A Brush With the Law

Armed with a pencil, sketchpad and eraser, Corporal Robert Tittle used his drawing skills to catch criminals. For seven of his 21 years as a police officer, Tittle drew composite sketches for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, in Columbus, Ohio. Although he’d always been an artist, he hadn’t considered incorporating art into his police work. But when the FBI called to ask if he’d attend a composite training academy, he went. “I was amazed at how well I did,” Tittle says. “I really didn’t think I could do it. I can look at something and paint what I see, but I don’t paint things out of my head. The idea of someone describing something and me drawing—I thought, “There’s no way I’ll be able to do this.”

The process of getting a composite sketch can be tense and emotional, and usually includes dragging yourself out of bed in the middle of the night, Tittle says. Then it’s a 30- to 45-minute interview with the witness, in which the witness recounts the whole incident and picks the suspect’s general facial features, such as nose, eyes and chin from pictures in an FBI-issued catalog. From this information, Tittle would make an initial sketch with the witness and then work alone until he had a completed face. The witness would then evaluate the sketch and the two would refine it together, changing the eyes or moving a hairline to get a more accurate image. On a scale of one to 10, the witness would have to rate the sketch at least a seven before Tittle was satisfied. “It was sometimes tedious and draining,” says Tittle, “but it was always rewarding to think I was helping people.”

Although Tittle painted now and then throughout his career in law enforcement, it wasn’t until he retired in 1999 that he began devoting more of his time to his own art. “Two years ago we turned a bedroom into a studio. Before that if I painted, it would be on an easel in the dining room. I’d no sooner get everything out to paint and something would come up and I’d have to leave.” Tittle says. “This is the first chance I’ve gotten to work and leave things where I want them.”

And even though he’s painting for himself these days, Tittle wants viewers to get as immersed in his work as he does. “I try to put myself in the painting and when other people look at my work, I want them to feel as if they’re in the scene, too.”

Claudia Nice is a self-taught artist who works in multiple media, but prefers pen and ink and watercolor. She’s the author of several books for North Light Books, including Sketching Your Favorite Subjects in Pen and Ink, Painting Nature in Pen and Ink With Watercolor and Creating Textures in Pen and Ink With Watercolor. Her latest book, How to Keep a Sketchbook Journal, will be released in the spring. The Sandy, Oregon-based artist is also a workshop teacher and is currently offering two-day sketching seminars each month (except in winter) with in-the-field instruction on such topics as “Wildflowers” and “Wild Rivers.”

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