ARTS / CULTURE & LEISURE
Retired police sketch artist works to reunite families with their loved ones
Portraits of sorrow
Published: Nov 10, 2021 05:53 PM
Lin Yuhui works on a sketch in his studio in Jinan, East China's Shandong Province. 
Below: Sketches of martyr Zhang Suopin (left) and a Peking Opera performer
Photos: Courtesy of Lin Yuhui

Sketches of martyr Zhang Suopin (left) and a Peking Opera performer Photos: Courtesy of Lin Yuhui

Lin Yuhui works on a sketch in his studio in Jinan, East China's Shandong Province. 
Below: Sketches of martyr Zhang Suopin (left) and a Peking Opera performer
Photos: Courtesy of Lin Yuhui

Sketches of martyr Zhang Suopin (left) and a Peking Opera performer Photo: Courtesy of Lin Yuhui

Lin Yuhui works on a sketch in his studio in Jinan, East China's Shandong Province. 
Below: Sketches of martyr Zhang Suopin (left) and a Peking Opera performer
Photos: Courtesy of Lin Yuhui

Lin Yuhui works on a sketch in his studio in Jinan, East China's Shandong Province. Photo: Courtesy of Lin Yuhui



In April 2020, a 72-year-old lady knocked at the door of the home of retired police officer and professional sketch artist Lin Yuhui in the hopes he would draw a portrait of her father who sacrificed his life 71 years ago during the Korean War's Battle of Changjin Lake in 1950, not long after her birth. 

Unlike most of his visitors, the old lady had never met her father so she couldn't describe the appearance of her beloved parent. 

"There was no photo, no portrait of her father left. All she had with her was a blurred portrait of her paternal grandmother," Lin told the Global Times.

"But the moment I looked at her grandma's portrait, I saw there was a resemblance between her and her grandmother, so based on my experience she should've looked like her father as well."

The 63-year-old retired police officer in East China's Shandong Province seemed to have a hard time holding the memories at bay as he began to talk back his sketching experiences like these days. He told the Global Times that it was a sorrowful conversation. 

"You could feel the eagerness of the old woman for how much she wanted to meet her father, and it made you sad as well."

After a moment of silence, he began to talk about his decades-long career as a criminal investigator and professional sketch artist.

Portrait of an artist 

Sketching the image of a person based only on a few clues is just the tip of the iceberg of Lin's job. In 2017, he made a name for himself abroad after he made a police sketch of Brendt Christensen, who kidnapped and murdered Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying, based on a vague surveillance video.

In 2017, Chinese national Zhang Yingying, who enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a visiting scholar, was reported missing. The only image of the suspect was a blurry surveillance video, so investigators went looking for a professional sketch artist to recreate the image.

"To be honest I was a bit surprised at the very beginning when they asked for it. But I accepted the invitation from Henry Chang-Yu Lee [one of the world's foremost forensic scientists] and tried my best," recalled Lin.

With the help of the US police, Lin was able to get a rough idea of the suspect's looks after watching the video at least 100 times over two days and spent an entire night finishing the drawing.

"It might be somehow related to the experiences I had long time ago."

In 2004, Lin, who was part of a criminal investigation team of the public security bureau in Jinan, Shandong, was asked to do a police sketch since his painting skills were well-known by his colleagues.

"It was completely a blank space in that area when I was asked to do the job," Lin said, indicating that there were no trained police sketch artists at the time.

To improve his sketching skills and the ability to grasp a person's key characteristics, Lin would often walk over to the Jinan Railway Station to observe and sketch passersby.

"You know this is completely different from everyday painting," Lin explained very patiently and with a hint of pride. 

"It not only requires the ability to sketch a person, but also years of criminal investigation experience. They are inseparable."

Talking about the technique, Lin said, "the most important thing in a police sketch is our ability to represent unseen perspectives," said Lin, meaning that even if he is given only the side-view of a suspect, he is able to sketch what they possibly look like from the front.

Another skill is inferring from a single image that a person may look like at different ages. 

"For example, if I have a picture of a three-year-old kid in my hand who was lost 20 years ago, I have to draw him or her as a 23-year-old today," Lin said, explaining that he used this skill many times while working on missing children cases. 

"Some people may say that technology such as AI can be used to recognize suspects as well, yet one's experience is what always matters most," said Lin.

"It's like a chef. The combination of the seasonings you put in and the heat you use require years of experience."

Still on duty

Working on his position in Jinan for 14 years, Lin chose to step down in 2018. Yet instead of enjoying retired life, Lin established his own studio to help people with his sketches.

At the beginning of 2021, Lin set a goal for himself to draw 100 pictures of the country's martyrs and missing children, which is what led to the old woman seeking him out. And this is not the only person he has helped. 

Lin told the Global Times that he has more than fulfilled his target and that his sketches have helped more than 10 local people who went missing as children. 


blog comments powered by Disqus