In this week’s interview with an inspiring woman with a unique career, I had the distinct pleasure of asking Diana Trepkov a few questions about her illustrious career as a forensic artist.
Forensic art demands a significant amount of empathy from the artist. Dealing with the facts of a case as well as with the faces and emotions of traumatized family members can be overwhelming, but Diana is able to handle both sides of the coin with grace and compassion. She has built an impressive career that has led to the identification of missing persons and human remains in a countless number of cases, which has, in turn, aided in the healing process for many grieving families.
Not only is Diana a sought-after forensic artist, but she also lectures across Canada and the United States, gives presentations to public school children about safety awareness, and is the author of four books. Her first book, Faceless, Voiceless: From Search to Closure, a Forensic Artist’s Approach to the Missing and Unidentified, was released in 2011. In it, Diana provides the reader with an extensive look into the varied and inspiring career of a dedicated forensic artist, discussing the cases she has worked on and shedding light on the practices and methods she has employed over the span of her career.
How did you find yourself in the career you’re currently in?
I was on a beach in Cuba in 2002 and met a couple working for the York Regional Police Service. We started talking and they mentioned I should go in as a police officer. When I told them I was an artist, they suggested I apply to be a forensic artist. That is how the idea came into my head! I always loved art and was an artist since I was a child.
Once I got more deeply involved as a forensic artist, I knew it was something I had to do because of all the missing and unidentified people in the world. I knew in my heart I had to help.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
In this career, there is no typical day at work. It varies, as all projects are different. Like the saying, “When it rains, it pours,” it can be very busy or very quiet. It could be a request for a TV, magazine or newspaper interview, an age progression drawing of a missing person, a facial reconstruction on an unidentified skull, an organization asking me to lecture, or a public school asking me to give a presentation to children about safety awareness.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Wow, that is a fully loaded question! It is really hard to explain in a short answer. Life is all about compassion and contribution. When I see a family in pain because their child or loved one is missing, it breaks my heart. I feel like I can feel their pain. To be a “real” forensic artist, you must have empathy for others, or you are in the wrong career. Too many people get wrapped up in the “ego” aspect, but you won’t find that with me. The most rewarding aspect of my job is that I don’t call it a job. I feel it is my calling in life; a mission to be there and help as much as I can is the feeling I have when a mother of a missing daughter says to me, “We couldn’t have done this without you,” or, “I feel like you are really helping us and you really care.” Just to know that I made a positive difference in someone’s life when they’re suffering and feeling unimaginable pain is the most rewarding aspect of this career.
What is the most frustrating aspect of your job?
I think it is frustrating when people assume I can do a forensic age progression in two minutes or a facial reconstruction on a skull in one hour. It takes time to study the face or unidentified skull, prepare notes, investigate the facts and then start on the forensic artwork. Nothing good comes easy and that is very true for forensic artwork also. I really do take my time to do the best I can to honour the victim in my drawing or 2-D or 3-D facial reconstruction on an unidentified skull.
Are there any common misconceptions about your job or line of work in general? How do you address those misconceptions?
When people just assume that we can solve a case in twelve minutes, like CSI! Some cold cases take decades to solve. It’s not Hollywood TV and I think that is the biggest misconception of forensic art and law enforcement cases.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman in your industry?
Yes, there were many challenges, but nothing I couldn’t overcome. I don’t think I faced serious challenges being a woman in my industry because it isn’t a common career. Sometimes people look at me and are shocked I work on unidentified skulls. It is ironic though; I never thought I would be working on deceased people in my life, as I can’t even watch horror movies; they scare me.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to a young woman looking to follow in your footsteps?
Just believe in yourself, follow your passion and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something that you believe in. Forensic art is tough career to break into, but as long as you persevere and are doing it for the right reasons, it will all work out in the end.
This career is a sad one, but we can’t be blind to what is happening out there. People go missing every day and so many families say to me, “Diana, I’ve heard of this kind of stuff happening but I never thought it would happen to me!” Unfortunately it can happen to anyone. If it weren’t for my deepest desire to help the victims of crime, I would have given up years ago. The obligation in my heart is to make a difference in forensic art and families of missing persons, and of course the most important thing is to give a face to the faceless and a voice to the voiceless.
What motivates you most in your day-to-day life?
Knowing that everything in life happens for a reason. Just to keep on pushing forward no matter how hard it is. Tomorrow is another day. Make a positive difference in someone’s life each and every day. I also believe in helping the homeless – it is the most magical experience I believe we can do as human beings. I feel blessed and grateful that I really understand people and am not afraid to stand up for what I believe in.
Do you have a “life motto” or words that you live by?
“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve” – Napoleon Hill, as referenced in my first forensic art book: Faceless, Voiceless: From Search to Closure, a Forensic Artist’s Approach to the Missing and Unidentified.
Diana is also the author of three children’s books: I’m Daisy the Safety Chihuahua: Safety Tips for Children (2011), Daisy the Safety Chihuahua’s Words of Wisdom: Including the 10 Laws of Success (2012), and The Lost Doggie (2014). Diana has written these books to bring safety awareness to children as well as to reinforce the ideas of love, compassion, and the encouragement to pursue your dreams.
You can find out more about her current projects or take a peek into her incredible list of credentials by visiting her website.