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Sketch Artist: How to Become a Professional Sketch Artist

Learn how to become a sketch artist. Research the education requirements, training, and experience you will need to start a career as a sketch artist.

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Do I Want to Be a Sketch Artist?

The term 'sketch artist' refers, in the broadest sense, to an artist who creates likenesses of subjects using tools such as pencil, charcoal and pastels. The term is sometimes employed to refer to artists who work for the criminal justice system. These types of sketch artists, also called forensic artists, produce drawings of suspected criminals and work in courtrooms drawing scenes during trial proceedings. Other types of sketch artists freelance or work for private companies producing illustrations for commercials or films. The competition for many types of freelance art positions is very intense.

Job Requirements

There is no formal training required for sketch artists or forensic artists, though classes in art (specifically drawing) are helpful. Forensic artists might also benefit from classes in facial reconstruction or expression. There are only a handful of full-time forensic artists in the country; most forensic artists are freelancers. The following table outlines some of the key requirements for becoming an artist per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Common Requirements
Degree Level Associate or bachelor's degree helpful
Degree Field Fine art
Experience Drawing experience, portfolio
Key Skills Artistic ability, creativity, manual dexterity, customer service skills

Step 1: Obtain an Art Degree

Although fine artists, including all kinds of sketch artists, don't necessarily need a degree to find work, the BLS did state that artists with significant training were more likely to get hired. Art degree programs at nearly all levels include coursework in drawing, three-dimensional design, sculpting and computer graphic design. Bachelor's degree programs provide significantly more coursework than associate degree programs.

Success Tips:

  • Create a portfolio. Fine art degree programs provide the opportunity for students to begin building their portfolios, which they can add to as they create new work. A portfolio showcases the artist's best work and is essential for any artist looking for employment.
  • Take courses specific to the type of drawing you want to do. Since many sketch artists work for police and forensic units, they often have to draw suspects based on descriptions given by witnesses. Taking courses in facial reconstruction can help artists learn to create more accurate portrayals. There are also classes offering training on age progression, which can be useful to sketch artists working on cases involving kidnapped children. Classes in facial expression are helpful for re-creating courtroom scenes. These types of classes may be hard to find at colleges and universities; they are generally offered by individuals or small companies that cater to forensic artists.

Step 2: Improve Interpersonal Skills

Sketch artists working for the police need to be able to talk with traumatized witnesses in order to help them recall what a suspect looked like. Artists need to be able to set people at ease and know which questions to ask when interviewing them. Reading books is one way to study and improve these skills. The International Association for Identification's (IAI) Forensic Art Certification Board, which administers voluntary certification for forensic sketch artists, provides a reading list on its website that includes recommendations for books on interviewing witnesses and crime victims.

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  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
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Other Schools:

  • School locations:
    • Washington (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Western Washington University include:
      • Graduate: Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
        • Art
        • Art History
        • Ceramics
        • Drawing
        • Multimedia Arts
        • Painting
        • Printmaking
        • Sculpture
        • Weaving and Textile Arts
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Georgia (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Georgia State University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
        • Art History
        • Drawing
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Michigan (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Michigan include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
        • Art
        • Art History
        • Ceramics
        • Drawing
        • Metal and Jewelry Art
        • Multimedia Arts
        • Printmaking
        • Sculpture
        • Weaving and Textile Arts
      • Musical Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
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    Areas of study you may find at The University of Texas include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
        • Art
        • Ceramics
        • Drawing
        • Metal and Jewelry Art
        • Painting
        • Sculpture
      • Musical Arts
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    • New York (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Rochester Institute of Technology include:
      • Graduate: Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate, Coursework
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
        • Art
        • Ceramics
        • Drawing
        • Metal and Jewelry Art
        • Painting
        • Printmaking
        • Weaving and Textile Arts
      • Photography, Film, and Video
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    • West Virginia (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Marshall University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
        • Art
        • Drawing
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