Reconstructions from unidentified skeletal remains are done at the behest of, and in conjunction with, a medical examiner’s office. The artist works with a forensic anthropologist to attempt to determine the victim’s appearance from clues on the bones.
The skull is measured and photographed, and the artist traditionally completed the drawing on tracing vellum directly over the photo of the skull with graphite pencil. In this way, the artist can see the subtle variations of the bone that give each face its individual appearance. I follow a similar process, but I draw on a digital drawing tablet now. I’ve found working digitally I can zoom in to see details on the bone that I can’t see working in pencil. The quality of the digital work is also kept as the artist intended, not losing any of the tone in the scanning and copying process as it might with a pencil rendering.
Studies over the years have taught us that the bone indicates the size and placement of specific facial features. The forensic anthropologist will provide information about the sex, age, and derivation of the bones (African-derived, Asian-derived, European-derived, or a mixture of two or more of these).