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Who Can Be a Forensic Artist?

Just about anyone who possess the artistic skill, desire, and motivation can, with proper training over a period of time, develop into a forensic artist. While the majority of forensic artists work in some facet of law enforcement, many folks are successful at forensic art by combining their current specialties with forensic art. Included are Forensic Anthropologists, Medical Illustrators, Fine Artists, Orthodontists, and Archaeologists who also use forensic art as a means of enhancing their current professions. There is no definitive background that a forensic artist comes from.


What is Available?

Full-time forensic art positions are extremely rare. There are but a handful of full-time artist in the United States. While the need is there, most agencies do not have the personnel or budgets to fund a full-time forensic artist position; therefore, most law enforcement forensic artists combine their talents with other aspects of the job such as investigations, clerk, patrol officer, etc.



The pay scale of a forensic artist depends on factors, such as geographic location, the size of the employing department, and your ability to market yourself. The most important necessity to becoming a successful forensic artist is passion for the work and a desire to become the best you can be with a strong desire to learn and succeed.


Needed Skills

Natural art skills are a plus, but I have seen many folks become excellent forensic artists who came into the basic forensic art courses with little or no drawing / sculpting skills and came out with remarkable results. Some instructors agree that at times the results are better with students with no previous training. These students come into the classes with an open mind and do not have to break old "bad" habits. Just as important, is an ability to interview. No matter how polished your art skills are, they are useless without proper training and experience in interviewing witnesses / victims.


Necessary Characteristics

A successful forensic/composite artist should possess characteristics such as: a strong desire to learn;   the ability to relate / empathize with others; a willingness to help others; an understanding of how forensic art is utilized; a desire to improve their skill; fair drawing ability;  and the ability to keep an open mind.. The artist must also hold high ethical standards.


Educational Requirements

You do not HAVE to take all the courses offered to be a successful artist and you DO NOT need to possess a four year degree. You DO however need training in a specific aspect of forensic art.  If your desire is strictly in composite sketching, then concentrate your efforts to receiving the training in composite art. If your talents and desires rest on the facial reconstruction aspect of forensic art, then take the facial reconstruction courses. BUT, if you get the chance to take all the courses, by all means do so. All the courses are related in one way or another, and each will enhance the success of the other.


Computer Vs. Hand Drawn

While computer composites have come a long way in recent years, they still cannot hold a candle to a GOOD composite sketch artist. Facial identifiers are at times minute peculiarities on the face, that the computer programs fail to provide. Also, profile and three-quarter views are often what the witness sees, and the vast majority of the computer programs available do not offer these options. If an agency does choose to use a computer generated program, it is best to have an individual with some artistic talent do the composites. An artist views the face in a different light than that of an untrained individual. The success rate of hand drawn composites is in the range of 30-80%. The computer programs success rate is much lower.


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