Ink Mug Shots

I was very happy when I read that this week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “Mug Shots”.  I am into the history of photography and am also a family historian so I instantly thought of all those characterful vintage mug shots of criminals and workhouse inmates.  I decided, therefore, to use those as my inspiration but almost as soon as I started pootling around on google images I decided to use some of the images not just as vague inspiration, a jumping off point, but as direct inspiration, scaffolding for a group of portrait sketches.  Now, I am not a portraitist.  I do not possess the degree of accuracy required plus I am actually not that interested in verisimilitude.  I, therefore, had no intention of even attempting to create faithful likenesses to the individuals captured in the vintage mug shots.  I just wanted to capture some essence of them, some details, and go from there.

Deciding to challenge myself a little, I undertook to draw these in an “almost blind contour” approach.  I did not completely cover the page or my drawing hand, which would have made it properly blind contour, but I kept my art journal and hand off to one side and tried not to look very often while I focused on observing the details on the computer screen.  That approach meant the drawings did not go completely wonky but the proportions did go skew-wiff enough to add some interest and character in my drawings.  I initially drew in pencil – just in case – but then tried my best to stay true to the original line work when going over it with my trusty fountain pen (a Lamy Al Star with a Fine nib and filled with Noodler’s Bulletproof).  I added a few more details and some shading using another pen filled with Lexington Grey ink.  I used that same grey ink in a wash for some areas of the drawings.

2 Mug Shots

In the top left is my depiction of Walter Smith.  According to a blog entry, Smith was a burglar in New South Wales sentenced to 6 months hard labour in 1924.  I chose his photo as I liked the defeated slouch.  Top right is Dorothy Mort who, in 1920, shot dead the chap who she was having an affair with.  I chose her photo because of her interesting profile and her sad sack stance.  Bottom right is a mugger named Charles Money.  There was something about his calmly defiant facial expression and relaxed pose that appealed to me.  Finally, in the bottom left, is my drawing of one Lamar Warter whose mug shot came courtesy of a drink driving rap.  When I saw that image, I knew I had to draw that profile with that really prominent adam’s apple.

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28 thoughts on “Ink Mug Shots

  1. These are wonderful! I can’t believe that you drew them (modified) blind contour. The expressions and postures certainly say it all, don’t they? I am trying to choose a favorite, but I can’t.

    • Thanks, Ellie. I think maybe it helped that I drew the contours quickly too – less time for the pencil to wander. I think you can observe the wonkiness of the semi-blind approach most in the one at bottom right maybe because that area of the page really was at the edge of my peripheral vision.

  2. OMG!!!! That’s so frickin’ FUN!!!!!! How is it that you’re not an insanely famous illustrator or gallery artist already???!!!! I can totally see you doing a book of these… or doing an art gallery exhibit of them!! Have you seen any of Maira Kalman’s books? Your style reminds me of her work….http://www.mairakalman.com/

  3. These are great! Even though mugshots are supposed to be standardised, often a bit of the subject’s personality carries over in their stance or expression, and I think this is what your piece captures so well!

    • I feel like that was more the case in the past. Now I think the need for biometrics and computers processing images has introduced a standard blandness to official photographs. Not that I’ve had criminal mug shots taken but during the immigration process I had to have a lot of very precise and measured photos taken of me. Absolutely no scope for personality.

  4. Pingback: Oscar Nominees – Art Journal Page | A Pict in PA

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