Forensic Artist

Each writer will have their own unique techniques when they go about establishing a character. The physical features and story-events work together to develop an image for the reader, usually with the hope that it may reflect a character that the author has in mind. Outside library walls, building a coherent character plays a significant role in the work of local coroners, investigation teams or “Forensic Artists”. Accurate description and representation of reality become charged with flesh-and-blood value. The author’s ability may determine the safety of another. By compiling public sets of data from Canada’s Missing Database I wanted to create an alternative description for the missing persons.

After reading a sample of profiles taken from the randomized front page of the database I randomly chose 8 male and 8 female records. I created a programming-friendly template for each that looks like: (Province, declared race and gender, detail/feature, detail/feature, detail/feature, year of report).

I chose to frame the descriptions with geographic locations and time because these two features would hold high value in a missing person case.  Depending on location— whether it is too far or close to home for the audience, a responsibility or distance can be established for the person’s whereabouts. This too can be said about the date of the report, since some go back almost 50 years, which would contribute to a readers urgency.

The [] and {} keys are used in the HTML5 program to open and close script. In this case, the keys establish the contextual boundaries for the text/data, just as the temporality does in these cases. The place and time then begin to define the meaning of the details/features. The centre is left in indefinite limbo—either illustrating or hollowing the aspects that may spark an identifying detail.

I wanted to express the digital progression of investigative services by presenting the poems on online “Word Trees”. It is difficult to see the natural object that the code formulas were meant to resemble, just as it is could be difficult to render a human image from the short details provided. The work of “Forensic Artist” becomes one of constraint and convention, exemplified by the standardized reports and short windows of time.

Colour was used for the text since each report contained small traces of personality— an “oversized pink purse” or “drawing of a truck and surfboards”, tiny details that are not generalized categorical features like race, gender or height. These little aspects were the memorable aspects after looking at dozens of reports, it was the only source of difference or colour in the binary (digital) environment.

I have attached a screenshot of the script in the photo gallery above so that the poems can be read on their own.

The second digital illustration I made was with This work did not turn out as I had planned, because the model was not downloadable unless I paid for a membership. Though, I do have the ability to share it by the hosted webpage: Forensic Artist Infogram.

By using an infogram I was able to take macro data and compose a refined image. By using the numbers from the database about each province and territory I was able to render a proportional diagram of the cases. As an abstract image, it would be difficult to understand what the image is trying to convey without a context- each newspaper symbol is identical to the next and the only possible familiarity is the abbreviations of the places.

The fractured descriptions animate the digital symbols, like the specific articles of clothing or activities. The relationship with missing is clearer when the centered title “A reconstruction was completed by a Forensic Artist, and should not be considered an exact likeness” is connected to its origin: a coroner’s closing marker and Facial Imaging Specialis disclaimers.

The federal or mass statistics about missing cases are one of the dehumanizing qualities of these reports. Case are filed like any other data point and are reduced to indistinguishable qualities (like case numbers) that pay little homage to their individual identities. The bottom circular infograph is even more simplified, the missing become almost entirely invisible—not just physically but within the sea of population data. To inform yourself through the digital me, in this case, would be removing the natural and human elements of this horrific subject.

Works Cited:

  • Begley, Josh. “” 2010,
  • Borsuk, and Amaranth. “The Upright Script: Words in Space and on the Page.” Journal of Electronic Publishing, Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 3 Oct. 2011,–upright-script-words-in-space-and-on-the-page?rgn=main;view.
  • Burnham, Jack. “Systems Esthetics.” Artforum, Sep. 1968,
  • Government of Canada. Canada’s Missing, March 15, 2018,
  • Ijken, Jan van. “Nevermore, The art of flying and Facing animals.” 2013,
  • Thrope, Jer. “Art and the API.” Blprnt.blg, 24 June 2014,


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