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Coffee With Brenda Hoddinott: forensic artist and art educator

16 May 2010 13 Comments

Dear Readers,

It has been nearly two months since I posted the back to back interviews of Roddam Narasimha & BS Chandrasekhar to celebrate the 2 year completion of CWS. After that I took an interesting journey of pencil sketching.. And as you would have probably guessed, my next interview is indeed with an artist – A self educated artist 🙂 It is my pleasure to host Brenda Hoddinott on Coffee With Sundar – Season 2!

Here is a brief introduction to Brenda Hodinott!

Brenda Hoddinott: Self-educated, award-winning artist, forensic artist, and art educator.

In 2002, Brenda retired from her twenty-five year career as a forensic artist, to devote more time to creating art, building her business, and writing books. In the style of illustrative realism, she paints in oils and acrylics on canvas and linen, and creates drawings in graphite, technical pen, colored pencil, chalk pastel, charcoal, and conté.

Professionally, Brenda is a curriculum designer, and owner of Drawspace.com; a highly respected fine art resource for art educators, home schooling programs, and educational facilities throughout the world. She is also the manager and owner of Drawspace Publishing (a Canadian publishing company for art-related books). In addition, she is the author and illustrator of Drawing for Dummies, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Drawing People Illustrated, Drawspace Guide to Getting Started with Drawing, and Drawspace Illustrated Dictionary of Drawing Words and Terms. She is currently writing and illustrating her fifth book.

Brenda Hoddinott With Puzzle Painting

Brenda Hoddinott With Puzzle Painting

Me: Hello Brenda! Welcome to the show on Coffee With Sundar! It is a pleasure to have you on the show!

BH: Thank you so very much for this opportunity. I am truly honored. By the way, I really enjoyed looking at some of your wonderful drawings on your site. Your love of art shines through!

Me: Thank you very much! 🙂 Can you talk about your background, your childhood days and your career? At what age did you start drawing?

BH: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. I grew up in a small town on an island (Newfoundland) off the east coast of Canada. In elementary school, “art class” was basically a Friday afternoon without academic instruction – for many students, a chance to catch up on homework. Of course, I spent my afternoon drawing!

By the time I reached junior high, art was completely non-existent in our curriculum. The only paintings and drawings I ever saw by “real” artists were in books. Needless to say, I spent every Saturday at the small local library looking for interesting subjects for my drawings.

As an aside, illustrations in children’s books and encyclopedias greatly influenced my current style of Illustrative Realism.

At 14, I was in high school, and making money drawing portraits from photographs for my friends. I charged 50¢ each (a lot of money back then!).
On occasion, my passion for drawing got me in trouble. I would draw (sometimes unkind) caricatures of my teachers, and when I was caught, my drawings were confiscated. Twenty years later, my Dad (who was vice-principal of my high school) gave me a big brown envelope full of drawings. Unknown to me, the teachers had very much enjoyed my drawings, and my proud Dad had saved several for me.

Brenda's Work when she was a child

Me: Wow! That would have been very cool.. Did you have anyone as an inspiration or did any artist influence you?

BH: One of my high school teachers (Ms. Christianson) loved art, and she hosted a lunch-time art circle on Fridays for kids interested in drawing. I was in awe of her; she was the only adult I’d ever known who created art. Her kind words of encouragement resounded in my mind for many years.

Kenny Campbell (a fellow student) was another inspiration. He rendered the most amazing drawings I’d ever seen. He was simply the best artist in the whole school. By examining his works, I learned many new techniques, and spent many hours putting them into practice.

I graduated high school at 16, and was a year too young to attend nursing school (my chosen profession). Not wanting to waste a year, I attended a nine-month course in commercial art at a community college on the other side of the island (St. John’s). Mr. Bill McLaughlin (a professional commercial artist) was the instructor, and the first person I’d ever heard of who made a living from art. He was simply amazing!

My goal to become a nurse was quickly replaced by a new career aspiration to become a professional artist. Upon graduation, I began working as a layout artist and copywriter for a small advertising department in a large store.

Me: How did you become a professional?
BH: Short answer: by working ten hours a day (seven days a week), by jumping head-first into every opportunity that came my way (even if the pay was meager), continuously teaching myself the skills needed for each new venture, and by doing my very best work for every project!

At 23, I found myself divorced and the single parent of a beautiful baby daughter. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her to go back to work, so I started a home-based business doing commercial art and drawing portraits. Within a few months, I had several business contracts, and was booking portrait commissions for the following year. As I became increasingly busy, I hired a live-in babysitter to help with my very busy little toddler.

Around the same time, the manager of a local media conglomerate (who had somehow seen my work) offered me a contract to create celebrity portraits for the front cover of their weekly magazine. Over a two-year period, I completed over 100 covers for this provincial magazine.

In 1978, I received a phone call from the local detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (a national, federal police force) who had seen my drawings on the covers of the magazine. Their Major Crime Unit was searching for an artist to do a composite drawing. I’d once seen a police artist on a television show, and with mixed feelings (mostly excitement and trepidation), I agreed to give it a try. I successfully interviewed a young victim of a violent crime, and completed a drawing of the suspect.Before long, I was also the on-call police artist for the largest municipal police force on the island; the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. These experiences as a forensic artist marked the beginning of a fascinating aspect of my home-based business that continued for 25 years.

As an aside, forensic art refers to the artistic techniques used by police departments and investigative agencies in the identification, apprehension, and (or) conviction of wanted or missing persons. I worked in only three of the many disciplines of forensic art: composite art, age progression, and image modification.

My primary area of expertise is composite art, which is the best known of the forensic arts. In essence, a forensic composite artist (often called a sketch artist or police artist) translates other people’s memories into drawings of people. Naturally, strong drawing skills and an in-depth knowledge of facial anatomy are important. However, even more essential is the artist’s ability to interact with, and interview the victim or witness, and successfully gather, interpret, and illustrate the information obtained from his or her memory.
On occasion, I also worked in the disciplines of age progression and image modification. Age progression is frequently used to create an updated image of a child (or adult) who has been missing for a long time. Image modification can be as simple as adding or removing a beard or mustache from a photograph of a suspect, or as complicated as reconstructing and drawing an entire face hidden behind a ski mask, by referring to nothing more than a video image.

In 1980, I began teaching drawing lessons to adults and children at our local recreation department. I loved teaching and sharing my skills. Even more so, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing curriculum and preparing lessons (a forerunner for my career as an author and owner of Drawspace.com).
By the early eighties, I was remarried with two children: Heidi (by then, age 6), and Benjamin (age 3). We decided to leave the island and move to the mainland province of Nova Scotia. Within a year, I resumed my home-based business.

Little did I know that the most significant artistic and professional opportunities of my career were yet to come!

Readers, hope you enjoyed the part 1 of the interview. Stay tuned for more exciting conversation on arts & passion with Brenda in part 2.




  • Vatsala said:

    wow. I really enjoyed reading the interview. From this I learn that the intial years of toil certainly propel you forward in your passion.

  • Sundar Rajan G S (author) said:

    Absolutely! Passion & persistence always pays off…

  • Nanditha said:

    Good one ! This serves as an inspiration for anyone who wants to expertise in the field of art …

  • Payal said:

    love this interview, very uncommon one

  • Sundar Rajan G S (author) said:

    Thanks Payal & Nanditha..

  • Diane Cardaci said:

    Not only are you an incredible artist and educator, but you are such an inspiration to those who want to live their life creatively!!

  • Judith Campanaro said:

    Brenda –

    I am in awe of your strength, passion and tenacity to follow your heart. You are an inspiration to all of us.
    Thank you.

  • Coffee With Sundar » Coffee With Brenda Hoddinott: Award Winning Artist – Part 2 said:

    […] May Dear Readers, Please find the part 1 of the interview here. Me: People say that art is genetic to some extent. So did you belong to an […]

  • Wilma Ross said:

    Outstanding interview Brenda!
    Thoughtful, insightful, interesting, as is your art.
    I particularly enjoy the images and colours that come
    from your imagination. Amazing, thank you for sharing.
    I look forward to your next “coffee break” chat.

  • Coffee With Sundar » Coffee With Brenda Hoddinott – Founder of Art Portal – Drawspace.com – Part 4 said:

    […] series with Brenda. What a series of interviews we have had. You can find the previews parts here: Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3. So here goes the final part of the interview. Coffee With Brenda Hoddinott […]

  • Judy Blackwell said:

    You are truly AN ARTIST OF DISTINCTION!!!! Your interview is enlightening…even to me after all these years.


    This is all NEW to me.You,AN ARTIST OF DISTINCTION!!!Truly humble.Having seen some of your work I am even more in awe of you…even after knowing you for all these years!!!!

  • not losing weight said:

    There is certainly a great deal to learn about this issue.

    I really like all the points you made.