How to Become a Police Sketch Artist: Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a police sketch artist. Learn about the job description, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in police sketch artistry.

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Do I Want to Be a Police Sketch Artist?

Police sketch artists, also known as forensic or composite artists, interview victims and witnesses to create images of suspects. Their sketches may be used by police or released to the public to help apprehend criminals. Additionally, people in this position sometimes create age-progressed photos of missing persons or identify remains by bone structure. These sketch artists often work as freelancers for several police departments. Working on a freelance basis can mean a degree of freedom in scheduling, but working for law enforcement means that these professionals might be called upon at any hour.

Job Requirements

Prospective police sketch artists typically possess some training in art and anatomy. The following table outlines the core requirements for police sketch artists:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Requirements vary by employer; some postsecondary coursework is typically necessary*
Degree Field Fine arts or a closely related major*
Experience Requirements vary; some employers may look for professional art experience*
Key Skills People skills, creativity, strong artistic ability*
Computer Skills Familiarity with facial reconstruction software**
Additional Requirements Ability to market services*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **University of Texas-Arlington.

Step 1: Complete Training

Police sketch artists need to have a background in art and anatomy in order to depict their subjects accurately. Training can be completed in many ways, such as through a university or through an International Association for Identification (IAI)-approved program, in which students need to complete between 40-120 hours. In addition to the artistic aspects of sketching, students will learn about areas involving odontology (the investigation of teeth by looking at abnormalities, development and structure) and osteology (function and structure of bones).

Success Tip:

  • Strengthen relevant skills. Prospective sketch artists can benefit from postsecondary education in art and anatomy. Some law enforcement agencies use digital imaging software to create composites and age-progressed images of suspects, so students may benefit from courses in computer science and graphic design as well.

Step 2: Take Forensic Art Courses

Aspiring police sketch artists can participate in government-sponsored programs or courses offered by established forensic artists. Programs typically cover composite drawings, age-progressed imagery, post-mortem imagery and forensic facial imaging. Training may also include interview techniques, use of visual aids, facial anatomy, courtroom testimony, special equipment and biological variations of race, age and gender.

Success Tip:

  • Earn certification. The International Association for Identification offers certification for forensic artists. Applicants must meet minimum education and experience requirements, submit a portfolio and complete a written exam.
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