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.