Caricatures aren't always funny

It was after my fifth year as the police artist (I started in 1995) that I realized that my cognitive sketches had a lot in common with the caricatures I was creating for officers as commemoration gifts. It was always fun to exaggerate the features of a well known captain and poke fun at his most distinctive features. Balding, large nose, closed set eyes, or large ears, they were all there for the taking. This exercise in creating caricatures was fertile ground for my advanced training as a forensic artist.

Caricature of two really great detectives at SJPD. I was honored to create these humorous caricatures to commemorate their time in the robbery unit. © 2001  

Caricature of two really great detectives at SJPD. I was honored to create these humorous caricatures to commemorate their time in the robbery unit. © 2001

 

The commonality was pretty evident in that the face was the focus of the composite sketch and the caricature.  Just as I was focused on the features that made the suspect look like the suspect from the perspective of the eyewitness. The caricature needed to look like the subject based on my perspective of the photos I received from my clients. What made the caricature look more like the subject had to do with what features of the face I chose to exaggerate. The choices were abundant and very easy with certain subjects. You can think of someone you know and decide pretty early on what feature is distinctive about them.

I often use the idea of the caricature as a type of recollection technique to help the eyewitness visualize the suspect's face. Many times the eyewitness may be struggling with articulating the features or concerned about the lack of detail they are offering me. I explain to them that the sketch only needs to look similar and is NOT a portrait and so we only need the essence of the person. I talk to them about caricatures and how the illustration is not a portrait of the person but a an exaggerated illustration of the person. Many times they smile as if a light bulb has turned on and become more relaxed as we move forward with the interview.

As a forensic artist I have applied some strategies of creating caricatures in the cognitive sketches I’ve completed over the years. For instance, when I interview my eyewitnesses they have their eyes closed to help them focus on the face of the suspect. I know that when they see the suspect in their mind they see the face as a whole and refer to it when I ask them about a feature. I also know that some features may stand out to them and be more memorable. I can see this feature pushing itself out in front of the recall process as I conduct my interview. I may ask the witness about the face shape and they may talk about the “mean look” he had. I will direct them back to the shape of the face and then move on to the style of the hair. They respond with, it was short and combed to the side, but his “eyes were intense and freaked me out.” This may go on after each feature request and I have to assure them that we will get to the eyes sure enough (I draw the eyes last in my interview technique because I want to deal with the most unremarkable features first). What I am gathering from this involuntary flow of information about the eyes is that they were very distinctive and left a major impression on her. I know that when I get to sketching the eyes I will make it a priority to make sure they are distinctive and can bring about a reaction from the eyewitness that will be satisfying. Exaggerating these features to bring about intensity and emotion will be my focus. Many times, the features will be caricatured to bring about this distinctive quality necessary to satisfy the eyewitness. I have to measure my caricature drawing skills to keep them in line with creating a sketch that looks like a human being and not a cartoon.

Here's the picture I used to create the caricature of Dr. Charlie Frowd, Google search images on 1/6/14.  

Here's the picture I used to create the caricature of Dr. Charlie Frowd, Google search images on 1/6/14.

 

Here's a caricature of Dr. Frowd I sketched in ink from a picture I found of him on the web. © 2014

I recently read a research article by Charlie Frowd PhD, University of Central Lancashire, UK, An application of caricature: How to improve the recognition of facial composites, 2007, Psychology Press, where he hypothesized that applying the fundamentals of caricature to a composite sketch may increase the ability to accurately identify the subject of the composite. His team did a great job of presenting the argument that most composite sketches would benefit greatly if they could be improved to assist law enforcement in identifying the suspect. The only comment I would have is that Dr. Frowd’s team did not exhaust all of composite sketching systems available--specifically my technique.  As many of know my cognitive sketches are created without the use of reference images and I rely totally on the memory of the eyewitness and their personal perspective of the suspect. I do,however, see their application of the caricature effect to be beneficial for all sketches.

I believe that the memory of the eyewitness is fragile and the reliability of their information is sometimes less than reliable. Yet, their information is key to creating the cognitive sketch and allowing for the police to show the sketch to gather leads about the case. Sometimes the sketch leads to the identification of the suspect while other times it may lead to identifying other suspects of other unrelated crimes. Regardless, the sketch has value in the investigation and the sketch is a result of an interview with the eyewitness. For me, if we apply the caricature levels to the completed cognitive sketch it will allow for the range of likeness possibilities. I tell many of my eyewitnesses that the sketch need not look “exactly” like the suspect and that it only needs to look “similar” to him. Many times the eyewitness can struggle with the inability for the forensic artist and their  idea of what he looks like to blend onto the sketch in front of them. In some cases I'll explain, imagine that we brought this sketch into a room of one hundred people and your suspect was in their. If we brought your sketch into this room would your suspect be one of ten men that we might select as looking like the sketch? This explanation usually eases their need for complete accuracy about the sketch and allows them to see the sketch as a tool to help identify potential persons looking like the suspect. I believe that the eyewitnesses may be doing some of this “caricaturing” in their own minds when they see the completed sketch. They may be altering the features ever so slightly and coming up with something in the range of our completed sketch. In the end  if I believe in the research about memory recall I have to accept the reality that the sketch will never be exact in every feature. The caricature effect proposed by Dr. Frowd may enhance my cognitive sketch and in the end may allow for the range of possibilities.

Here's an example of a Cognitive sketch I completed in 2013. C;lick on the sketch to see my caricature morph effect.

Here's an example of a Cognitive sketch I completed in 2013. C;lick on the sketch to see my caricature morph effect.

I purchased the PRO-morph software program for my Macintosh® platform and will begin applying it to my completed sketches and see if I might offer the completed caricature animations for use by the agencies that employ my services. I can see the static sketches to be a set of three: one showing the maximum negative caricature effect; the second sketch being the actual cognitive sketch, the third sketch being the maximum positive caricature effect. The sketch could be presented as a feature range of the suspect. I can definitely see the positive effect for identifications.