The composite art school was fascinating and I learned a great deal about interviewing, observation and rendering faces. One of our final exercises was to sit down with a "witness" and draw a composite sketch from his/her description. The "witness" was merely a fellow student who was given a minute to study the photo of someone's face. The photo was then taken away and the student would be questioned by a fellow student who had to draw the composite sketch.
It was my turn to draw a composite and I began interviewing the "witness." She began describing the suspect but I couldn't believe the features she was telling me to render. I found myself several times asking her "are you sure," and "did his eyebrow really sit that high on his forehead?" Each time my "witness" stuck to her guns and insisted her description was accurate.
I neared the end of the sketch and my "witness" said the drawing looked a great deal like the "suspect" (or rather, the photo she had studied). Looking at the unbelievable face I rendered, I felt sure I was going to fail the class. A bit depressed, I submitted the drawing below.
After the students completed their sketches the instructor did a critique of each one. When she got to my drawing the instructor asked the students for comments. There were a few laughs and someone said, " It's the Pablo Picasso of composite art." With that I was looking for my eraser to throw at the smart aleck. But then the instructor said, "Actually, this student stayed true to an important rule in composite drawing, and that is to lose your artistic ego."
I perked up with this remark. She went on to say, " Composite artists must only draw the memory being described to you. Resist the urge to pretty up your sketch. Lose your artistic ego." With that, the instructor revealed the photo that the "witness" had described to me. Everyone in the class gasped. Except me. I smiled. Here's the photo below.
Needless to say, I passed the class and spent several years producing composite sketches of suspects. The artist in me always wanted to "spruce" up the drawings. But I remembered my lesson well. I had to let go of my "artistic ego" and just draw what I was told. Here are a smattering of composites I've done.
As artists we all have egos. We want our work to look great and be admired by collectors and fellow painters. A little bit of ego is a good thing. It pushes us to achieve and improve. To care about what we produce. But our egos also get us in a lot of trouble. They can cause jealousy, frustration and negativity. The challenge is to keep our ego in check.
That week in forensic art school so many years ago was a good lesson for me. Not just about how to draw effective composite sketches, but also about the ego we all must manage in ourselves. Use a sliver of it to propel you forward and grow. Just don't become a complete servant of your ego.