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Coffee With Brenda Hoddinott: Member of Forensic Artists International – Part 3

29 May 2010 2 Comments
Dear Readers,
Continuing your exciting discussion with Brenda from Part 2, we have our part 3 of the interview today! Trust me, it only gets better here today. Enjoy your next ten minutes reading this exciting conversation with Brenda Hoddinott.

Me: What did you love about your profession [as a forensic artist], and what did you hate about it?

BH: I loved almost everything – especially the camaraderie with those who worked within the various police, military, and government departments, and private investigative agencies. I felt privileged to be able to play a small part in helping apprehend and convict criminals. Most of all, I felt honored to be able to use my artistic skills to help the victims of crimes and their families.
The ongoing learning process was also extremely enjoyable. In 1989, I was thrilled to be recognized as an expert in my field by the Supreme Court of Canada. From that point onward, I was qualified to give testimony as an “expert” witness (someone who is consulted for their expertise and knowledge in a specific area) in all levels of Canadian courts.
In 1992, with the encouragement of a very sweet deputy sheriff (also a forensic artist) in Arizona, I applied to become (and was accepted as) a member of The Association of Forensic Artists, based in Scottsdale, Arizona. The following year, an article on my work as a forensic artist was featured in their official publication, “The State of the Art”. Through this organization, I accessed educational resources and articles contributed by other experts in my field. Needless to say, my interviewing and forensic art skills quickly improved.
In 1993, I began the lengthy application process to become a full member of “Forensic Artists International” (their membership roster included the top forensic artists in the world). I met all the requirements and standards of their by-laws; demonstrated satisfactory evidence of educational and artistic competence; and (in 1994) was awarded a Certificate of Membership. I was ecstatic! The certificate still hangs on a wall in my office.
Ah, but (as with most careers), a few aspects of my career were less than enjoyable. For example, I didn’t like getting phone calls in the middle of the night to go to a police station or a crime scene, or to have to catch a very early morning flight to the other side of the province. In addition, most of the cases on which I worked included some of the most horrific and violent crimes you can possibly imagine. At times, I felt like crying along with the victims, however, it was my job to remain stoic while I worked. Thankfully, when my drawings were done, I could give in to a few tears in private.
Me: Sure. Every profession has its own “non-exciting” bits. But I am very impressed with your achievements. Can you also share 3 or 4 anecdotes from your interesting experiences which you had?
BH: Sure. With police departments. As a forensic artist, I was in awe of the many compassionate, hardworking investigators with whom I worked. To compensate for the emotionally draining demands of their professions, most had developed a rather bizarre sense of humor, which I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed.
For example, on one occasion, I went to a police department to work with a witness to a murder. Before I began, the investigators provided me with a brief background on the crime and the witness. As it turned out, the individual I was about to meet was an elderly man who was both disheveled and deaf as a stone.
My interview room had a large table, two wooden chairs, and a large two-way mirror, behind which two investigators sat in a small observation room. After introducing myself to the witness, I engaged him in casual conversation (intended to help him relax) while I set up my drawing materials. Then, I began my interview – probably the most frustrating of my entire career. I soon discovered that he had selective hearing: he quickly responded to questions unrelated to the murder, but remembered nothing about the crime, and became stone deaf when I queried him about what he had seen. After more than an hour of being extremely pleasant and sweet to this man, (without a single line drawn in my sketchbook) I needed a break! I slowly stood up, smiled at him, and asked him to please excuse me for a few minutes. I gently closed the door of the interview room behind me and walked into the bullpen (the work area of the major crime unit that consisted of desks and computers). I stood in the middle of the room and did my little stomping dance of frustration, while quietly growling and pretending to scream.
At that moment, the two investigators from the observation room rounded the corner and came toward me – laughing as they unclasped their guns, pretending to offer them to me. “Here you go – you have our permission!” they exclaimed in unison. Of course, by this time, I, too, was laughing.
To make a long story short, we decided to send out for a nice lunch and a package of cigarettes for the witness (he had been complaining to me that he was hungry and needed a smoke). A half hour later, with a full tummy and lots of smoke in his lungs, his memory miraculously returned and he was no longer deaf. Within two hours, my composite drawing was finished, and the excited investigators thought they knew who it was. They pulled an old file photo of their suspect, and I was amazed by his uncanny resemblance to my drawing! Before I left the station, they had an arrest warrant, and were on their way to apprehend the suspect. A very good day!
Another day, I was working with a lovely, older lady who had been the victim of a robbery. As I worked on the composite drawing, I became increasingly concerned that the suspect’s features were wandering too far outside the boundaries of what is considered normal facial anatomy. I was (of course) very disappointed, and knew that there couldn’t possibly be anyone on the planet who looked like the man in my drawing.
Two weeks later, I was back at the same police station to work on another case. As I walked down the hall toward the interview rooms, I heard someone call my name. It was the same investigator for whom I had created the drawing of the odd-looking man. “We caught the guy!” he exclaimed, as he rummaged through a stack of files and pulled out a recent mug shot (photo) of the man they had arrested. My jaw fell to the floor – the suspect looked every bit as odd as my drawing! Another great day!
I also had a few interesting experiences as supervisor of a community art center. In the late eighties, I accepted a position as supervisor of the youth art department of a community recreation center. I hired and trained teachers and designed curriculum for several children’s art programs. During this time, I also began teaching advanced students, from age ten through adult in my home studio. I was blessed with many extraordinary students.
One young girl in particular stands out strongly in my mind. Before I met Julie, her Mom had contacted me and asked if I would consider admitting her ten-year-old daughter into one of my classes. I was puzzled by her query and asked, “Of course, why wouldn’t I?” “Well”. she replied, “my daughter is blind.” After catching my breath, I replied, “So, she must have some vision?” “Yes”, said her Mom, “she has visual aids to help her see, and she loves to draw.” I was happy to accept the challenge, and Julie not only learned to draw, but she became an amazing artist.
Julie was a joy! Her playful antics and cheerful approach to life added significantly to our classroom environment over the years. For example, I often reminded my students to erase their fingerprints from their drawings; my lighthearted reminders to Julie were to erase her nose-prints.  She would come up with witty retorts that would leave everyone laughing.
When she was a teenager, I hired Julie as an assistant teacher in a pre-school art program. Again, she exceeded my expectations, and became an extraordinarily responsible and much-loved teacher. Anyone who has ever complained about any aspect of their life needs to reach out and get to know a “Julie”. I merely gave her drawing lessons, and she (unknowingly) gave me (and her fellow students) lessons in optimism, courage, and determination.

Readers, when I started out to interview Brenda, I thought it would probably be an interview with an artist who will speak about paints, materials, drawing tips etc. But this interview just cant get better. I am glad that we are listening to an amazingly passionate lady with extraordinary work ethic sharing invaluable lessons for our life. Stay tuned for the final part of the interview. I hope you all enjoyed it!

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2 Comments »

  • Vatsala said:

    this interview is getting more and more exciting. Brenda, your experiences are so varied and interesting, I cant wait to read part 4 of this interview.

    Staying tuned!

  • Barbara Elliott said:

    Brenda, Extremely enjoyable interview. I see the making of your next book in this interview ( If you find the time to write it) . Confirms what I have known for 30 years , You are a amazing woman .