge of craniofacial growth.

Another advantage of using a forensic artist for an age progression is it illustrates the ongoing efforts to locate the suspect and in some cases, creates more time for investigators that are working on the case. Generating an age progression not only can show the judge “diligent effort to search” but in some cases the age progression will generate new leads by creating renewed interest in the case


Demonstrative Evidence is visual information for case presentations in court as trial displays. Art for court presentations aids both judge and jury in the visualization and understanding of crime scenes or events. The forensic artist can assist with print ready graphic design, photography, illustration, and video production.




Upcoming Speaking Engagements:






Forensic Art and the Cognitive Interview Workshop - Cynthia Marsh

In this workshop Cynthia Marsh will present some case examples in which the Cognitive Interview was key in accessing hard to reach memories which resulted in detailed case information and composite sketches. She will also give participants a chance to test their memories and have the experience of interviewer/ interviewee in breakout sessions. This will be a fun and interactive workshop that will bring awareness to facial features, and how the composition and variations of the face make us all individuals.





"Cynthia Marsh, forensic illustrator, recently gave a presentation to our Residential Academic Program students at the University of Colorado. Her talk was excellent and well-received by these college students. Cynthia had a fascinating presentation about the different aspects of forensic art, including drawing suspects from witness accounts, reconstructing the appearance of an individual from skeletal remains, and drawing age progressions. Her presentation had wonderful examples of illustrations that she, and other forensic artists had produced. The artwork was often accompanied by a photograph of a suspect who had been apprehended, allowing the audience to see how accurate an illustration drawn from a witness account can be.

 The students particularly enjoyed the interactive parts of the presentation in which Cynthia asked them to be “witnesses” and to remember the features of an individual, and then attempt to recall those features for the forensic artist. After the formal presentation, Cynthia invited students to try some drawing, and provided instructions for students attempting to illustrate facial features. This was a great opportunity to get some hands-on practice.

 I heard lots of positive feedback from the students, most of whom had never even considered that one could have a career in forensic illustration. This was a very successful presentation and I’m so glad Cynthia was able to share her enthusiasm and expertise with us."

Carol Ann Kearns Ph.D.
Baker Residential Academic Program
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Colorado, Boulder
303 492-4973


Past Presentations:  

2018 Western States Joint IAI Conference April 30th-May 4th, 2018
'The Case for Forensic Art' Cynthia Marsh, May 3rd 3-5pm
Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino

'The Case for Forensic Art' -Cynthia Marsh, May 31, 3-5pm
Vail Marriott Mountain Resort  Vail Colorado     

2017    THE CASE FOR FORENSIC ART: Boulder PD, Boulder CO

2017    THE CASE FOR FORENSIC ART: Denver PD, Denver

2016    THE CASE FOR FORENSIC ART: Lakewood PD, Lakewood CO

2016    THE CASE FOR FORENSIC ART Altona Middle School, Longmont, CO

2016    THE CASE FOR FORENSIC ART: University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder CO

2015    THE SCIENCE of FORENSIC ART: Denver Botanical Gardens: Denver CO

2015    The Best of Pecha Kucha Forensic Art Presentation, Longmont Museum