Should You Consider a Career as a Forensic Artist?

remember all those old crime dramas on TV when a witness would be called in to provide a description of a suspect to an artist who would then create a sketch based on the features, which would then be posted on wanted posters? That guy used to be called a police sketch artist, but today is known as a forensic artist. And the work is far more complex and complicated today than it was when Joe Friday was on the LAPD. The world of the forensic artist offers a uniquely challenging and rewarding career choice for those with an artistic bent who want do more with their talent than just sell paintings and sculpture to rich morons who view art only in terms of an investment.

The police sketches of today are usually done on computer rather on ink and paper. 3-D rendering using state of the art computer animation technology allows the forensic artist far more flexibility to present a realistic portrait of person based on witness testimony than in the old days. Things have also become more complex in terms of that image that is necessary and possible. With sophisticated computer programs, it has become possible for a forensic artist to project what a suspect may look like today from a description given decades ago. With the swipe of a computer mouse a suspect in a murder case from the 1960s can be aged to give a usually quite accurate glimpse into how he may appear today. This technology has become especially useful in cases involving children who have been abducted. Based on photographs taken at the time of abduction, a forensic artist can project how a 7 year old girl may look at age 16, for instance. Forensic artists who are adept in creating 3-D clay models are especially valued. Computer graphic programs can be used to determine the facial reconstruction of an unidentified skull and this reconstructed is then created in clay to provide definition and nuance. These clay reconstructions have been used countless times to identify missing people.

If you have artistic talent and would be interested in pursuing a career as a forensic artist, the first step is to check out the various law enforcement agencies that employ them for information about training, certification, and employment possibilities. In some cases a college degree may be required, but this is usually not the case. However, there are certain very specific training courses for a forensic artist since it is a highly specialized form of art, so even if you consider yourself very skilled at what you do, you can expect to spend some serious time in the classroom. In order to improve your chances of getting a job you should also sign up for forensic artist certification. You can find out exactly what is involved in the certification process by clicking on this link.


Most forensic artists do not work on a full time basis. They are instead contracted with law enforcement agencies and are called in as the need arises. This means an hourly wage, which can vary anywhere from the low teens per hour to upwards of thirty dollars per hour. Full time forensic artist salaries vary even more widely, from under $30,000 a year to over $50,000 a year. It is also important to realize that forensic artist skills are not limited to law enforcement needs. As a freelance forensic artist you may find employment everywhere from a natural history museum to a Hollywood studio. The world of the forensic artist is exciting and unpredictable and though it will mean training in areas you might never have imagined your artistic skills would take you, the rewards can be immeasurable.