Forensic Facial Feature Sketches by Shawn Feeney
Interview with a master pumpkin carver: Shawn Feeney of Team Bling Bats
Q&A: Shawn Feeney
and The BFF Project
Ever since 31-year-old Shawn Feeney
was a youngster he
loved to draw comic book characters, but little did he
know that years later his
pencil and charcoal sketches would help authorities catch criminals in Suffolk County, New York.
became a police composite sketch artist more than a year ago after his
father, a sergeant detective with the Suffolk County Police Department
, informed him the county was looking to replace the police officer's position with that of a civilian.
With a master's degree in fine art from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, Feeney slowly transitioned into the position with the help of the then current composite sketch artist.
It just so happened that his
first assignment came while his
predecessor was on vacation and Feeney
was called to work on a composite of a man who had raped a teenage girl.
admitted to being nervous at the time, he
was able to make the young girl feel at ease by building a good rapport with her
During the interview, which was conducted by a police officer, Feeney concentrated on her description of the attacker while carefully putting pencil to paper.
"What you want to do to a certain extent is to get the person in the same mind set as when the incident happened, but not re-traumatize them," explains Feeney, who earned his undergraduate degree in music from Harvard University.
"It went pretty well and the next day, people told me that they saw my sketch on TV.
It wasn't my best sketch so far, but it worked.
As a way to further his skills, Feeney enrolled in two separate weeklong sessions at Stuart Parks Forensic Associates, before attending a three-week forensic facial imaging course at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
"When I got there the only thing I could think about was the opening scene from Silence of the Lambs," remembers Feeney
, with a laugh.
"It was pretty intense.
At the FBI Academy
listened to lectures about interviewing subjects and was taught specific techniques on how to determine if a crime victim or witness is providing false information.
While at the FBI Academy
, one of his
assignments was to look at a violent and gruesome crime scene photo where a suicide bomber detonated an explosive inside a packed Bali disco.
By looking at the photo and using Photoshop, Feeney
14 other classmates were required to reassemble what the attacker looked like.
"It was totally bizarre," he
says now, "but it was a good assignment."
In a less serious class exercise, Feeney
colleagues were given a set of facial characteristics taken from a huge FBI database that included wild curly hair, a large nose and puffy lips.
As the sketch came together one distinguishing characteristic at a time, Feeney determined that the subject was Andre the Giant, a former WWF icon who was billed as "The Eighth Wonder of the World.
"I was like, 'Is this Andre the Giant?' and the teacher was like, 'You got it,'" he
"It was an early Andre, before he
got really enormous."
In addition to practicing his drawing skills as often as possible, Feeney believes one of the most important aspects required to become a successful sketch artist is to be a good listener and interviewer, which he stated is more important than being an amazing artist.
"A few people I've worked with have been fairly traumatized and you have to be very sensitive to that," he
has always been an artist-can hardly remember a time when he
was not drawing-but it was only recently that he
talent into a forensic artist post with New York's Suffolk County Police Department
The drawing came easy-after all, Feeney has an A.B. in music from Harvard and an M.F.A. from the University of Auckland.
As it turns out, that is just one part of the job.
It is more important to be a good interviewer than a good artist, he
"As a composite artist, you need to efface yourself, in a way.
You want to keep your ego out of it.
The likeness can only be as good as the information culled from the witness's memory.
Many forensic artists come from a legal background and acquire the artistic skills on the job.
Working from the witness's account, Feeney
starts by listening and taking notes.
As the focus narrows, he
begins to sketch, tapping into a database of mug shots to flesh out the perpetrator's features.
assembles the composite, and then he
fine-tunes the image until the witness is satisfied.
and all works contained therein © 2002-2013 Shawn Feeney