New Workshop – Drawing to Depict the Deceased for Identification

Link for Details: Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State

Final Icon Branded

This drawing workshop provides an intensive five days of advanced 2D techniques to facilitate identification of unknown deceased persons. Two primary methods will be covered: postmortem depiction based on deceased facial photos and 2D craniofacial reconstruction based on skull photos. The first part of the workshop addresses postmortem changes in physical remains as they effect an artist’s ability to accurately depict the face. The remainder of the week will be devoted to facial reconstruction drawing from the skull. Each class exercise is designed to simulate actual case experience in a compressed time frame. Cases will vary regarding cause and manner of death and there will be individuals of various ancestries and ages. Life photos of the deceased person will be seen upon completion of each drawing which is the most significant learning opportunity for this experience-based work.

This unique forensic art training is unavailable in any other drawing course. The FACTS venue is one of the world’s premier locations for taphonomic research and skeletal assessment and identification.


-Taphonomic changes that affect the face
-Drawing from morgue or crime scene photos
-Skull photography tips for 2D reconstruction
-Morphological relationships between skull and face


CSI: New York logoI have enjoyed my role as forensic art consultant for the CSI: television franchise for many years. I have always viewed it as an opportunity to encourage accurate presentation of forensic art to the viewing public. Though “Hollywood” considerations have sometimes over-ridden my advice, my experience with the shows has always been a positive one. For the CSI:NY  episode “American Dreamers”, I was asked to consult with writers, prepare sculptural props and travel to Los Angeles to act as an on-set consultant for the actors. This can be a demanding and stressful task but I have always embraced it.

Storyboard for writers and producers

Storyboard for writers and producers

The earliest step was to consult with writer Eli Talbert about how he hoped to utilize forensic art as an integral part of the plot he was crafting for the episode. I prepared a storyboard of sketches to give an idea of the various stages of the props I could develop. This allowed insight so that the director and producers could more precisely plan a shooting schedule for the facial reconstruction action, once the time crunch of filming actually began.

In advance of my travel to California, I created the prop facial reconstructions in multiple steps, sort of like it is done for cooking shows. It would be far too slow for me to do a finished sculpture while the actual filming was taking place. Instead, the plan was that one step would be filmed, then the next and so on. Once edited together, the viewer would get the sense that it all happened as a smoothly flowing process. The multiple steps I made were then shipped ahead before my arrival for filming.

Three of the steps of the prop facial reconstructions by Karen T. Taylor for CSI:NY

Three of the five steps of the prop facial reconstructions

For this particular episode, actress Vanessa Ferlito portrayed CSI “Aiden Burn” who was doing the sculpted facial reconstruction. She listened carefully to my guidance and worked very hard to accurately achieve the impression that she was doing the sculpture. Once shots of my hands working were interwoven with shots of hers as part of a “process shot”, the effect was totally realistic.  They kindly allowed my book, Forensic Art and Illustration, to appear in the shot on Aiden’s work table.

Actress Vanessa Ferlito doing "work" on the prop facial reconstruction by Karen T. Taylor

Actress Vanessa Ferlito doing “work” on the prop facial reconstruction

My time on the set is always challenging yet fun. I enjoy the interaction with writers and production staff as well as the actors.

Karen T. Taylor with lovely actress Vanessa Ferlito on a break from filming

With lovely actress Vanessa Ferlito while on a break from filming

Artist Karen T.Taylor with writer Eli Talbert on the set of CSI:NY

With writer Eli Talbert on the set of CSI:NY

Artist Karen T. Taylor and writer Eli Talbert reviewing some of the shots of the facial reconstruction process for the show CSI:NY

KTT and Eli reviewing some of the shots of the facial reconstruction process

All in all, this episode was loads of hard work and I feel that it turned out well. It boggles my mind a bit that the work I did was viewed by so many millions of people. I do particularly like the fact that fictional police procedural television shows have great power to generate interest in real-life crime issues. Over the years, I have come to truly admire actor Gary Sinise and the tireless work he has done for American military personnel and veterans.  Though he is “Detective Mac Taylor” on CSI:NY, he will forever be Lieutenant Dan!

American Artist Drawing

Images from article in American Artist Drawing magazine about Karen T. Taylor

I was very fortunate to be the subject of an article that appeared in American Artist: Drawing magazine.  This piece was done by New York writer Edith Zimmerman and appeared in the Summer, 2006 issue.  The title is “Understanding Faces From the Inside Out”.

Here’s the full article.

Prop Drawing for ABC & Disney

body of proof logoI was asked by ABC Television and Disney Studios to create a skull, life-size skull photographs and facial drawings for use as “forensic” props on the television series Body of Proof with Dana Delany and Jeri Ryan. These photos show the scope of the project and how it actually appeared on the show. The Season 3 Finale episode (#313) was called “Daddy Issues”. It was written by Corey Miller, directed by John Terlesky and produced by Matthew Gross.

image of a set prop facial reconstruction by karen t. taylor for the television show body of proofThis is a shot taken on the set, courtesy of writer Corey Miller. An important element of the plot dealt with the dental morphology of an “unidentified victim”. As part of the consultation I did with the writer, I suggested that this dental detail would be a useful tool to add authenticity to the props I was preparing.  I then modified an existing skull to add a large space between the maxillary central incisors called a diastema. This was done by individually sculpting the teeth and painting them in a naturalistic way. A corresponding photo of this gap-toothed “victim’s” skull was also created with the assistance of Dreamfly Creations.

skull used as a set prop on the television show body of proofA close-up of the gap-toothed dentition is shown. This fictitious “victim” needed the assistance of 2-dimensional facial reconstruction to aid with his identification! I assembled drawing boards for two different stages of filming. A life-size photo of the skull is overlaid with transparent vellum so that drawings can be done over the skull. I set up a partially complete drawing as well as the finished drawing so it could be shot in stages. This is a forensic art procedure that I developed in the early 1980s while working for the Texas Department of Public Safety. I am grateful to say that it has been used to identify many hundreds of actual homicide victims. I taught the method for over twenty years at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. I continue to teach this effective, direct method at the Scottsdale Artists’ School in Arizona.

propdrawing3This beautiful rainy shot was created by cinematographer Patrick Cady to showcase actress Jeri Ryan portraying Dr. Kate Murphy. As we have seen in previous episodes, Kate is a pathologist, but her first love is forensic art!

image of a set prop facial reconstruction by karen t. taylor for the television show body of proofVarious action shots show Kate diligently drawing. Jeri is so skillful and convincing at doing this “forensic art” that her fans on Twitter have actually asked her if she did the drawings and sculptures herself!

image of a set prop facial reconstruction by karen t. taylor for the television show body of proofFor actual forensic cases, anatomical formulas are used to develop the various facial features, whether drawing or sculpting the facial reconstruction. It is really gratifying when the producers of a scripted television program make such great efforts to authentically present forensic art and facial identification procedures.

propdrawing6It is always fun for me when a copy of my textbook, Forensic Art and Illustration, is used on the set in a shot. Thanks to Property Master Chris Call for that!

propdrawing7This is a cool view of how it all looks to those talented people involved in the hands-on production of the show.

image of a set prop facial reconstruction by karen t. taylor for the television show body of proofOne of my favorite comments in this episode is when actor Windell Middlebrooks (Curtis) gently pats the skull and says, “You’re in good hands, Mr. Doe.”

propdrawing9This shows the moment when Dana Delany (as Dr. Megan Hunt) sees Kate’s drawing and makes a mental connection that leads to his identification. She says, “That is the same guy!” And that’s just how forensic art is supposed to work!

image of a set prop facial reconstruction by karen t. taylor for the television show body of proofThis is my drawing which is meant to age a young actor’s face by about three decades and show his unique teeth, heavy brow ridge and high cheek bones.

image of actor Daniel BlaineThis is the young actor, Daniel Blaine, whose face I used as a basis for the aged “facial reconstruction”. I gave input for the casting choice of this actor and he was selected because his face had distinctive bony elements that could be emphasized in the “reconstruction” drawing. He does not have the gappy teeth in real life, by the way. To really understand all of these plot elements, you have to watch the episode! I don’t want to be too much of a spoiler!

image of actress Jeri ryan with a facial reconstruction done as a set prop by Karen T. Taylor for the show Body of ProofActress Jeri Ryan has been so fun for me to work with on this show. She is a real pro…intelligent, approachable and very quick to learn the forensic art actions.