How Do I Become a Forensic Artist?

If you have excellent visual art skills and are able to draw lifelike human representations, you might be wondering how to become a forensic artist. Chances are good that you have seen a police sketch of a criminal suspect before, probably on a television news show or in a newspaper. Forensic artists are artists who work with law enforcement agencies to create accurate visual representations of subjects related to law and crime in order to assist with solving criminal cases.

Creating police sketches of suspects is just one of the job duties of a forensic artist. This responsibility falls under the category of “composite” imagery, in which forensic artists make a complete facial or full-body sketch based on individual components, such as witness accounts describing the suspect’s eyes, nose, mouth, facial hair, or other distinguishing characteristics. These sketches help police find individuals suspected of committing or having ties to a crime. At times, forensic artists use their skills to produce “reconstructive” images, identifying what a deceased victim whose features have been damaged by injuries or decomposition may have looked like while still alive. These representations can aid in identifying the bodies of victims so that families can be notified. A forensic artist may also be called upon to draw crime scenes or modify visual images, such as predicting what a victim or suspect may look like years after a crime occurred through age-progression adjustments.

Forensic artists need not only talent in the visual arts, but also people skills. They must be able to appropriately interact with witnesses to a crime, ask them the right questions about the appearance of the suspect, and accurately interpret their answers. In many cases, forensic art is not a full-time profession. Forensic artists may work part-time or on a freelance basis as needed, but typically, they are members of a law enforcement team who have developed the skills to create forensic art and do so in addition to other police duties often without earning additional pay. For this reason, aspiring forensic artists must have a drive to uphold the law and protect the innocent. Forensic artists must be comfortable both sketching images by hand and creating art with the help of computer programs.

Drawing is an essential talent for a forensic artist. This skill can be developed through independent practice or through educational degree programs in fine art that result in an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, although such degrees are typically not required except for high-level positions. Candidates may, however, need to earn a degree in criminal justice to qualify for employment with their law enforcement agency as a police officer. Certification is also available from the International Association for Identification, but is not often a requirement for forensic artists in the United States at this time. If you have an interest in criminal justice and law and enjoy making art, knowing how to become a forensic artist could be your first step to a fulfilling new career.

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