A forensic artist uses artistic talent to aid law enforcement by translating the verbal description of a witness to a drawing of a potential suspect, missing person, or a specific detail of the crime scene. Forensic art is divided into four categories.
- Composite Imagery is likenesses drawn from an individual’s description of a human face and may also include full body drawings. These may be hand drawn or computer generated. This category includes composites from “identi-KITs”.
- Image Modification / Identification manipulates a photographic image of a subject. This includes age progression of photos of missing children and fugitive updates showing the person with various facial hair and other disguises that might be used.
- Demonstrative Evidence is used as trial displays in court. These may be hand drawn or computer generated images.
- Reconstructive / Postmortem Drawings can identify human remains even when the remains are damaged by various stages of decomposition. Computer software enables forensic artists to create two and three dimensional facial reconstructions from the skull. With a sophisticated facial measurement system, the artist can reconstruct features using clay, drawings, or computer imaging.
Forensic Artist Requirements
Qualifications vary widely. Though some law enforcement agencies require education in legal procedures, it is more common to seek someone with formal art training.
Your skill in drawing should be focused on drawing from life and demonstrate the ability to create a three dimensional drawing from the descriptive words supplied to you. The ability to translate the spoken word into an image accurately requires an innate talent that cannot be taught.
People skills are incredibly important. You will be interviewing victims during a time when they are in distress or may question uncooperative witnesses reluctant to provide details. You may also be working as part of a team. This position is not for someone with a difficult artistic temperament, but rather requires patience, empathy and teamwork.
Forensic Artist Training and Education
You may be trained in the use of sophisticated computer software programs that will aid in creating images and in building three dimensional composites from decomposed bodies.
The best training is to draw from descriptions again and again and to study facial characteristics such as eye shape, hairline types, and the conformation of ears and mouths.
The Forensic Art Certification Board is a branch of an international agency and has a set of certification standards established for this career path.
Forensic Artist Salary
The majority of forensic artists work as freelancers for more than one law enforcement agency. They are usually compensated by the hour with pay ranging from $14 to over $25. Others may receive regular part-time pay that guarantees availability as an on call part time employee.
Very large government and law enforcement agencies may have forensic artists as part of the full time staff but those positions are scarce.
If your goal is to be a forensic artist specializing in reconstruction you will command a much higher salary and may find yourself traveling widely to work in state forensic labs across the country.
Forensic Artist Career Opportunities
If you are a skilled artist and a good listener, this the forensic artist career may just end up in your permanent portfolio. For those who can reproduce images of the human face and body, and also draw locations from verbal descriptions, this is a career that can be a good fit for aspiring artists.
The part-time contractual aspect of many of these jobs provides income while also giving the artist sufficient time to work on personal artistic goals.
Take a look at other great Criminal Justice Careers.
I am Hayley and I am 17 years old. I was looking into this career because I find it interesting. You gave very helpful information and helped me find the category of my interest. I was just wondering if there are any schools that focus on this career or no. Also if there is any other way to get my “foot in the door” to head into this career. I’m looking to specialize in the category Reconstructive / Postmortem Drawings. If you or someone can get back to me I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
I have trained for this through a company called Stuart Parks.
The classes are not cheap, but they are first rate.
After the initial class you will be amazed with how much you have learned and how you will be able to do a composite of some skill.
The classes are also not in every state. You will need to check out their web site and take a look at their schedule.
Where I work, we do not hire people to do the job of composite artist. Usually the person is already an employee of a police department and is sent to schooling for this as a technical part of the job they will do for the department on an as-needed basis.
You will need to look at Very Large departments to find a full time job as only a forensic artist.
Mark, thanks for sharing. This is great information.
I am extremely interested in a career as a forensic artist. Where would I find the training for it? Any information is accepted.
I’m a full-time forensic artist. The main thing to know is that although you can get training, you won’t be able to use it unless you are an employee in a law enforcement agency. There are less than 50 full-time forensic artists in the US, but it’s not like the openings are posted on Monster or any job site. Those positions have been developed by the employee within the agency who did forensic art in addition to their full-time job (dispatcher, detective, crime tech, etc) then worked it into a full-time job as forensic artist. This is simply how it is. You can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars taking classes, but you will likely never get to apply it unless you’re in LE.
I really like the Ask a Forensic Artist website which looks great BTW (nice Thesis mod).
I see you have some great stuff on there for potential forensic artists. Thanks for posting on here. Come back soon!
Thanks! My goal has always been to give aspiring artists solid information, at no cost to them, about getting into forensic art. It’s bad enough to take classes, like at $800-$900 a pop, when there is hardly any chance at all to use it. Unless, of course, you are in law enforcement.
BTW: Sorry I just now saw this; I’ve been busy and have neglected keeping up on things! I’ll have to make sure that I link to your blog, it’s terrific!
Thanks for your input.. and a link would be great BTW :-)
Done! :^) You’re under “Educational and Career-Related Sites” on the left-hand side.
For anyone interested in forensic art workshops, I will be teaching both 2D and 3D (forensic sculpture) classes at the SCOTTSDALE ARTISTS’ SCHOOL in Arizona next spring, 2012. Specific information can be found on the school’s site at: http://scottsdaleartschool.org/instructor/instructordetail/id/124
There are also some case examples in the photo albums on my public Facebook page called FACIAL IMAGES.
I am extremely interested in this field. I have an associated in fine art, a bachelors in criminal justice and i’m working on my masters in criminal justice administration. I have not been successful in find a way into this line of work. How can a better prepare myself and hopeful get into this field?
I am interested in any books that are available on Forensic Art for Artists. I teach art and this might be a good option career for my students.