Visual Arts

Your First Love, Through The Eyes of a Forensic Sketch Artist

Michael Thompson drew another line on his paper, rounding off a hairline, then sat back and asked "What do you think?"

Rasheda Smith looked at the picture, tilted her head: "I think his eyes need to be further apart."

It's a simple question but a rather difficult task: can you describe your first love? And it was a question Smith tried to answer on Thursday night as Thompson, a forensic sketch artist, penciled in the details.

Their collaborative effort is part First Love, an interactive activity included in the traveling exhibit A Day Like Any Other, which is currently showing (and taking more reservations for future nights) at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA).

First Love was created by artist Rivane Neuenschwander, the exhibit has already traveled to St. Louis and New York and will move on to get more participants in Miami and Ireland.

Rasheda Smith says she wanted to participate in the exhibit because she is a big supporter of SMoCA and liked the idea.

She described her first love Robert, a young man who was her friend in grade school and whom she hadn't seen in person in more than 10 years.

"As a young kid you get crushes and things," says Smith with a smile. "Robert was the first person that was genuinely happy and just genuinely a good guy."

Michael Thompson is one of three forensic artists taking part in the exhibit and was the one responsible for giving shape to Smith's descriptions. A former forensic artist with the Mesa Police Department, Thompson has used his talents for naturally calming down crime witnesses to help the First Love participants feel more comfortable when describing their first loves. 

Thompson asked Smith about special memories she had about Robert that allowed her to remember the details of his face. Smith spoke of a time when her cat was stuck in a tree and Robert offered to get it despite having bad allergies to felines, something she remembered as chivalrous and sweet of him to do.

Smith described Robert's contagious smile from that memory and went from there.

Over the course of an hour, the two talked about Robert, previous jobs and old TV shows while Thompson drew. Every so often they would collaborate on the size of the nose, width of the forehead, or other details of the picture.

"It's funny because if you draw a suspect ugly then people go 'That's the guy!'" says Thompson. "But if I draw someone like that in this the people are like 'They're not pretty enough.' They get a bit more sensitive about their first loves."

Once the picture was done, Smith looked at it with an amazed expression, "I can't believe how much that looks like him."

The First Love exhibit is open to the public. For anyone interested in participating, the exhibit will run until June 5 and two-hour appointments are open on Thursdays and Fridays. See the SMoCA exhibit website for more information.