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Why
February 17, 2002 7:13 PM   Subscribe

Why are some police sketch artists so BAD? Images from a fascinating set of sketches at sharpeworld.com.
posted by machaus (24 comments total)

 
If they were amazing artist, they probably wouldn't have ended up as police sketch artists.... just a thought.
posted by howa2396 at 7:37 PM on February 17, 2002


Really, most are only roped into being sketch artists because they were policemen who liked to draw. Many don't understand even basic rules, especially that they eyes are halfway down the face, not a third of the way down.
posted by Ptrin at 7:40 PM on February 17, 2002


yes! that's him: he's the one who stole my tuba!
posted by sixtwenty3dc at 8:31 PM on February 17, 2002


I guess you're Tom!

You win. Lets play again!

The fun is trying to guess when you play Guess Who?
posted by holloway at 8:56 PM on February 17, 2002


Why, yes officer, come to think of it, it was the amorphous and blobby head of Oliver North that mugged me.
posted by dong_resin at 9:15 PM on February 17, 2002


If this is acceptable work, well, I suppose my job hunt is over. I'll mosey on down to the precinct tomorrow - odds are I could bag me a gig as a sketch artist pretty easily.

I don't see what's so bad about the unibomber sketch though, I've always thought that one was rather well done.
posted by tomorama at 9:16 PM on February 17, 2002


Guess Who? /chorus

"Well officer, I was able to escape after I clubbed him in the mouth with a bat."
posted by Dane at 9:18 PM on February 17, 2002


Yes, he was VERY sweaty.

I'm telling you it was Frankenstein's monster. Scar on the head and everything. Oh and there was a bolt sticking out of his neck. Very important.
posted by skallas at 9:40 PM on February 17, 2002


I don't see what's so bad about the unibomber sketch though, I've always thought that one was rather well done.

Its great if you're doing a portrait of Robert Redford in a hoodie for Drawing 101, but it isn't exactly Ted Kaczynski.
posted by skallas at 9:42 PM on February 17, 2002


The Jeanne Boylan segment of this show has some stuff about why sketches are so bad.
posted by rdr at 9:52 PM on February 17, 2002


So, I guess what you're telling me, Tracy is that after "Fast Car" your career started heading downhill?
posted by ColdChef at 10:43 PM on February 17, 2002


Am I missing something here? All these sketches, many of them clearly by different hands/artists, seem to be "copyright Jennifer Sharpe 2002"? So, she's doing a book, or what?
posted by realjanetkagan at 10:58 PM on February 17, 2002


You know, almost all of those are better than I could do. They're not fine art, but they serve their purpose.
posted by kindall at 11:01 PM on February 17, 2002


You know, almost all of those are better than I could do. They're not fine art, but they serve their purpose.

And it's probably harder than it seems to make a drawing of someone look generic when details are missing.

"Did he have bushy eyebrows or not?"

"Um, I dunno. Maybe."

How do you draw eyebrows so that you don't rule out anyone with bushy eyebrows or non-bushy eyebrows?
posted by jkottke at 11:22 PM on February 17, 2002


harry potter
posted by monkeyJuice at 1:52 AM on February 18, 2002


Yeah, actually I thought these were pretty good. They're not photorealistic renderings, but they're not supposed to be. They capture the important details of the witness' description. And the human brain is so trained at recognising faces that it would probably trigger if you bumped into someone who had those features.

I actually prefer the hand-drawn ones to the computer-generated ones for this very reason. The artist (subconsciously?) brings out the important details, whereas the photo-like image leaves you looking for someone who looks exactly that.
posted by chrismear at 2:32 AM on February 18, 2002


I don't think the sketches are so bad. You want bad? The bowie bathtub medley linked on sharpeworld's home page is really bad.
posted by mlinksva at 2:57 AM on February 18, 2002


AGH! mlinksva! Well, I suppose I can't say you didn't warn me.
Good thing it doesn't come with video. Or perhaps we should make one to accompany it, with singing convict heads???
posted by kahboom at 5:08 AM on February 18, 2002


The real question is, why are criminals so ugly? Don't blame the artists.
posted by fleener at 5:38 AM on February 18, 2002


Lest we forget, they're pretty bad at PhotoShop too.
posted by Fofer at 6:12 AM on February 18, 2002


Why are police sketches bad?

GENERALLY SPEAKING Because 99% of the time they are (mostly by necessity) rendered "full front". This effectively robs them of depth and perspective; less opportunity for shadow = flatter image, so that you end up with a (mostly) two dimensional representation. Viewed head-on, a hooked nose can easily look like a pug nose, for example.

In an ideal situation, the sketch artist would attempt to render the subject in a 3/4 profile -- but realistically they would be magnifying their problems if they attempted this. I don't blame them for keeping it as simple as possible. It's harder to hedge when you draw 3/4; less of a margin for error. Plus, I suspect they want a little bit of ambiguity in the finished drawing -- you're relying on people's memories. It's probably best to fudge some of the details if your not 100% sure.
posted by RavinDave at 7:18 AM on February 18, 2002


I think what they must have done is collected all of our self-portrait drawings from 7th or 8th grade and created a national database of our faces. I had no idea they were doing such a thing.

"Grand Larceny Again, Charlie Brown?"
posted by tpl1212 at 8:07 AM on February 18, 2002


they all seem to be frowning, except for the few that have those odd half smiles.

those guys must be innocent.

or crazy.
posted by fishfucker at 9:44 AM on February 18, 2002


Another obstacle: they're based on witnesses' directions. Get a witness with bad vision who saw the suspect for 3 seconds, from the side, and ask her to describe what the suspect looks like from the front. Many of these drawings would probably be better if the 'artist' had the real-life model to draw from, rather than limited desriptions.
posted by yesster at 10:50 AM on February 18, 2002


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